A few months ago the VABS team met with Annabelle Ewing MSP, of the SNP, to discuss women in business. It’s always a prescient concern for us, especially as we work in a sector with an unusually high level of female sole traders and female led small businesses. Many of our clients are female small business owners too. Not only do we want women already in small business to succeed and flourish, but we want to ensure that other women (especially young women) are encouraged to think about entrepreneurship.
We spoke about the barriers facing women led start-ups and went on to discuss potential processes to ease their way into what is currently a male dominated area. Women account for approximately 17% of business owners and men are just about twice as likely as women to be entrepreneurially active (Prowess: Women in Business).
With all this on our minds, and an election in the wings, we decided to get in touch with some Scottish candidates to see what their thoughts were on the matter.
Barriers Facing Women in Business
Carole Ford, the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Glasgow Kelvin, had this to say regarding the barriers facing women in small business;
“The enterprise culture of a country has a large impact on the number of start-up companies. For example, the USA has a long tradition of small scale business enterprise and in the UK this is much less the case. For women especially, they are not educated to think of themselves as entrepreneurs and society does not necessarily have that expectation of them. There are far fewer female role models to influence them.”
Scottish Conservative candidate for East Lothian, Rachael Hamilton, stresses that “Setting up a small business can be daunting and difficult for anyone, particularly in these tough economic times.”
With personal experience of running her own business, The Buccleuch Arms in St. Boswells, she’s well placed to comment and goes on to speak from personal experience; “As the co-owner of an award-winning hotel and pub in the Scottish Borders and with a family of my own to support, I know first hand the challenges this can involve. But I was interested to learn recently that women are roughly half as likely as men to become entrepreneurs.” She proposes that “barriers such as securing adequate funding and cutting red-tape for start ups aren’t restricted to women but, combined with added pressures like childcare, these can act as a deterrent to entrepreneurialism.”
Anne Beetham, the lead list candidate in the Glasgow region for the Women’s Equality Party, explains that “The lack of opportunity and encouragement for women who want to start their own business in Scotland is a significant concern for the Women’s Equality Party” and specifies one of the main difficulties women face when setting up their own business;
“WE know that women find it difficult to access high levels of funding for business start ups and this is preventing women from making a potentially transformational contribution to the Scottish economy.” Anne quotes Sara Carter of Strathclyde University, who suggests that “if rates of women led businesses equalled that of men, the contribution to Scotland’s value added would increase by £7.6 billion to nearly £13 billion.”
How to overcome the barriers
Childcare is unsurprisingly an issue that comes up again, with Anne mentioning the “universal problem of lack good quality, affordable childcare”. She also expressed her concern that there is currently “no specific commitment from the recent Scottish Government budget to supporting women’s enterprise, business start up or expansion.”
Lib Dem candidate Carole Ford went on to stress that “Enterprise and entrepreneurial education needs more emphasis in schools, this is part of the Liberal Democrat Manifesto. We need to open girls’ eyes at an early age to this as a possible career route. In particular, we need female role models in schools and colleges, to demonstrate the possibilities and opportunities in creating a new business. Girls and young women already demonstrate the necessary skills for a business start up but they need encouragement to think of themselves in this way.”
Anne Beetham of the WEP also mentions how her party manifesto includes plans to help women to engage with and lead businesses in Scotland, saying “Our childcare policy will support women to focus on their business. Equally importantly we would ‘Establish a Women’s Employability and Enterprise Challenge’ fund, as suggested by Engender, in collaboration with the Scottish Government and businesses.”
Future of small businesses
Rachael Hamilton ends on a positive note; “Striking out on your own is about taking risks and great leaps of faith, but with is comes great flexibility and financial independence. This flexibility can be hugely beneficial for women juggling the demands of their personal and professional lives.” She goes on to assert that “We need to do more to support women who want to grow a business idea and see it through to fruition – there’s a huge amount of untapped economic potential out there and, from personal experience, it’s hugely rewarding.”
Carole Ford also ends on a high note – she believes the future of small business is bright, saying that “… governments now recognise [small businesses] importance in the economy. The international statistics clearly show that the success of small to medium sized businesses determine the overall success of an economy. Not only that, but their continued success beyond the first generation is also crucial. So maintaining an economic climate which supports small business, and generates start ups, is now an economic necessity for government. This recognition is a very good sign for small business.”
We’re delighted to have all this food for thought, and we’ll certainly keep thinking and talking about how we can work to overcome the difficulties faced by women in small business. It’s clear to see that lack funding and poor childcare options hold women back, but we also need to ensure that from a young age women are presented with positive role models and encouraged to think of owning their own business as a valid and viable career path.
Many thanks to Carole Ford (Scottish Liberal Democrat), Rachael Hamilton (Scottish Conservative) and Anne Beetham (Women’s Equality Party) for taking the time to share their thoughts with us. We also reached out to the Green Party and Scottish Labour but unfortunately received no response.
Agree / Disagee??? We’d love to hear what you think too – get in touch and let’s keep the conversation going!