Do we still need feminism in the Western world? From the right to vote to equal pay, across many fields the battle has been won. Over the course of the last century women moved into paid employment outside the home in ways previous generations could only imagine. The 2016 British Social Attitudes survey found that just 4%t of 18 to 25 year olds agree with the statement: "A man's job is to earn money; a woman's job is to look after the home and family." We find as many female as male employees in fields from medicine to marketing.
But there is still work to be done, not least in convincing that 4% that a woman's place is wherever she darn well pleases. In my time at The Entrepreneurs Network I've encountered countless inspirational female founders, women who are breaking the mould by striking out alone and creating businesses that change the way we work, shop or communicate. Yet female participation rates in business ownership remain stubbornly low, especially at the scale-up phase. Why? Academic research points to a substantial gap in funding for female founded businesses with ambitions to scale. Beauhurst data show that, in 2016, 86% of publicly-announced investment deals (including crowdfunding, venture capital and angel investment) into growth companies involved firms without a single female founder. Our Untapped Unicorns report, part of our Female Founders Forum (FFF) project, has examined the gender funding gap and outlined actionable ways to reverse the trend.
There are many theories as to why women struggle to access finance more than their male counterparts, but arguably the most troubling is the perception that male-led businesses are a more bankable investment. A series of randomised controlled trials, carried out at the University of California and Harvard University, revealed that a female name, picture or voice will decrease the probability of receiving investment. The outdated view that business ownership is a male preserve is refusing to budge. Hence why we had little difficulty convincing some of Britain's most successful female entrepreneurs to join the FFF. Backed by Barclays, it counts Margot James MP, Sara Murray (Confused.com) and Kathryn Parsons (Decoded) among its members. Over the course of four roundtables, these inspirational founders came up with a set of recommendations to help ensure that female-led businesses can reach the same economic scale as those led by men.
The report encourages the government to provide more and better data on growth businesses; specifically, partnering with the UK Business Angels Association to provide statistics on returns offered by women-founded businesses at the angel level. It should also get behind the many schemes out there to bring entrepreneurs into schools - such as Founders4Schools, which connects students with local business leaders.
But government's power to reverse the trend is limited. We want to see other female entrepreneurs pay it forward, both literally - by investing in fellow female founders - or in "softer" ways by mentoring other founders seeking to scale. We want the VC industry, historically dominated by middle-aged men, to promote diversity - both with new hires and within their portfolios. And even the media can play a role, profiling women-led businesses - especially those operating in male-dominated industries - and ensuring aspirational females, from schoolgirls considering STEM to founders on the cusp of rapid growth, get the role models they need.
The tide is already turning, the pipeline of inspirational female founders bursting at the valve. But we want to accelerate the process. So in 2017 and beyond, The Entrepreneurs Network will is pivoting the FFF project and connecting our members with some of the UK's most ambitious female founders at speed mentoring events. Our membership will grow further to include household names like Tesco Clubcard mastermind Edwina Dunn. And we'll continue to champion women-led firms through our media channels to help ensure Britain becomes the best place in the world for female entrepreneurs.