How female entrepreneurs can support other women in business

Being an entrepreneur is tough. You work around the clock, trying to get your new business off the ground, with no guarantee of success. Even successful businesses need time before their company starts to turn a profit.

The pressures of entrepreneurial life are huge, and with the burden of childcare and family life still largely falling on women, it’s perhaps not surprising that women own only a third of UK businesses.

In 2015, the WE Forum reported that women were less likely to become entrepreneurs because it tends to take an abundance of “overconfidence” or “misplaced confidence” to succeed. With the high failure rate of start-ups, successful entrepreneurs need to rely on their “unfounded self-confidence” to carry them through their tough months and have an intrinsic belief in themselves.

A stereotypical view of gender differences may argue that women tend to have more humility than men. This means that they may be less likely to have the confidence or belief in themselves to try something new, especially if they have previously tried and failed.

But there are signs that women are starting to gain more confidence in setting up their own businesses.

A 2020 report from UENI states that “the number of UK businesses currently owned by women is 32.37%, highlighting a remarkable shift from four years ago when just 17% of founders were female. 

If we can see that changes are starting to emerge (even if they are slow to come to fruition), perhaps we should be doing more to encourage female-led businesses

Why do we need to support women in business?

There is no reason why female entrepreneurs shouldn’t be successful. The likes of Karren Brady, Deborah Meaden, Michelle Mone, Gina Miller, and Sara Davies are all household names who have had resounding business success. 

We should be looking to these women to see what we can learn from them and be inspired by what they have achieved. 

When a business is first conceived, there is no difference in the idea generation, the innovation, or even the management structure between men and women. So, why is it that men are more likely to progress from the idea stage to developing their business ideas?

First, it’s due to the overconfidence issue. Men are perhaps more likely to take a risk. Second, it is potentially deemed more socially acceptable for a man to spend all his time focusing on his start-up without coping with the burden of home and family life. There are also serious concerns that men have greater access to funding opportunities to elevate their businesses from start-up to success.

If we want to see greater equality and a chance to close the gender pay gap, we need to concentrate on supporting female-led businesses. If we encourage more women to start their own businesses, we will see real societal change.

We’ll see more women reaching C-Suite positions, which can have knock-on effects for diversity, education and attainment levels, and innovation and creativity. Beyond this, we could then foresee better work-life balance, improved income levels and greater economic independence.

Female-led businesses can change how things are done, not just in individual companies but also across entire sectors.

For instance, a woman will likely have a different perspective than a man. As a result, she may use her insights and experiences to create different ways of working. Innovation only comes when someone can think differently from the ‘norm.’

If the result is creating a new business that works differently from others, we can start to see the emergence of thriving businesses known for:

  • Better teamwork
  • Stronger leadership
  • Better communication

In today’s increasingly competitive world, we need to do what we can to encourage newer ways to find that competitive edge. So it stands to reason that a gender-diverse workforce could be better suited to flourishing and adapting to any changing business needs.

Four ways you can support female entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses

Now we know the benefits of supporting and encouraging women in business, it’s important to know how to show this support.

There are many ways to demonstrate your affinity for fellow businesswomen. We are not competing against one another. We are allies, and we can all learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses and celebrate each other’s successes.

Here are four practical suggestions of how we can support one another and help fellow female entrepreneurs to thrive in their ventures.

1) Share your advice and knowledge

We know that confidence is a big barrier for many women and prevents them from taking that leap into entrepreneurship. Once you’ve had some initial success, it could inspire and encourage others if you can share your successes, your challenges and your thoughts.

You could do this in a variety of ways. For example, you could plan a content marketing strategy that focuses on you as an individual (as well as your business’s successes). By publishing content on your website and your social media channels or even embarking on a profile-raising PR campaign, you will inspire a new generation of female business owners. If we remain visible, we can encourage new women to enter the workforce and inspire them to reach for managerial positions.

You may also wish to install a company-wide initiative where you invite female members of your team (regardless of seniority) to talk to you personally. An open-door policy can be hugely advantageous to many businesses.

You can encourage your junior staff to feel part of the team, willing to share their ideas and suggestions. The more you develop a team nature, the more you may find that productivity increases, innovation develops and staff retention improves.

In short, it’s a win-win situation.

2) Consider mentoring others

We mentioned earlier that women want to be built up and inspired by other women. We want to learn from one another, especially from those with the same backgrounds or challenges as us. Mentorship schemes are a great way to share your success with others and can be hugely effective in supporting other women.

When handled correctly, a formal mentoring program can be an opportunity to give advice and guidance. It can help people to build their confidence. It can give people new ideas and perspectives. It can even hold people accountable for their dreams and ambitions.

If you have the resources to set up such a program, you could establish a female-mentoring scheme that encourages women of all ages, races, backgrounds, seniority, and educational backgrounds to identify their potential. Company-wide mentoring programs can provide effective training and development for your staff and position you as a great employer.

3) Invest in female businesses

One of the biggest challenges for women is finding funding for their businesses. 

Last year, women-led businesses received a staggering 96% less funding for their businesses than male-owned companies (source: CityAM). This contributes to the gender pay gap, as it creates an uneven playing field that means female businesses find it much harder to grow and develop.

To combat this, we should be doing what we can to support our fellow businesswomen. If you are looking for investment opportunities, why not look exclusively at female-owned firms? We’ve already noted that female business leaders are no different in terms of innovation and idea generation from their male counterparts.

Even a small investment in a female start-up could be the difference between success and failure for some companies. And as that investment takes hold and the business starts to grow, there’s a real chance that your initial investment could generate a significant return. 

If you are not in a position to make a financial investment yourself, why not share details of where women can access funds? Often pointing women in the right direction for grants or funding, or helping with the application process can be enough to get the ball rolling. You could even discuss issues relating to funding as part of your mentoring programs or your content and PR strategies. 

4) Invite into your networks

The business world needs to move on from being a ‘boys’ club’ or being about ‘who you know. We need to encourage new people to join our networks to learn from others, inspire others, and create a new generation of business owners.

Why not use your personal networks to help fledgling female-led businesses? As well as inviting women to join you at existing networking events, you could create your own events that are designed to inspire and encourage.

Alternatively, why not get actively involved in entrepreneurial schemes that seek to improve women’s prospects in business? For example, NatWest is looking to expand its Expert in Residence program.

Celebrate Female Business and Success

Finally, the one thing we should all do is ensure we celebrate female businesses. We need to shout about their successes and do what we can to raise the profile of those smaller initiatives to help them get a competitive advantage.

This could be as simple as sharing a social media post, sending a supportive message or raising awareness of good deals. If you can help someone’s voice get heard, it could give them the confidence to keep on going, even when they are working hard and feeling that they are getting nowhere.

The more we can do to boost women and give them the confidence to believe in themselves, the quicker we’ll see improvements in entire industries and wider society.

The rewards are worth it

If we all made a conscious effort to support female-led businesses, we could see a new dawn.

Starting a new business is challenging work.

It can take your blood, sweat, and tears. It often requires a significant financial investment, many hours of hard work, and it can feel that you are merely treading water rather than swimming to the top.

But the rewards are worth it.

When you succeed, you can run a business the way you see fit. You can reap the financial rewards and know that something you created is admired and used by others.

We want to see more women taking the plunge.

We believe in women, and we know that there is absolutely no reason you cannot do it other than the barriers that we place against ourselves. We owe it to our daughters, our nieces, and the next generation of young women to make them believe that nothing is holding them back. They can set up their own businesses and gain economic independence. They can become business leaders and employers, shaping the way for future generations.

But to do this, we need to start actively supporting current female-led businesses. Whether through investment plans, social media engagement or mentoring roles, we need to play a conscious role in building up women and giving them the confidence to get started.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T