What Could the Future Hold for Women in Business?

The recent success of entrepreneurs such as Michelle Mone, inventor of the Ultimo gel-filled bra, and Linda Bennett of LK Bennett, has highlighted the growing numbers of successful female entrepreneurs. Following government statistics from the start of 2005 confirming this, startups.co.uk took a look at the stories behind the figures.

For the first time, the gap between men and women is narrowing considerably fulfilling the government's intentions to get more women into business. The times are changing with women catching men up rapidly in just a year (2003-04), which is encouraging to see. There are quite marked regional differences over a three-year period, although virtually all regions showed a rise in female entrepreneurs.

A few entrepreneurial trends were quite apparent, whilst women are being more innovative and creative. Female total entrepreneurial activity (TEA) is highest in the £30,000-£39,000 income category, with a broad spread around the country. With more than 600,000 women owned businesses, the UK has seen between £50 and £70bn generated and the aim is now to get more women into traditionally male dominated sectors.

Entrepreneurial culture

According to the DTI's Women and Equality Unit, female self-employment has doubled from 3.12 per cent in 1979 to 6.5 per cent in 2004. Figures from the 2004 Global Entrepreneurial Monitor indicate that women aged between 35 and 44 are most likely to become entrepreneurs, with a gap of less than half between the two sexes.

According to a survey from February 05 by Businessesforsale.com, when it comes to women buying businesses, the childcare sector is most popular. The chairman, Marcus Markou said: "Women want a business that is both challenging and rewarding¦ For many, it also provides them with the opportunity to work from home and as a result have more quality time to spend with their own families." A reason cited for this trend is that women want to have the independence, and responsibility that comes with owning a business, coupled with the fact that they already have experience of childcare.

Statistics showed that female entrepreneurship is higher amongst homemakers (2.8 per cent) and students (2.6 per cent). For example, some start a business from necessity such as Pat Moores and Janet Kingston with the website For Parents By Parents and others because it's an ambition of theirs like Karen Caile's Sunnyside Business Services.

A speech given by Equalities Minister Jacqui Smith, stated that women "are more innovative, and likely to use new technology bringing new products into the market." Moreover, the 2005 British Female Inventors & Innovators Awards celebrated the most innovative women in the past year. It highlighted some unique inventions ranging from the practical (a pushchair that folds into a backpack) to the fantastic (a device that sweeps water from skin after washing or swimming).

One eye-catching idea is Newhair, a new hair product that takes away the pain of having extensions put in, developed by Simi Belo. After years of frustration with the length of time it took to have weaves (wefts of hair either glued or sewn to the hair) and the cost, she felt there had to be an alternative. So she thought up NewHair, which is like a wig but instead blends in with a piece of the wearer's natural hair. Belo says her invention "saves time, money, and looks just as realistic" and has been getting praise from some unusual places including a trichologist.


Of all the figures for female entrepreneurial activity, the ones for location are quite striking. A recent report underlined the fact that there are more women starting up businesses in rural areas (5.1 per cent) than in urban (3.4 per cent) or suburban (3.8 per cent) places.

A successful rural company is graphics design company, Wicked Poppy Designs, run by Sally Roydhouse. As a former advertising woman, she was familiar with what made a successful design and 1997 saw her set up on her own. For her, a rural setting was better and the office space was much more cost effective. She says that there's "so much bad design around that it stands to reason that there's always a big section of the market you can improve upon". For Sally, attitudes towards her being a female entrepreneur are markedly different from those of previous 'proper' jobs; in fact, in some of her past jobs, Sally was "sometimes seen as a second-class citizen" whereas now she feels more equal.

The future

For the first time in the four-year period of comparative data in the UK, the total amount of female entrepreneurial activity has gone up by 3.1 per cent to 46 per cent but the government intends to improve on this further. The aim is to increase the level of newly self-employed women significantly by 2008, according to one report. The proposal to get more women into traditionally male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing, seems to be working already with successes such as Women Builders, the female-only construction company.

All in all, the signs are very encouraging for even more women becoming more and more prominent as entrepreneurs.

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