Study Shows UK Policy Failures Have Restricted Female Entrepreneurs

UK Female Entrepreneurs

Of the six million businesses in the UK, only one-fifth are run by women – with twice as many male entrepreneurs as females. 

Making an economic case for female entrepreneurship rather than treating it as a diversity issue could do more to address the lack of women-owned businesses, according to research led by the University of Dundee.

Of the six million businesses across the UK, only one-fifth are run by women. Similarly, statistics show that there are twice as many male entrepreneurs as females in the UK, despite there being a greater number of women in the country.

Dundee University’s Dr Norin Arshed worked alongside colleagues from the University of Strathclyde to examine why enterprise policy has struggled to improve the number of small businesses owned by women in the UK.

Assessing Women’s Enterprise Policy

Researchers carried out interviews with policymakers, regional and local agencies and female entrepreneurs to establish the reasons behind the low number of female-owned businesses.

The research findings, published in the latest edition of Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, acknowledged a number of factors that help explain the current situation; exploring the entrepreneurial ecosystem, those operating within it, and the policy process of women’s enterprise policy.

“Our overarching aim was to unravel the puzzle as to why women’s enterprise policy has struggled to increase the rates of small business ownership by women entrepreneurs,” Dr Arshed said. “The study examines how and when individual stakeholders evaluate and then influence the legitimacy of women’s enterprise policy.

“We looked at the enterprise policy ecosystem which includes policy-makers, delivery agencies and women entrepreneurs,” she added.

Shifting Priorities

Efforts to improve the number of female entrepreneurs in the UK have been restricted by ever-changing political priorities, the study found. Researchers have called upon policymakers to champion and highlight women-owned businesses in order to help develop a national infrastructure that supports women’s enterprise.

Researchers said there is a resistance to the idea of women being deserving of increased support at the expense of other demographics considered to be marginalised.

Additionally, the study found there is a belief among many female entrepreneurs that seeking or accepting specialised support and assistance undermined their status as competent business people.

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“The key findings highlight the erosion of legitimacy for women’s enterprise policy from policy-makers, emphasising the gender stereotyping of women entrepreneurs,” Dr Arshed explained. “This, in turn, sheds light on the top-down reproduction of stereotypical gender norms triggering ‘bottom-up’ legitimacy responses from women entrepreneurs and other stakeholders.

“This subordination has led to individuals engaging in practices that destabilise women’s enterprise policy and undermine the effective delivery of policy objectives.”

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Addressing Shortcomings

Researchers underlined a series of changes to the enterprise policy ecosystem that they believe will help cultivate a stronger entrepreneurial culture amongst women in the UK.

Central to this lies government, which it said must address policy shortcomings and ensure that women can access the appropriate resources.

Recent initiatives to improve the quality and quantity of women’s businesses have had little effect, the study found. As such, it recommended that a longer-term strategy must be developed to increase the validity of women’s enterprise policy.

By addressing the issue and improving the number of women entrepreneurs in the UK, Dr Arshed said, the country can benefit greatly.

She added: “Increasing the number of women entrepreneurs would bring benefits across the economy and society and this is one of the key recommendations of our paper – that an economic case must be made for women’s enterprise policy and it should be rewarded with focus and resources rather than subsuming women’s enterprise into the general diversity agenda.”

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