There have been some interesting discussions about women in business over the last few weeks, although the imbalance between the sexes in senior management is rarely too far from the media. In many ways, it can still seem shocking that statistics are generated specifically for ‘women’ in business, much as it is for ethnic minorities. Both make continual reminders that the land of equality and diversity we live in may not be as equal and diverse as everyone would like to think.
Wayra UK, a startup accelerator owned by Telefonica, recently released independent research they commissioned into diversity with UK start-ups – Startup DNA.
The research came as a result of previous commentary regarding the start-up sector being the preserve of ‘white, male, young & privileged’ (The Guardian).
The research was conducted in the UK with the support of various incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces. While the research was open to all sectors, the final results mainly encompassed digital start-ups, which is perhaps unsurprising given the main thrust of the Wayra UK business and its association with Telefónica. Despite this obvious limitation to the value of the research and the small sample size, the results were nonetheless thought provoking.
As might be expected in the research, most respondents were executive level: founders, CEOs or both. It threw up some headline making statistics such as showing that women are 5 times more likely to be entrepreneurs in the UK than the US. Given the high tech bias of the respondents this is a remarkable benchmark against our American cousins which actually puts the UK in a very positive light.
Of the the start-ups surveyed, over 30% were set up by women. Although this is not quite a balance that reflects the balance of the sexes in society as a whole, it is much higher than might be expected given a general pre-conception that high tech startups are totally dominated by young men. Clearly, positive change is happening and these figures might suggest that UK start-up finance houses are more tolerant of women in the UK than the US.
Is being a woman and important factor when it comes to being an entrepreneur, or launching a start-up?
Well to answer this question it might be worth a quick differentiation of the two terms. Not everyone who launches a startup will turn into what is generally understood as an entrepreneur. We would regard entrepreneurs as serial business starters with an ability to build wealth through the creation of new ventures that can be sold on, or developed into larger enterprises. Someone starting a business may be on the first step of that greater path, or perhaps just focused on building a steady income for themselves.
In order to be a successful entrepreneur, or just to start your own business, there is a commonality that surely surpasses all elements of ‘diversity’. If the founder does not have drive and passion for their product, or service then they may not be ready, or right to ‘start-up’. Investors are not just looking for good business sense, they are also looking for passion to take advantage of an opportunity.
The passion has to be infectious. That does not mean it is a ‘man thing’, or even a ‘woman thing’, but does imply drive, single mindedness and the leadership qualities to make it happen. Also, it is not just about the money – for the most successful, money is not the point of the exercise, it is just one way in which success is measured.
That said then, it is still unclear why there are not an equal number of women starting up businesses? One often touted hypothesis is that men are greater risk takers than women and often have greater confidence in their own abilities – even if that confidence may be somewhat optimistic. However, the women who are successful business leaders are such because they have better communications skills, are more likely to take the initiative and have a higher degree of emotional intelligence when ranked alongside their male counterparts.
In fact there are some great examples of highly successful female business leaders. Before joining Hewlett Packard their CEO, Meg Witman took EBay from a $4 million business to a $8 billion business in 8 years – the fastest growing US business of all time. Abi Wright, co-founder of Spabreaks.com has grown her start up business to over £14million in 5 years.
Speaking with Santander Knowledge Hub, Abi Wright puts her success down to, amongst other things, listening to customers and staying true to the vision for the business. However, both women have been successful through the implementation of sensible business strategies – strategies available to both men and women.
So if women can have the right stuff (and in some ways better stuff than men), just why more women are not involved in starting up businesses is still a puzzle. Bronwen Clune in the Guardian is clear that it is down to (largely male) investor male bias. This may or may not be true, but ignores the fact that most new businesses start up without recourse to investor style funding. It is not a good enough explanation by itself.
What is certain when you dig deeper into successful start-ups in the UK is that women are behind some of the fastest growing startup businesses and that is across all sectors. And, as Yasmina Siadatan, Creative Director of Start Up Loans Company advises “There has clearly never been a better time to start a business in Britain as a woman”.
Perhaps the real reason for the inequality is that this message is just not out there enough and it is in fact women who rule themselves out, before any male does it for them.
So perhaps we can help change that and, if you are a woman and are looking for opportunities to start your own business, take a look at our businesses for sale, it could be the start of something big.