Equal Leadership: The Challenges & Opportunities of Women Entrepreneurs

Equal Leadership: The Challenges & Opportunities of Women Entrepreneurs


This International Women’s Day, we explore the changing landscape of modern entrepreneurship, and what it means for women.

We talk a lot about how the landscape of business is evolving – particularly in a post-pandemic era.

Technology is advancing faster than ever before, companies are scaling and streamlining, skillsets and capabilities are expanding; and the way we conduct business finance is increasingly digitally-driven.

In short: our global connectivity is cemented, and for businesses and professionals alike, this presents an age of incredible opportunity. But are those opportunities truly open to everyone?

In the UK there are now an estimated 140,000 businesses founded by women, meaning over 20% of new firms are now female-led. This is according to the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship. While this is an increase from the original review published in 2019, flip the statistic on its head and we gain a much better picture of how male-dominated entrepreneurship really is. 

This International Women’s Day, we explore the shifting tides of female entrepreneurship, the biggest challenges and opportunities women innovators face, and how we could be heading for meaningful change – for good.

3 Big challenges

If this is a good news, bad news situation, let’s start with the latter.

It’s hardly a secret that female professionals have faced their fair share of challenges across the course of history, overcoming incredible barriers to achieve world-altering achievements. For the progress made over the centuries, decades, and in recent years, women still face challenges uniquely experienced because of gender.

  1. Public perception and social expectations. In the UK, it’s widely accepted that most women will pursue a career in their lifetime – but that’s not to say outdated stereotypes don’t linger. From business to family-based decisions, and even female health, criticisms and ‘social norms’ tend to reflect much more harshly on women entrepreneurs. It’s also proven that male leaders (be it investors, stakeholders or customers) are more likely to choose a business partner with physical resemblances. In other words: a male counterpart.
  2. Funding and investment. All entrepreneurs know that securing funding for your venture is one of the biggest challenges to new businesses. But research shows that this struggle disproportionately impacts women-founded startups. Women in the UK are launching businesses with around 53% less capital than men – and yet closing the entrepreneurship gap could result in a £250 million boost to the economy. It’s also worth noting that 94% of decision-makers at venture capital funds are male.
  3. Development and growth. In more ways than one. According to Inc., around 48% of female founders say they lack mentors and advisers – key drivers of professional and business development. The majority of businesses being run by male leadership teams, this can make gaining diverse partnerships, collaborations and networks particularly challenging for women.

3 Bigger opportunities

Now for the good news part.

The positive impact of female entrepreneurship cannot be understated. Wider social growth enabled and facilitated by women in leadership positions has a significant ripple effect. It reinforces the power of greater equality in business, and has vast capabilities for the future of the UK and around the world.

  1. Economic growth. Let’s talk about money. Some US-based findings also suggest that despite receiving less than half of the investment capital of male counterparts, businesses founded by women still deliver twice as much revenue per US$ invested. As of 2017, women-led businesses contribute around £3.51bn to the UK economy.
  2. Unlimiting opportunities. It’s no surprise that women in leadership positions are more likely to hire other women than men in leadership. Flexibility, particularly in when and where we work, is another priority for women, providing greater opportunities particularly for parents and carers, professionals living with disability or chronic illness, or anyone with atypical circumstances.
  3. Innovation and advancement. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality, and it couldn’t be more apt. A number of findings report that female entrepreneurs are more likely  to develop a new product that’s not yet available on the market, and one which has been developed in the past year. 

Female entrepreneurship is a growth market

Today, there’s a wealth of growth in female entrepreneurship and women leaders, and seeing an upwards trajectory is extremely motivating. FTSE 350 companies have recently reached their target of 40% women in boardrooms. Great news, but not enough to take our foot off the pedal.

The phrase “’any progress is still progress” isn’t as accurate as we might like it to be here. The gender pay gap is still broad, there continues to be merely a handful of UK CEOs that are women, and the issues facing women leaders reach far beyond office doors.

To achieve true equality and see the positive results ripple across our economy and society, we have to work together to speed up the process. Present great opportunities for women, eradicate stereotypes, and actively combat negative perceptions every day.

This International Women’s Day, one thing remains true - acknowledging the challenging road ahead to gender equality doesn’t mean not celebrating how far we’ve come.

Happy International Women’s Day!


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