Business woman (9)

A new report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) ‘Women in Enterprise: The Untapped Potential’, explores the specific challenges faced by women-led businesses and makes recommendations for improving support, developing mentoring networks, and increasing the diversity of business ambassadors.

To further the recommendations of the report, FSB plans to launch a dedicated ‘Women in Enterprise Taskforce’ to support woman entrepreneurs and business owners.

While the report finds women-led businesses face many of the same challenges all small firms encounter - including cash flow issues (42%), and difficulty accessing finance (25%) - there appear to be issues which were more acute for women business owners.

FSB spoke to over 1900 women business owners in the UK. It found key challenges included balancing work and family life (40%), achieving credibility for the business (37%) and a lack of confidence (22%). All of these are limiting women’s ability to start, run and grow their businesses.

Helen Walbey, FSB Diversity Policy Chair, said: “Women-led smaller businesses already contribute over £75 billion to the UK economy. But less than one in five (18%) of businesses are majority run by women. If women were to set up businesses and grow them at the same rate as men, we would see a huge boost to growth and prosperity in this country. In fact, the Government estimates it could add £600 billion to the economy.

“Everyone should have the same chance to succeed in business. Understanding the importance of diversity and getting more women into business is critical for a dynamic and vibrant small business sector. That’s why we need to work out what the barriers are for women and break them down one by one.”

The most popular motivation for women starting a business was found to be confidence in their skills in their chosen sector (37%). However, a majority of women also said improving online and digital skills (55%), marketing expertise (56%) and business strategy skills (60%) would be the most useful measure to grow their business.

The report also found that a third (34%) of women business owners say they have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. This was felt particularly in sectors that are traditionally male dominated - for example in construction where over half (54%) had experienced discrimination.

Helen Walbey added: “More needs to be done to really empower women. Vocational education is one way to grow the next generation of women entrepreneurs, but they also need long term business support to help them succeed and grow. Better advice and mentoring should be provided and Maternity Allowance for the self-employed should be brought in line with Statutory Maternity Pay.

“Small firms already make a huge contribution to our economy; if we were to harness the still largely untapped potential of women entrepreneurship, it could lead to additional jobs, economic growth and a more diverse and representative small business community.”

The FSB report calls for a cultural shift towards equality in business. The new FSB taskforce will develop a series of regional events, networking opportunities and work with existing regional networks to get to the root of the problem. FSB is a respected voice and it will look to influence Government to promote women’s entrepreneurship by gaining recognition of the issues and suggesting practical solutions.