Headstart: Women in business – Breaking down the barriers.

The trend seems clear; women entrepreneurs are becoming an increasingly important part of the UK economy with one in three businesses with a turnover of £1m now owned by women and women accounting for a similar proportion of start-ups. This can only be healthy for the balance sheet of UK plc, but if this is to continue it is essential to identify and understand more fully the pressures, challenges and motivations of women in business.

I believe that for banks, business support organisations and professional advisers this translates into a need both to understand the pressures these entrepreneurs face and more importantly develop mechanisms to overcome any specific barriers which they may encounter.

For example, the research highlighted women are often more adventurous than men, with 45% choosing to start a business outside the arena of their direct work experience. This compares to 28% of men. For the financial professional approached for advice or direct funding, it can be hard to strike an appropriate balance between delivering support and challenge to a start-up business plan.

The businesses they are starting are typically in sectors that require less capital and offer greater flexibility to work outside normal working hours, an obvious requirement as women still tend to bear the primary responsibility for childcare.

These factors have implications for banks, advisers and business support organisations not only in terms of support, but also in the ways they engage with businesses. An obvious example is the increasing flexibility for businesses to communicate with their bank.

Phone and online access have given customers access to services when they want them, and for Barclays investment in mobile technology means managers now visit customers at their own premises. While this is of value to all customers, it can be key to a female entrepreneur who, for example, must balance business and direct childcare needs.

Perhaps more shocking from a cultural point of view, the research highlighted that 37% of women believe that ‘not being taken seriously’ is a key challenge.

The introduction of policies which value diversity in all organisations, and which make clear the unacceptable nature of sexism and racism, are essential if these perceived barriers are to be removed.

The increasing number of women business-owners can only serve to benefit the community as a whole, by creating jobs and wealth. This entrepreneurship cannot be encouraged by a one-size fits all approach. There is no doubt that only by recognising that different businesses have different needs, and by meeting those needs, can banks and professional advisers play their part in fostering this success. ?:

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