Over the past couple of months, the calls for a specific government minister to take responsibility for the growth of female entrepreneurship in Scotland have got louder. Women’s Enterprise Scotland has been a leading force in bringing new research in this area to the attention of the government.
A draft consultation framework for women’s enterprise, written in conjunction with the Scottish government and the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, was published in May 2013 and included the proposal of a minister for women’s enterprise.
A recent panel debate at the Women’s Business and Enterprise conference suggests there is also strong support among female entrepreneurs for the provision of gender specific support.
Currently women are half as likely to start businesses as men, but if start-up rates were more equal the contribution to Scotland’s gross value added (GVA) would increase by £7.6bn to nearly £13bn. This equates to 5.3% growth in the size of the Scottish economy. A lead minister for women’s enterprise would be able to focus on realising this potential and take charge of ensuring the gender enterprise gap is diminished.
Politicians in Westminster also recognise the need to focus on women in business. The UK Women’s Business council recently published a report drawing attention to the obstacles faced by women wanting to start or grow a business.
It found that women don’t have as much confidence as men, even when they have the same skill set. Barriers to business are largely related to social attitudes and stereotypes because although women have aspirations for growth, they don’t see strong female role models in business.
But female entrepreneurship is not a gender issue – it’s an economic imperative. This is the tag line of Act4Growth, a European Citizens’ Initiative proposing four specific policy interventions to increase female entrepreneurship as a strategy for economic growth.
These include the creation of an office of women’s business ownership within the Ministry of Economy and the appointment of a women’s enterprise director in the commission. It also asks for greater enforcement of gender equality legislation and for more research and data to be gathered on women entrepreneurs across member states.
Act4Growth’s call for signatures was officially launched on 12 June and is being spearheaded by Madi Sharma, a British female entrepreneur and member of the European economic and social committee. The team expect one million people to sign up to support the initiative in the belief that women are key to growing the economy, so momentum for change is clearly building.
But action from the private and third sectors needs to be supported by the promotion of female entrepreneurship by governments, and a specific minister taking ownership of the issue would provide an appropriate focus. The danger of simply adding this responsibility to the current minister for business’ portfolio is that the specific needs and differences between men and women in business are blurred with a two-birds-one-stone mentality.
The benefit of dividing responsibility over one large economic issue is apparent in Scotland, where the creation of a youth employment minister has seen the level of youth unemployment in Scotland fall to the lowest levels in the UK, 17.0% compared with 20.6%.
Behind calls for a women’s enterprise minister are simple common aims: to grow the economy, create opportunities and promote economic sustainability. Everyone, male and female, would benefit from such a progressive political direction. Read more…
© The Guardian/Rachel Hanretty