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Report into gender bias and inequality affecting women business owners

4-minute read

Catriona Smith

3 March 2022

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Only 29 per cent of UK small businesses are run by women and this falls to just four per cent in the trades, according to Simply Business research.

With International Women’s Day on 8 March, we want to shine a light on this issue and dig deeper into the challenges female business owners face, as well as exploring the opportunities ahead.

We spoke to more than 800 women business owners across the UK to find out their barriers to success and how gender bias and inequality is impacting them.

Read on for the full results of our report, as well as details of an exclusive mentorship competition and small business webinar in partnership with Karren Brady CBE.

1 in 3 female entrepreneurs have experienced sexism as a business owner

Through our Empowering Women in Business initiative, we want to help female entrepreneurs overcome sexism and bias in business, and improve their skills and confidence as a business owner.

Our report found:

  • one in three (32 per cent) female entrepreneurs have experienced sexism as a business owner
  • one in five (19 per cent) face unequal access to opportunities

Overall, a staggering 91 per cent of women business owners say gender bias or inequality is prevalent in business, with a third describing it as ‘widespread’ or ‘severe’.

Key challenges for women in business

Our findings reveal experiences of sexism and gender bias in business:

  • over a fifth say investors, colleagues, or customers make quick assumptions about them, or underestimate them when compared to male counterparts
  • one in five don’t feel they're taken seriously compared to males in their industry
  • 15 per cent of female entrepreneurs don’t feel they have a loud enough voice, or are heard enough compared to men

Meanwhile, a further 16 per cent of women say they’re not taken as seriously when pitching their product or business. And one in 10 don’t have access to the same networks or mentors as men.

Experiences of female entrepreneurs statistic

Baroness Karren Brady CBE, ambassador for Simply Business, comments: “The level of gender bias and inequality within business, particularly within the small business landscape, is astounding.

"Sexism and bias, whether conscious or unconscious, will erode confidence over time and lead to unequal opportunities. It’s vital we challenge sexism and bias, and equip female entrepreneurs with the tools, access and confidence to overcome these obstacles. We need to inspire women into business, not bring them down."

What more needs to be done to improve gender equality?

We asked women business owners what they think needs to change to improve gender equality in business. Here’s what they told us.

What needs to change?

% of female business owners

More people calling out gender bias or inequality as it happens

45%

Greater exposure and education on the issue

43%

Unconscious gender bias training throughout all businesses, alongside more equal benefits (e.g. maternity/paternity pay)

39%

Dedicated female business and investor programmes

37%

Greater access to support for funding, mentorship and networks

34%

Experiences from small business owners across the UK

Female entrepreneurs and business owners have experienced gender bias and sexism across all industries and regions of the UK.

Jenny, who works in Leisure and Tourism in North West England, shared her experience: “Unlike many other types of inequality with business, reporting bias within these interactions is unmeasured and therefore unseen. Even at times when I’ve been included, my voice has not been valued compared to my male counterparts and I’ve had my ideas stolen or attributed to a man.”

Samantha Small, owner of Mother Shipton Inn pub and restaurant in Knaresborough, said: “As a woman who both heads a busy kitchen and runs the business as a whole, it still astounds me how many people will direct comments or business advice to my male partner. Everything from oven repairs to new suppliers. It's a bug bear, but unfortunately, something that I've had to learn to deal with.”

Supporting women in business

When it comes to what would help support women with running their business, we discovered:

  • 41 per cent said the chance to network with other female business owners
  • 38 per cent said a one-to-one mentorship from a business expert
  • a further third want to hear more tips and advice from leaders in their industry

It comes as a quarter of female entrepreneurs struggle with confidence in business.

Sarina Stokes, Head of Operations at BFG Print Ltd, shared her challenges: “I have not felt confident giving myself the title of business owner as I know most people associate business ownership as a male-dominated area. I call myself head of operations as I know many people do not think a female could own a company.”

Exclusive business mentorship with Karren Brady CBE

As part of the Empowering Women in Business initiative, we’re offering one female entrepreneur the chance to win an exclusive business mentorship with Karren Brady CBE.

Baroness Karren Brady CBE, ambassador for Simply Business, added: “We need to harness the talents, ambitions and drive of women, at any business, big or small. I’m proud to partner with Simply Business to shine a light on sexism and bias in business - it’s an ongoing challenge we need to resolve.

“Supporting and mentoring one female entrepreneur, and giving them the skills and tools they need to flourish, is a positive step forward in this journey.”

Entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners can also sign up to our free webinar on 17 March.

Bea Montoya, Chief Operating Officer at Simply Business, said: “International Women’s Day is hugely important in providing recognition to women all around the world. So we’re delighted to partner with Baroness Karren Brady – a formidable businesswoman who will share her successes and advice to help inspire female entrepreneurs up and down the country.

“Small businesses are crucial to the UK economy – and behind each of these businesses are passionate individuals with a big dream. At Simply Business, we’re proud to be able to offer one female business owner the opportunity to receive an exclusive, one-on-one mentoring session with Karren. We’re excited to see the positive impact Karren will have on supporting an entrepreneur in the next phase of their business journey.”

Mentorship from a business expert statistic

'The world needs you and your business'

Despite the challenges, 96 per cent of female entrepreneurs would recommend starting a business to other women.

It’s heart-warming to see:

  • 32 per cent describe running a business as ‘rewarding’
  • 92 per cent of female business owners feel 'confident' about the next 12 months running their business, with 40 per cent ‘very confident'

Allegra Chapman, co-founder of diversity and inclusion consultancy Watch This Sp_ce said: “In our coaching work we come across so many brilliant women with amazing business ideas who are holding themselves back because they’re convinced they’re not ready, or they’re not the right person to run a business, or they’re not good enough, or they won’t be taken seriously.

“Take the plunge and get stuck in as soon as you can. The world needs you and your business. If you wait forever, it’ll never happen. Make it happen.”

We’ll be announcing the winner of our business mentorship programme with Karren Brady CBE in April, so keep an eye on the Knowledge centre for that. See full terms and conditions here.

Have you experienced challenges or overcome barriers as a woman running your own business? Let us know in the comments.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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