Closing the ‘enterprise’ gender gap in the West Midlands will create thousands of new jobs and add billions of pounds to the regional economy it was announced today.
The rallying cry, which was made by the Advantage West Midlands-backed Women’s Enterprise Centre of Expertise (WECOE), comes on the back of two latest reports that reveal gender matters more in this region than in any other part of the UK and that men are twice as likely as women to start new businesses.
Over 250 delegates at Aston Villa Football Club also heard that implementing an ‘escalator of business support’ from start-up through to established businesses could create 36,000 more female new businesses each year and generate an additional £2.32bn for the economy.
‘The Economic Case for Women’s Enterprise – Does Gender Matter?’ conference – the biggest of its type ever held in the West Midlands – received the backing of high profile keynote speakers, including Rosie Winterton (Minister for Regional Economic Development), Theresa May (Shadow Minister for Women), Everyclick.com’s Polly Gowers and international business guru Julie Weeks from the United States.
“Closing the gender gap has never been more important for the West Midlands and is commonly perceived as one of the main ways we can look to close the £16bn output gap,” explained Marla Nelson, Director of WECOE.
“For the last two years, we have been working towards developing the Women’s enterprise agenda by gathering market intelligence, engaging with partners and stakeholders, capacity building and piloting new activities that could shape policy going forward.”
She continued: “Today is the culmination of this work and also the perfect opportunity to officially launch two latest research papers on the current landscape concerning women’s enterprise and the findings make for interesting reading.”
The first paper, undertaken by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring (GEM) team at Aston University, revealed that only 3.9% of females in the region are involved in starting up a business compared to 8.9% of men and this gap is even more pronounced when looking at levels of established company ownership.
It also tackled some of the behavioural differences, with only 35% of women questioned feeling they had the necessary skills to start a business, less than 20% have access to an entrepreneur and 40% had a fear of failure (compared with 35% of men).
Research carried out by Delta Economics on the ‘Challenges and Opportunities for Growth and Sustainability’ instead focused on established businesses turning over £250,000 and the findings were equally powerful.
Dr Rebecca Harding, who led the report, picked up the story:
“The West Midlands should focus its efforts on ensuring that women continue the enterprise journeys that they start, as research suggests once they are on the ‘growth’ track they generate turnover and employment growth in the same way as their male counterparts and have similar growth expectations.
“Unfortunately, women founded and owned companies represent just 17% of all growth businesses, so there is clearly a significant number falling through the support network and this must be addressed.”
Other findings from the report, which questioned over 2100 respondents, included:
Start-up motivations - 60% of the women were motivated by the desire to “make a difference” either socially, environmentally or in terms of job creation.
Start-up Investment and Finance: In 2009, the average amount invested in a company at start-up by the entrepreneur was £105,000 and this was similar for men and women
Business challenges through growth: Women were less likely than men to be troubled by cashflow, credit profile or profitability when they started their businesses, but more likely to be concerned about building teams and competition from UK competitors.
WECOE used the event to respond to the findings of the latest research and called for the introduction of a business support escalator for women, starting with a dedicated mentor to follow the entrepreneur from idea through to launch and in the subsequent growth stages.
The ‘Centre of Expertise’ also called for a centralised co-ordinating resource that provides signposting and links to specialist elements of business support, not to mention significant funding towards making sure there is greater access to investment readiness and financial literacy training for women.
Marla picked up the story: “The Enterprise Culture is another important factor of our policy and more needs to be done to combat traditional barriers to entry, such as increased support with childcare/work life balance and greater professional development.
“Ensuring enterprise is on the agenda in schools, colleges and universities is also essential and we would be keen to see more outreach programmes introduced for tackling hard to reach areas.”
Rosie Winterton, Minister for Regional Economic Development, concluded:
“Female entrepreneurs are key to economic growth. Women-led SMEs represent 15% of Britain’s SME business community but contribute £50 billion to the UK economy per year. So it is essential that more women take up the entrepreneurial challenge. Their contribution is vital to the West Midlands, to the UK economy – and to boosting our competitiveness on the global stage.
“We must ensure the right conditions are in place to encourage more women to realise their economic ambitions – to start and grow a business and exploit their ideas.”
Welcoming the work in the West Midlands and announcing the first of 9 regional Women’s Enterprise Champions, she added:
“The Government is working with partners across the country to make this happen. The work of the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Expertise and the Women’s Enterprise Task Force are helping to shape that work.
“The RDAs are key to developing and supporting female entrepreneurship. We will see a Women’s Enterprise Champion in each region encouraging more women to start their business and advising Government from a local perspective. I am pleased to announce today the first Champion – Angela Maxwell – championing women entrepreneurship here in the West Midlands.
“This builds upon the RDA led national network of 1300 women’s enterprise ambassadors, who are actively working to inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs.”
WECOE is one of four Centres of Expertise funded by the Advantage West Midlands’ Enterprise Board, with the others focusing on minority ethnic, young people and social enterprise.