Justine Greening, former secretary of state for education and Conservative MP
Ensuring that anyone with potential can get on in life makes good business sense. It means that women should have the same opportunities as men to start their own businesses and be represented in business at every level.
Despite female-founded SMEs contributing around £85bn of the UK’s economic output each year, there is still much more to do. The Alison Rose review found that the economic gains of women being adequately supported in their entrepreneurial journeys would be huge – an extra £250bn in fact. An economy built on businesses driven by as many women as men would also mean that the products and services they deliver would be more representative and suited to the diverse communities we live in.
So where are we going wrong in addressing this? The answer, is that we need to start at an early age. Girls need relatable role models, something I believe we could do much more to address. If girls are to see people who look like them and have access to those with shared values or aspirational achievements, they engage better with their learning and build wider networks. Educators should not only ensure equal representation of role models across every curriculum subject, something which is not currently done, but also engage in initiatives which connect girls and students with local businesswomen and mentors in their local communities.
A recent survey from national financial and enterprise education charity, Young Enterprise, found that, of all ages, 11–16-year-olds felt the most prepared to start a business. That contrasts with a report by Vistaprint where more than two-thirds of female entrepreneurs found it hard to bounce back from failures, compared with 55% of men. Clearly, we need to capitalise on the time period where female confidence is highest, by offering girls real-world learning opportunities which encourage them to take risks in a safe environment and develop key life skills. Championing inclusive cultural norms around what is accessible, encouraged or socially rewarded for girls can help address gender stereotyping from an early age. This is why I support Young Enterprise’s ongoing work in breaking down the barriers for young female entrepreneurs and building their lasting confidence.
I have been working with partners in The Purpose Coalition – businesses, universities, NHS Trusts, local authorities and other organisations – to ensure equality of opportunity. A set of 14 Levelling Up Goals provide the framework for levelling up at key life stages, from early years to positive destinations post-16 and across issues such as digital connectivity and good health and wellbeing, to help organisations identify the barriers that prevent people from getting on. They can assess the progress they are making and share best practice.
Goal 9, Extending Enterprise, focuses on embedding a social norm of entrepreneurship for those groups, including women, who have found it difficult to get the right advice and mentorship. The Coalition has partnered with a number of businesses, including the Sage Group, who have launched initiatives that will make it easier for women to start, and be successful, in running their own business.
The Government and the private sector also have key roles to play in tackling issues of gender-disparity in business. The Investing in Women Code launched by the Treasury in 2019 to create transparency on funding decisions and increase investment into female founders has been signed by 134 organisations, with a combined investment power of nearly £1 trillion. The Government has pledged to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by 50% by 2030 and Liz Truss has set up a panel tasked with increasing the number of women-led start-ups, particularly outside London.
Post-pandemic, it is more vital than ever we get the economic blueprint for an inclusive future right. This means establishing genuine partnerships between the Government, educators and the private sector to deliver effective solutions for gender equality in business. It is not only critical to economic growth, but will also reduce the gender wealth gap, create a society in which women are able to solve the problems faced by half the population of the globe and create entirely new industries.