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We Call for Accelerated Action to Unlock Multi Billion Pound Opportunity

We have called for accelerated action to realise the multi-billion-pound opportunity represented by women’s under-participation in entrepreneurship.


Our newly published Survey of Women in Enterprise reveals an ongoing ambition for growth amongst Scotland’s women entrepreneurs which is being constrained by structural inequalities. While some action has been progressed by Government and other organisations, a much greater economic contribution could be realised every year by tackling constraints in areas such as grant funding, mainstream support services and sectoral support.  Accelerated action would also assist in addressing the sharp increase in reported experiences of discrimination.


Our report is based on insights gathered from a survey involving 238 female entrepreneurs between January and April 2023. The Survey explored gender-based inequalities, structural barriers, and the exceptional repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent cost-of-business crisis. At the same time, the impact of other key socio-economic factors including net-zero, digital and technology and pension provision were also investigated.


Many participants praised existing support services, although access was not universal, with 35% reporting they were not accessing business adviser support. Improvements to support services are needed to better meet the needs of women entrepreneurs. 93% of respondents said advisers should have “lived experience” of business ownership and 82% said support services should be more aware of the differences in needs between men and women.


Nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents view dedicated support for women as vital to realising their business aspirations. Two-thirds feel they have experienced discrimination as a women entrepreneur, almost double the 34% reported in 2016[1].


Changing business support services to better meet the needs of women business owners will evidence clear commitment to women’s enterprise and the unrealised economic opportunity it represents.


81% said investing in digital or technology would benefit their business, yet of those who reported needing support to set a digital or technology strategy, 75% said they were unable to access this support. 39% of women entrepreneurs lacked confidence in their company’s ability to achieve net zero but only 4% had applied for any related financial support and 21% thought net zero did not apply to their company.


Despite a majority (57%) of survey respondents anticipating turnover growth within the next 12 months, this figure is down from 92% in 2019[2].

Woman smiling


Carolyn Currie, CEO of Women’s Enterprise Scotland said,

“The results of our survey demonstrate the requirement for accelerated action which is aligned with the needs of women-led businesses. With many women not accessing support services and others highlighting they are not getting the best out of support services, we can hardly be surprised that experiences of discrimination by women entrepreneurs have risen sharply – yet this picture is wholly at odds with our aspirations for an inclusive and thriving economy in Scotland.”


Despite constituting more than half of Scotland’s population, women remain significantly underrepresented in entrepreneurship. Currently women-led employer businesses are 22% of employer businesses in Scotland[3], down from 23% prior year.


The WES Survey of Women in Enterprise Report makes vital policy recommendations. These include improving information dissemination, instituting more tailored support mechanisms, establishing clear and inclusive eligibility criteria for funding and implementing sector-specific initiatives. Of primary importance is the need for greater data and measurement, including mandatory gender-disaggregated data reporting on all future business funding disbursements.


Women-owned businesses generate £8.8bn into the Scottish economy every year[4] and the WES report spotlights the significant economic opportunity which would come from transforming the status quo.


Carolyn Currie concluded;

“Increasing the participation, sustainability and resilience of women-led businesses would provide Scotland with a welcome economic boost. Added to this, the influx of new business owners has the capability to revitalise communities the length and breadth of Scotland, boosting our current innovation capabilities and productivity. We all have a role to play in achieving this change.”


The full WES Report 2023 can be found here

[1] Women in Enterprise: The Untapped Potential, Federation of Small Businesses (2016)

[2] Survey of Women in Business, Women’s Enterprise Scotland (2019)

[3] Small Business Scotland Survey (2022 - 2023)

[4] Women in Enterprise: the Economic Case, Federation of Small Businesses (2018)



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