Overcoming challenges female entrepreneurs face

Female entrepreneurs can face a range of hurdles, from getting their start-up off the ground to overseeing day-to-day operations and scaling their business.

Female entrepreneurs made up only 32.3% of the UK's smaller business leaders in 2020, equating to less than 7,300 businesses.

While that amount has reportedly increased since 2016, female entrepreneurs are still the minority.

The typical hurdles female entrepreneurs face are often very different from those experienced by their male counterparts.

1. Societal Bias

The Unilever Foundation reported in 2018 that female entrepreneurs regularly experienced gender stereotypes and societal expectations in the start-up space, such as perceptions around assertiveness and leadership. Societal bias, such as getting married or starting a family, may also pose challenges to female entrepreneurs. These affect female entrepreneurs throughout the business lifecycle, from accessing funding to hiring new team members. These biases can be internalised and become a barrier for some women considering starting their own business.

Actions to try 1

  • Be aware of and identify any applicable social and biases
  • Have clear policies in place to ensure a level playing field between genders
  • Develop a culture of inclusiveness, flexibility, and diversity.

2. Access to funding

Female start-up founders miss out on billions of pounds of investment. According to the British Business Bank, for every £1 of UK venture capital investment, less than 1p went to all-female founder teams in 2019, with 89p in every £1 going to all-male founder teams. Biases may play a part in female entrepreneurs' difficulty securing funding from standard investment forms. Women are viewed as typically more risk averse than men, which investors may see as an issue if they deem taking risks a part of running a successful organisation.

Actions to try 2

3. Building a network

A lack of female entrepreneurial peers and mentors can make effective network building difficult, stunting business growth. Female entrepreneurs can benefit from a support network of individuals who have had the same experiences or have faced similar situations. HSBC's She's the Business report found that a robust support network is key to female entrepreneurial success.

Actions to try 3

  • Invest in building a network of industry contacts and keep in regular touch with your network
  • Join female entrepreneur and business leadership networks and organisations
  • Encourage your business to celebrate and publicly recognise the success of women in business.

4. Owning accomplishments

Imposter Syndrome describes having prominent feelings of self-doubt and guilt from believing yourself to be a fraud and being unable to accept your accomplishments. Although anyone can suffer from Imposter Syndrome, it is most commonly experienced by women and those in senior positions. Some female entrepreneurs may find it more difficult to take credit for their work or recognise their successes, especially when working within a team. Women may commonly use words like "we" and "us", even when describing successful actions only they were involved with.

Actions to try 4

  • Focus on facts – who did what, what the goal was, what the starting point was and what the outcome was
  • Be straightforward about your actions within the business
  • Celebrate the success of female staff who led or played significant roles in a project
  • Create an inclusive culture where everyone is recognised for their work.

5. Creating a work-life balance

When running a small business, some female entrepreneurs may find it difficult to switch off and focus on home life. Finding a work-life balance could be a stepping stone to business success, as well as helping protect an entrepreneur's mental health. The Rose Review reported that women are twice as likely to mention family responsibilities as a barrier to starting their own business than men. Primary care responsibilities are the most common barrier to business success for female entrepreneurs who are also parents.

Actions to try 5

  • Create a short-term and long-term plan to bring both professional and personal goals into focus
  • Create a better separation between work and home life, such as turning off work notifications at the end of the day.

Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

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