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Female Founders – Does the Pace of Change Need to Quicken?


Hannah Williams
Alacrity Foundation 

The landscape of entrepreneurship is already changing. Women are increasingly stepping into key leadership roles, driving innovation and redefining success.

Now more than ever there are more ‘females supporting females’ groups centred around investing and mentoring. These are two of the key fundamentals for businesses to have a chance of success.

Despite this support, securing investment and accessing mentoring still appear to be amongst the main barriers facing female founded businesses.

According to the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, challenges in accessing mentoring networks continue to impede the progress of women-led enterprises. And whilst women own 20% of businesses in the UK (NatWest, 2023), only 2% of equity investment is received by all-female-founded businesses. This figure has been stagnant for over a decade.

Where progress appears to be happening, where the landscape seems to be changing, it is happening slowly.

Let’s go back to 1975 when the Sex Discrimination Act was passed. It was only then that females were legally allowed to get a mortgage without a man. This wasn’t even 50 years ago. It was before my lifetime, however it is still a key memory for many females.

Such milestones have helped level out the playing field for females in a personal capacity – but what’s changed within a professional capacity?

It feels like a case of two steps forward and one step back, when you look at the statistics.

In 2022, only 21 CEO positions were occupied by females within FTSE companies – nine in FTSE 100 and 12 in FTSE 250.

Positivity around companies seeking to have an inclusive, balanced board all contributes to the opportunity for the landscape to flourish, with women holding 40.1% of board positions, which is an increase from 36.8% in 2021 (Dentons March 2023).

One potential barrier for females is the maternity/paternity debate. Shared parental leave has helped family life with males having the ability to share the parental leave for newborns, adoption and fostering, yet some stigma and assumption has been reported whereby the female is still expected to take the full entitlement of the leave. It’s refreshing when you hear of families and businesses embracing the shared parental leave approach.

Economically and ethically it makes sense for women to start a business. Staggeringly, if they did so at the same rate as males, £250 billion additional value would have been added to the economy.

In 2022, women in the UK established more than 150,000 new companies – more than twice as many in 2018, so positive change is happening.

Barriers are being broken down – but evidently not quickly enough. The gender pay gap is still a contentious issue. It is still there, and it needs to be closed for economic growth and women’s economic empowerment going forward.

It will be interesting to see how the landscape changes over the next 50 years.

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