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Research by the Women’s Business Council has shown that the UK economy is missing out on more than 1.2 million new enterprises due to the untapped business potential of women. This is despite a number of policy initiatives by the UK Government and the business community to promote and facilitate women business leaders and enterprise.

In 2014, 20 per cent of single-person businesses and 18 per cent of smaller firm employers in the UK were majority-led by women. At the same time, self-employment in the UK is at the highest level in 40 years, with much of the recent growth among women.

Despite evidence that more women than men are choosing to move into self-employment, the RBS Enterprise Tracker – which tracks people’s attitudes to starting up in business – has found that women continue to be less likely than men to want to start a business (30% vs. 38%) and that fewer women are in the process of starting their own business. Research suggests that 900,000 more businesses would be created if the UK achieved the same level of female entrepreneurship as in the US, resulting in an additional £23 billion gross value added to the UK economy. In England alone, 150,000 extra businesses would be created per annum if women started businesses at the same rate as men.

Women-led businesses tend to be more highly concentrated in health and social work and community, social and personal services. There is a clear deficit of women-led businesses in the construction and transport, storage and communications sectors, reflecting traditional gender segregation patterns discernible in the wider labour market. However, the sectors where there are greater numbers of female-owned businesses are also those that tend to have lower levels of business growth and have smaller turnovers.

Why do we do it?!

There are many reasons why women decide to start their own business, however our survey of women business owners found that the most common reason was that they had experience of the sector. Other popular reasons include confidence in their skills in their chosen sector or industry, believed the work is interesting, and a gap in the market. The desire to achieve a good work-life balance was cited by a quarter of survey respondents, with flexibility and the opportunity to be more involved in childcare and family life an attractive proposition to many women.

Greater numbers of women-led businesses operate from the home. A recent survey by AXA found that 75 per cent of women business owners spent between three and five days working on their business from home. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has found that sector and business type account for most of the difference in the number of women business owners who work from home; however personal preference and family commitments can mean that more women than men will choose to run their business from home across all sectors.

Finally, while on average women owned firms have lower levels of growth and are under-represented in the fastest growing firms, evidence does not suggest that the women entrepreneurs who aim to grow will be any less successful than male business owners.

Key recommendations

FSB research has led to key recommendations which we are taking to decision makers, from senior Government ministers to local business owners. We recognise the need for greater visibility of female business owners. Role models have an important role to play in inspiring women and demonstrating that entrepreneurship is a viable career option. These role models must represent the diversity of the business community, including small businesses, and be relevant to a range of sectors and businesses.

We believe more should be done to help women who work for themselves find access to finance. Awareness and take-up of alternative forms of finance is lower among majority women-led firms. Women need to be aware of the full range of finance options available to them, including alternative sources such as crowdfunding and angel investors. The Government could consider an awareness-raising campaign aimed at helping to inform women of their financing options.

In Kent we have seen women in business events blossoming over the past few years. Women are keen to get together, learn from each other, share experience and advice. Regular women in business brunches hosted by FSB Champion for Women in Business Deborah Turner in Dartford are now extending to Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Hythe due to demand. More and more female entrepreneurs and business owners are realising the value of ‘finding a tribe,’ collaborating and raising the profile of successful women in business.

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