Addressing the barriers to female entrepreneurship

Article by Kelly Devine, Divisional President, UK & Ireland, Mastercard

Recently, much needed light has been shone on the barriers fronting women entrepreneurs in the UK and the benefits of breaking them down.

The Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship found that only 1 in 3 UK entrepreneurs is a woman. This is a gender gap equivalent to 1.1 million missing businesses, and male-led SMEs are five times more likely to scale up to £1 million turnover than female-led SMEs. It also found that encouraging women who want to build their own business could give the economy a solid £250 billion boost. And in May, we saw the creation of a Government taskforce assigned with the mission of helping achieve this.

Sadly, the outdated view that starting and running a business is a ‘man’s job’ still persists in UK society, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Our research shows that women are actually more likely than men to actively choose to start their own business. But despite this, there’s a distinct lack of female-entrepreneurs. Before the taskforce can provide a blueprint for all women entrepreneurs, the reasons why this disparity exists must be addressed.

Traditionally, it’s women who bear the brunt of caring responsibilities, particularly if they have children or elderly relatives that need a support system. Countless studies also show that women in couples are still more likely to do the majority of housework and “life admin”. In fact, women are almost three times more likely to be balancing care and home commitments than men, meaning that many have less time and resources than men to focus on individual professional ambitions, such as starting one’s own business.

It’s also widely known that female business owners are more likely to struggle to access funding for their business ideas than men. According to Dealroom, all-women founding teams received just 1.4% of the €23.7 billion invested into UK start-ups in 2021, while all-male leadership teams have taken almost 90% of the available capital.

Without adequate financial support, and when juggling significant time pressures at home, how can women start, let alone grow their own companies? As Division President for UK & Ireland at Mastercard – where we’re currently running a multi-million-pound initiative called Strive to support micro business owners (particularly women) to succeed – I was delighted when the Government’s taskforce was announced. Not only does an initiative like this align entirely with our values of equality and inclusivity, but any boost to the economy during these challenging economic times is vital. We’re looking forward to seeing what’s to come, and will also be actively looking to engage with and support the taskforce in the coming months. In particular, we urge them to look at how to support female-entrepreneurs to access tools and services that are already widely available – specifically, technology solutions.

Digitisation means that technology dominates, and this has clearly spilled over into the business world. We have found that when used correctly, the right technology saves those starting a business time and money, while giving them the headspace to focus on building it. Over half of small businesses in the UK who have used the right tech tools say they have experienced cost savings or increased profit. And over half agree that technology will become more important for them over the next five years.

Despite this, over a third of women entrepreneurs say they just don’t know where to look to find the right digital tools. And another third wants to use technology more, but don’t know which tools are the most appropriate, and are reluctant to acquire them as they’re worried about the cost of getting them wrong. By improving the support available to women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses so they can access and utilise the technology best-suited to them, we will allow these businesses to grow and thrive.

Strive aims to reach 650,000 micro and small business owners across the UK – with a particular focus on female leaders – and empower them with the tools they need to thrive in the digital economy through free guidance, helpful tools and one-to-one mentoring. Four in ten women say they will grow their business in the next five years – compared to only a third of male business owners. We hope to ensure hundreds of thousands of UK female business owners have access to and knowledge of the tools needed to succeed and reach these ambitious goals.

On the 15th of June 2022, we hosted an event with NatWest and The Rose Review that focused on addressing gender barriers to drive productivity and support the UK’s economic recovery. At the event, we welcomed both private sector and Government stakeholders to share perspectives on where women feature in the levelling up agenda and how we can collectively support female entrepreneurship further. We strongly welcome members of the taskforce to reach out and get involved with Strive so we can see how we can work together and deliver future initiatives to drive female entrepreneurship.

If we’re to achieve a truly inclusive economy, then understanding why the disparities in our economy and society exist is a necessary first step. We must then all work together to effectively address them.

The recent taskforce has laid the foundations to drive real change. But it’s also up to us as an industry to work with Government initiatives and policymakers to ensure we are supporting women effectively. Only then will we be able to empower women entrepreneurs and unlock much needed economic growth and stability.

About the author

Kelly Devine is the Divisional President, UK & Ireland at Mastercard. In her role Kelly is responsible for the strategy, direction and overall success of all aspects of Mastercard’s business across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Prior to this role Kelly was SVP for Account Management and Business Development for the UK & Ireland, leading Mastercard’s consumer issuing relationships, including those with high street retail banks such as Lloyds, HSBC, RBS, Santander, TSB, Tesco and Bank of Ireland.

Kelly joined Mastercard in 2015 to lead the division’s commercial payments business. Before joining Mastercard, Kelly spent ten years at American Express, latterly as VP of Customer Experience responsible for selling and delivering consulting services.  She’s held roles in Business Development, Salesforce Effectiveness and Product Management, as well as Chief of Staff for the Vice Chairman.

Kelly began her career as a consultant at PwC, after gaining her degree in Economics from the London School of Economics.

Kelly Devine

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