By Daniel Hunter

The way in which men and women in business are represented should be reconsidered in order to better reflect the reality of modern day entrepreneurs, according to a recent poll of 1,000 female and 500 male business owners by the Business is GREAT Britain campaign.

Almost two thirds of UK business men and women who took part in the survey shared exactly the same top three priorities of job satisfaction, work/life balance and profit — a finding that challenges common misconceptions that gender plays an important role in determining the attitudes and actions of business owners.

The survey of 1,500 small business owners in the UK showed that men and women in fact have many of the same goals, and felt equally ambitious (62% of both men and women said they had ambitious goals for their business) and confident (68% of women felt capable of growing their business and 70% of men) about the future of their companies.

It was only when looking at questions around perceptions of business owners that the survey results revealed significant differences. More than half (52%) of respondents said they had heard female business owners referred to as ‘bitchy’ and ‘emotional’ compared to just one in eight of male counterparts. In contrast to this, women were more likely to describe themselves as being supportive (63%) and fair (67%) whilst men aligned themselves more with qualities such as risk taking (36%) and ruthlessness (26%). Less than a quarter of men surveyed had been described as ‘bossy’ compared to almost 40% of women.

Through the Business is GREAT campaign, lead by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the Government is hoping to tackle these outdated gender stereotypes, in order to help more women start and develop their own businesses. It is also aiming to increase the number and variety of female business owners in the public eye to provide a more representative picture of female entrepreneurs.

The campaign also encourages more UK businesswomen to get involved in mentoring schemes and networking groups as a way of combating gender misconceptions. By connecting with other small business owners through Government funded** schemes such as the current 'Meet the Mentor' roadshow and the 'Get Mentoring' Project women and men can be perceived and represented more accurately by both themselves and others.

Emma Mills, Managing Director of Mi PA, said: "Networking with other businesswomen and men has been a huge help to me over the years since I set up Mi PA, both in providing practical advice and inspiration, but also in making me realise that all small business owners, regardless of gender, share the same concerns, insecurities and challenges.

"I would encourage all female entrepreneurs to utilise the various business mentoring and networking services available to them, so that they can start challenging their own, and others, beliefs about how gender affects the way they run their business.”

Cary Cooper, Business Psychologist from Lancaster University, added: “It’s really interesting to me that the results of this survey show there is little difference in attitude towards running a business between men and women, but also that it identifies some of the different skills that they bring to the table.

"The fact that women business leaders associate themselves more with positive characteristics such as being supportive and organised, actually highlights some of the reasons why I believe we need more female business leaders, as these are the key management skills that will drive success for the businesses of the future.

"Mentoring and networking events for small business leaders can play an important role in helping to shift false perceptions of women in business — but we all share a responsibility for examining and rethinking the way we talk about male and female business owners.”

In order to help UK businesswomen get connected with other entrepreneurs, and access the help they may need to start or grow their businesses, the Government has created a Women in Enterprise hub which houses advice and information on everything from business mentoring schemes, to available funding and a guide to flexible working. The hub also showcases a range of successful female business owners as a way of demonstrating what can be achieved, and of reflecting the diversity of women in business today.