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In celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD), we're putting the focus on gender gap-closing around the world – what exciting initiatives do other countries have for supporting female entrepreneurs?
Getting the conditions right
From Scandinavia and Ireland right across to the USA and Australia, getting the conditions right is a big part of national-scale female success, in all walks of business. These ‘supporting conditions’ cover key aspects of business and living, mindful of the kind of cultural biases that can prevent women from having more impact.
A strong SME community, governance and access to finance (see last week’s 15 female VC opportunities blog for actionable details) are all crucial, but so are socio-economic factors such as support with childcare, along with the advances in shared parental leave – impressively demonstrated by Scandinavia and Germany.
By contrast, The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship (The Rose Review), published in 2019 calls out family care support as one of the biggest barriers facing female would-be entrepreneurs in the UK, saying
“As with funding, we found disproportionate primary/family care responsibilities affect female entrepreneurs throughout the entrepreneurial journey. Women are twice as likely as men to mention family responsibilities as a barrier to starting a business.”
The Rose Review points out that in countries where the gender gap is truly closing, for example in the Netherlands and Canada, coordinated action across different government departments and bodies is usually established. It’s a holistic approach which provides the crucial difference, with the Netherlands achieving gender parity of 0.9, Canada around 0.6 and the UK ‘lagging’ at 0.46 (figures taken from Global Entrepreneurship Monitor – Global Report 2017/2018).
The UK is lagging
In 2019, 5.6% of all UK women ran their own business, according to the Rose Review. Compare this to 15% in Canada, 11% in Australia and 9% in the US, and questions start popping around the conditions that have made it this way. Do UK women lack something vital in terms of local support? Is it an outmoded family care policy? Or is it as simple as access to finance?
The Rose Review argues that it’s all of these, and more. Here are seven reasons to look outward and across the pond, from initiatives and big-business programmes to government policy and local support.
Worldwide action from Goldman Sachs
The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women is a global initiative, built to foster economic growth amongst female entrepreneurs. It nods to the conditions preventing women from starting up, and focuses on providing a business management education, mentoring and networking, plus access to capital.
It’s all pulled together in a free, online course. Free maybe, but rigorous for sure. This is a 10-module, 60-hour study facilitator, which last year culminated in a multi-day business coaching meet-up for select alumni in New York City.
Goldman Sachs also announced a $500 million fund in 2018 – the Launch With GS Fund – which will invest in businesses founded, led or owned by women.
We-Fi for developing nations
This is a World Bank Group initiative, with backing from 14 national governments. We-Fi, standing for the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, has so far allocated $249 million to programs supporting female entrepreneurs, across 50 countries.
Important to note – We-Fi is focused on the developing world, and the particular challenges faced by women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in countries where capital isn’t readily available. We-Fi estimates that these women face a collective credit deficit of $1.5 trillion.
Canada’s government support
In 2018, the Canadian government pledged a spend of $1.4 billion across three years on financing for female entrepreneurs, plus $200 million to go on investments in women-led technology firms and several other initiatives touching on those all-important supporting factors mentioned earlier.
Canada aims to double the number of majority women-owned businesses by 2025, with $2.5 million ring fenced for indigenous women, as part of an overall $30 million funding package for female entrepreneurs. This Women Entrepreneurship Fund approved over 300 applications before closing.
Enterprise Ireland’s 2025 ambitions
Enterprise Ireland have just released a 2020 Action Plan for Women in Business, aiming for a 100% increase in Ireland’s number of women-led companies (with international growth) by 2025. They’re also going for a 50% increase in women participants on startup programmes and Local Enterprise Office supports.
The Plan highlights several key drivers for change, one being that Ireland has the highest gender gap in self-employment in the EU. This is despite the 2019 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs ranking Ireland fifth on the top 10 markets for women entrepreneurs, based on supporting conditions and ‘opportunities to thrive’.
Nordic female entrepreneurship
The Nordic Innovation organisation points out that female entrepreneurs count for around a third of all people involved in European entrepreneurial activity overall. They call out the under-representation in key factors, from networking and access to mentors to lack of awareness of funding and professional development opportunities.
More general gender equality is also front of mind for Nordic Innovation, who’ve set up The Nordic Female Entrepreneurship Initiative, tasking a project group with increasing innovation capacity across society and industry, to improve on the Nordics’ already world-leading socioeconomic policies.
Women’s Business Centers across the USA
The Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC) is a national non-profit organisation. Founded in 1998, it focuses on economic fairness and female entrepreneurial opportunities.
As part of its work, the AWBC supports a national network of over 100 Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). These provide training, mentoring, business development and funding opportunities for over 150,000 female entrepreneurs each year.
It’s a good example of a successful private-public partnership, and a useful model for governments looking to improve their gender gap ranking figures.
This is a national accelerator, focused on women-led businesses and the particular challenges they face. Brought by the Springboard Enterprises Program, their promise is to support, qualify, advise and showcase the most promising women-led businesses.
SBE Australia has helped raise $458 million in capital since starting up in 2012, with specialist program packages focused on tech and life sciences and a specific program for earlier-stage businesses.
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