TODAY is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, an annual global celebration that highlights the importance of women in business and makes a powerful economic case for more women to become entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship is one of the key drivers of economic and social development. Women’s entrepreneurship can provide a means to more rapidly advance gender equality in industries, communities, and countries around the world. In Scotland alone, women-owned businesses contribute £8.8 billion to the economy every year, more than sustainable tourism (£4.1bn), food and drink (£5.6bn) and the creative industries (£4.6bn).
Numerous historical challenges have prevented women starting up and succeeding in business, with three reoccurring barriers being access to finance, networking, and social and cultural barriers. All have been amplified by the pandemic.
There are numerous ways in which women’s entrepreneurship can be supported by governments around the world. These include creating new sources of capital, such as crowdfunding and impact investments or offering microcredits. Participation funds would enable women to access events and support while kick-starter funds would accelerate financial inclusion by accessing speedy and efficient funding. All this would enable women to bypass traditional funding routes which have often been a barrier to their engagement in the business world.
Networking needs to be viewed as part of the wider support ecosystem where the time and timing of networking events are important considerations for both the organisers and women participants. Digital centres based in local infrastructure such as libraries, universities, colleges and community centres can enable women to come together to learn and network. Appointing coaching and mentoring champions in regions would greatly benefit women seeking to grow and help those in rural areas to overcome geographic barriers to participation in events and organisations.
In terms of overcoming social and cultural barriers, expanding and lowering the cost of childcare is an investment that would pay off in terms of economic growth. The involvement of local communities in setting up and growing businesses is essential for all forms of entrepreneurship. The encouragement to buy local, involve local supply chains and encourage inclusive and sustainable business models can help other local businesswomen. Incorporating well-being and mental health elements into the support package offered to women entrepreneurs can also pay dividends.
From my own research I have seen some great examples of how to boost the number of women starting their own businesses. Women’s business centres in the US assist socially and economically disadvantaged women in starting and building their businesses, with evidence showing them to have been successful. These centres can be mobile, incorporated into existing infrastructure such as libraries and community centres.
The Scottish Government announced its commitment with £50 million to establish a women’s business centre and commissioned investor and entrepreneur Ana Stewart to chair the Women in Enterprise Review. The upcoming Stewart Review will focus on several areas, including education, access to finance and funding, and advice, support, and mentoring for women in business in Scotland. Its upcoming publication could overhaul the women’s entrepreneurial ecosystem here.
When women succeed in business, we all win. Wealth is generated, jobs are created and tax revenues rise. Women entrepreneurs are making great strides and helping to change the social, cultural, political and economic landscapes. This needs to be celebrated and supported.
Professor Norin Arshed is with the University of Dundee School of Business
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