Women in Startups: No Room at the Inn?

Grace Holden

If you’re a female entrepreneur, you’ll know first-hand how the startup landscape is equipped to cater for women in business. In essence, it can be tough! In 2021, in the UK, just 8 of the top 100 businesses were run by women, and a report by UENI found that women lead just 32.27% of small businesses in the UK! So where are we going wrong, and how can we change the startup world to include our amazing female entrepreneurs? Grab a cup of tea and settle down, because it’s about to get interesting.

There have been several long-held beliefs about why female entrepreneurs are not succeeding in the same way as their male counterparts: family obligations, confidence, fear of failure, we could go on. However, there are distinct financial and institutional disparities between men and women in business, disparities that disproportionately affect women looking to create and grow their startups.

Just 9% of UK startup funding goes to women, found a study by the Entrepreneurs Network. Why? Could it be that the pool of investors is male-dominated, therefore unaware of their unconscious bias toward female entrepreneurs? Maybe investors don’t understand how to work with women. Or maybe they fundamentally don’t believe women are as good at business as their male counterparts. Whatever the reason, women are getting the short end of the stick. Without appropriate funding, female businesses are left to flounder and flutter away into the abyss. Of course, there are grants available exclusively to female entrepreneurs and investors looking to grow women-owned businesses. The Female Founders Fund, for example, was set up in 2014 with the aim to invest solely in female entrepreneurs. However, there’s still so much that needs to change.

One of the key reasons why women are more likely to struggle to set up their business is because, on a national level, women earn less that men. Yes, we’ve all heard of it: the gender pay gap. Worryingly, it looks like this is growing in many workplaces. For example, the pay gap in the UK’s biggest companies was 10.2% in 2021, climbing from 9.3% in 2018. If women aren’t being paid enough, how can they save the money to venture out on their own? For female entrepreneurs from disadvantaged backgrounds, the pay gap puts them at a further disadvantage and prevents the business world from benefiting from their skills and expertise!

It shouldn’t be up to women to change the landscape of business. Large companies should do more to teach their employees about unconscious bias and give women the confidence to feel able to challenge it. This is especially important for Black and Asian female founders who, in 2020, gained only 0.24% of venture capital. We must also create more opportunities for female entrepreneurs; opportunities to gain business experience, and more ways of helping them to develop their startups. Businesses and investors must be held accountable for their prejudices and learn to develop and change because let’s face it, they’re missing out!

So, should women just throw their hands into the air and give up trying? Definitely not! Despite the challenges, the startup landscape is changing in positive ways. Our advice? Believe in your company, your product and yourself, and keep going. Challenge sexism when it arises and make yourself heard!