There are now millions of female entrepreneurs around the world. But there is a persistent gap between the numbers of women and men who run their own businesses. In the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s study on female entrepreneurs, published in 2011, only one economy had more women running businesses than men – Ghana.
The reason for there being fewer women entrepreneurs is often attributed to a difference in attitude between the sexes: women see fewer opportunities to set up a business, they have less confidence in their own ability to run a company and they have a greater fear of failure, are among the reasons given. But what’s the truth?
We asked a number of women who run their own businesses for their views on why there are fewer female entrepreneurs, and how they are different from their male counterparts.
Why do you think there are fewer female entrepreneurs than male?
Magali McIntyre, CEO of Route in
“I often read that women are less confident than men, that they do not believe they can build a venture by themselves, that they are worried they would fail, that they aim low and think small. It is on all the blogs and the career sections of my favourite newspapers so it must be true. I just don’t know any of those women portrayed as poor little things.
“The women I know are determined, driven, pragmatic and committed. Some think that entrepreneurship is the best way to reach the goals they set for themselves, others don’t.
“My experience as a tech entrepreneur is that building a venture takes incredible commitment. I have to be on call all the time and I understand it may not appeal to everybody.
“Needless to say, a partner who is 100% supportive is a prerequisite for starting a business, as the whole family is dragged into the adventure and there will always be trade-offs.
“I am thrilled I took the plunge. Honestly, I believe that if we just stopped imposing limitations on ourselves, we would do just fine. Women are not a special interest group – we are the majority. The next generation of twentysomethings seems to be much more resilient to the clichés and knows to keep away from people who try to belittle their ambitions.”
Caroline Cecil, Founder of Caroline Cecil Associates
“I would turn the question round and say what a lot of high profile and successful female entrepreneurs there are today. Things have come a long way since Stephanie Shirley founded the software company FI Group in 1962. When she started the company, her secretary booked her appointments using the name “Steve” Shirley as she didn’t believe the male potential customers she wanted to meet would see a woman. Today there is a large cohort of ultra-entrepreneurial women who have done, and are continuing to do, great things.”
Alexia Hanson, Founder of Fam Dots
“There’s been a great drive in the technology sector for many years to increase the number of women involved in start-ups. Research has often found that women don’t have the same confidence levels as men, despite having an equal education (and often outperforming their counterparts during their primary and secondary education years). Often it is overlooked that without the guidance of a strong female in their household growing up, or in their early education years, females won’t have the self-belief to take the risk and start their own business in later life.”
Jodie Cavendish, CEO of Stickems
“In my area of business I seem to be one of the few female entrepreneurs. I am part of a networking group, which contains 45 male entrepreneurs and three females. But, among my circle of friends I don’t see a big divide between the numbers of men and women who are entrepreneurs. I know plenty of women who run their own businesses. They tend to be mums working from home, who don’t want their working careers to end completely. They run cupcake-making businesses, home-birthing consultancies, home spas and health and fitness companies. But, they regard bringing up their children as being their main job, while they see their businesses as a way of keeping their hand in.”
How do female entrepreneurs differ from male entrepreneurs?
“Men start businesses to gain control, money and power, whereas women start businesses to gain independence and a sense of achievement.
“In terms of execution, women make more informed decisions, insist more on risk-management, excel in multi-tasking and are more diligent. Sales and networking are often their weaknesses.
“Women tend to generate higher revenues with one-third less capital than men (according to Business Insider) and founding teams raise larger rounds if they are mixed gender teams.
“It is undeniable that men and women do approach things differently. I chose to hire a male chairman and I find his input and insight very valuable as we balance each other to make the best decisions for Route in.”
“Females tend to be expert at juggling, multi-tasking and flexi-working. They are often very practical and pragmatic and not very hierarchical, and they can be quite intuitive. All these abilities can be pretty handy in building a company – both giving the customer what he or she wants (even if he doesn’t know yet that he wants it) and keeping staff happy.”
“I don’t believe that female entrepreneurs are any different from male ones. Ultimately, it is about being able to see an opportunity, being prepared to take the risk, and having the initiative and skills to drive the business. These are the basic attributes that you need [to be an entrepreneur].”
Tell us why you think there are fewer women running their own business and how women entrepreneurs differ from men?