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Concerns about 'Fragile' women's enterprise programmes

Our report generated following our International Conference held in Edinburgh earlier this year has raised concerns about ‘fragile’ women’s enterprise programmes which fail to help women achieve economic parity.

Professor Barbara Orser, Deloitte Professor in the Management of Growth Enterprises at University of Ottawa referred to OECD research which found women’s enterprise policies and programmes are typically fragile, time-limited, small scale-pilots (1). She cautioned against one size fits all models and called for Governments to work with expert organisations who understand the needs of women and women’s markets.

Our third WES International Conference - ‘The Path to Economic Equality’ – was a collaborative event which brought together over 300 global delegates to discuss and lay out solutions for a future in which women across the world achieve economic parity.

Panel discussions and delegate workshop sessions across the two-day conference were held to review access to finance; the impact of culture; digital, technology and education; leadership; wellbeing and net zero.

Bronwen Thomas, newly appointed Chief Operating Officer at Women’s Enterprise Scotland said;

Bronwen Thomas, Chief Operating Officer

“As we emerge from the pandemic, policymakers and businesses are faced with an economy in transition and heightening inequality. The pandemic is predicted to have added another 36 years to the fight for gender parity(2), so it is imperative that we collectively step up to build a better future and respond effectively to the challenges women face in trying to unlock their economic potential.”

Hosted by Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES), the conference was held at The Royal Bank of Scotland Conference Centre at Gogarburn and gathered together over 300 policy makers, researchers, business leaders and academics with a shared interest in progressing women’s participation in the global economy. It was supported by British Business Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, the University of Glasgow, and Business Gateway. Edinburgh.

Paula Ritchie, Regional Enterprise Director, Scotland for the Royal Bank of Scotland said;

“As the largest supporter of UK businesses, we’re committed to continuing our investment working alongside our partners Women’s Enterprise Scotland, supporting the start-up and scale up of women-led businesses across Scotland. We have ringfenced a minimum of 60% of our support through our enterprise programmes for female entrepreneurs. Together, we will tackle the business funding gap by boosting access to and awareness of business financing, tackle the societal barriers standing in the way of women entrepreneurs reaching their full potential , and champion entrepreneurship by addressing some of the key challenges facing Women in Business identified in The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship.”

Women have fundamentally different experiences to men in business, including access to finance, disproportionate caring responsibilities, access to supportive and uplifting personal professional networks, mentoring and role models(3). In a bid to provide support for women at the pre-start up and start up stages of their business journey, Women’s Enterprise Scotland launched the digital Women’s Business Centre in June 2020. The first freely accessible digital platform of its kind, has had over 10000 visitors since its launch and is growing daily.

Carolyn Currie CEO of WES concluded;

Carolyn Currie, Chief Executive Officer

“At a time when our economy faces considerable pressures, including a cost of living crisis and a predicted recession, there has never been a more urgent need for collaborative, informed action to help us realise women’s untapped economic potential. We are taking action to strengthen our own team by appointing Bronwen Thomas to the new role of Chief Operating Officer. Bronwen has made a considerable contribution to the work of WES since joining the team, including the expansion of the Women’s Business Centre digital platform. We are delighted to announce Bronwen’s appointment and look forward to further developing our support services and resources.

As we release the Conference Report, we hope that the expertise and the recommendations gleaned from the participating entrepreneurs, organisations and thought leaders will help to inform the forthcoming creation of Scotland’s National Women’s Business Centre and significantly boost economic contribution.

1 Entrepreneurship Policies Through a Gender Lens, OECD (2021)

2 Global Gender Gap Report 2021


· Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) was established in 2012 as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) working to close the gender gap in enterprise participation. The WES vision is for Scotland to be world leading in its approach to supporting women business owners, enabling equal access to resources and opportunities as they develop successful and sustainable businesses.

· Women owned businesses contribute £8.8bn Gross Value Add into the Scottish economy and have created over 230,000 jobs. (FSB 2018) As a sector, women-owned businesses contribute more GVA than Sustainable Tourism (£4.1bn), Food & Drink (£5.6bn) and Creative Industries (£4.6bn). (Growth Sector Statistics, Scottish Government, Sept 2021) Doubling women-owned businesses to 40% of SME’s would add another £8.8bn to the Scottish economy every year.

· The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship (2019), commissioned by the UK Treasury, revealed that female entrepreneurs typically have to start businesses with only half as much capital as men.4 The Review also identified that up to £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men.

· Covid-19 has presented enormous challenges for women-owned businesses. As small businesses with limited resources, these businesses are especially vulnerable to the disruption caused by the pandemic. (WES Covid19 Policy Brief 2, 2020). Of the women business owners surveyed in December 2020, three-quarters found managing their businesses stressful during the pandemic, compared to just over half their male peers. (Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship Update, 2021)

· All-female management teams received just 1.5% (£7.1m) of the UK Futures Fund £469m capital to help scaling start-up businesses during Covid-19. All-male founder teams received 16.3% (£76.5m), ten times more than women. (Future Fund Diversity Report, British Business Bank 2020)





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