SETTING OUR SIGHTS HIGH FOR SCOTLAND'S WOMEN-OWNED BUSINESSES
By Carrie Currie, Chief Executive, Women’s Enterprise Scotland
Entrepreneurship is on the rise. In communities across Scotland, more people are identifying business opportunities and taking action. The advance of broadband has provided greater working flexibility, in addition to equipping kitchen tables and home offices with a global reach.
This new era of business creation offers significant potential for Scotland’s economy. As increased automation and Artificial Intelligence work to remove lower skilled tasks, the business world of the future will be powered by work involving greater creativity and interaction. The need for these new skills will open up business to new demographics and, in preparation, it is vital that we cast out a wide talent net. Women represent an under-utilised resource across Scotland’s business ecosystem, with potential for much greater engagement.
Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) has huge ambitions for women-owned businesses in Scotland. Currently, just 20% of SMEs in Scotland are majority owned by women and there is significant scope to encourage and support more women and girls to realise their business potential. There has been much debate on the gender gap in employment with progress made thanks to the work of organisations including Close the Gap and Engender. Yet the gender gap in enterprise and business ownership persists.
Research undertaken by WES at the end of last year for the Federation of Small Businesses found that women owned businesses already contribute a staggering £8.8bn into the Scottish economy every year. That’s more than some of the stated economic “growth sectors” according to the Scottish Government Growth Sector statistics including, for example, Food & Drink (£5.3bn); Creative Industries (£4.4bn); Sustainable Tourism (£3.9bn) and Life Sciences (£1.5bn). Our research, and that of others, continues to evidence that women face specific challenges when starting and growing businesses including childcare, building credibility, access to finance and growth support. Imagine, then, what economic output could be achieved if we created a business landscape where women could access tailored needs-based support. This support would be co-designed by women-owned businesses and experts in women-specific economic development.
Countries across the world are already mobilising to attract more women into entrepreneurship and business ownership. In the words of Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, “The moral case for greater gender equity is clear, and so is the economic case. As countries around the world seek to grow their economies and reduce inequality, tapping into the huge potential of women can be a game changer.”
The international league table of the proportional population percentage of women setting up a new business is led by Canada at 13.5% and the US at 9.2%, in contrast to the UK at 4.7%. Both Canada and the US offer business support centres specifically for women-owned businesses. Research commissioned by American Express in 2017 found that there were an estimated 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States employing nearly 9 million people and generating more than $1.7 trillion in revenues. Over the past 20 years (1997–2017), following a sustained policy focus by successive governments, the number of women-owned businesses in the US has grown 114% compared to the overall national growth rate of 44% for all businesses. Women-owned businesses now account for 39% of
all US businesses.
Achieving this percentage of women owned businesses in Scotland would effectively double the existing 20% level and economic contribution of £8.8bn. This in itself is a valuable economic prize which is magnified by the associated job creation. Women-owned businesses are now responsible for creating 231,000 Scottish jobs, up from 153,000 in 2012. Boosting women-owned businesses to the levels experienced in the US would also generate thousands more new jobs and provide a wealth of new employment prospects and skills development opportunities. Plus, at 39% of the business base, we would be on the way to creating a much more diverse and inclusive business ecosystem.
Research shows that gender diversity powers radical, step change innovation. Building a diverse and inclusive business ecosystem is not just the right thing to do, but by its very existence, creates the environment where innovation can flourish. Diverse teams avoid group think and have the capability to identify novel solutions. And in business, novel solutions can translate into commercial gain and competitive advantage, both of which are vital components for a flourishing economy.
The newly issued Report by the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee on the inquiry into business support for SMEs in Scotland, including support provided by Business Gateway, acknowledges the importance of women to the business economy. Recommendations include “The Scottish Government creates a National Head of Women in Business to coordinate national policy and work towards the establishment of a National Women's Centre for Business”. This is a call we applaud and support.
Services by their very nature, work best when tailored to the needs of the end user. In the case of gender, this is not a case of simply taking existing programmes and adding a women’s label. Instead, we need to apply expert gender-specific techniques to develop the programmes and services which will provide optimal engagement, support and return on investment. This will create the environment where the next generation of women and girls can nurture their business aspirations and apply their skills and talents to shaping the businesses of the future. Our business ecosystem can only stand to benefit from greater gender diversity.
To realise this bright future, we must move now from debating the gender gap in enterprise and turn our collective focus on action for change. As researchers, policy makers, governments, business leaders, community members and family members, we all have a role to play in ending the gender gap in enterprise participation. At Women’s Enterprise Scotland, we have an ambition for women-owned businesses. An ambition for the pioneering women who represent 20% of the existing business base and an ambition for the next generation of women and girls. Join us and together we can lead the activities to deliver transformative change.
All interest, support and enquiries warmly welcomed.
Mob: 07906 504359
By Carrie Currie, Chief Executive, Women’s Enterprise Scotland
DEMENTIA, CONSUMERS IN SCOTLAND, CHILDREN & YOUNG PEOPLE'S MENTAL HEALTH AND WOMEN IN BUSINESS IN SCOTLAND
In 2013 the Scottish Government made this commitment: “…by 2015/16, all people newly diagnosed with dementia will have a minimum of one year’s worth of post-diagnostic support coordinated by a Link Worker, including the building of a person-centred support plan”.
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