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14 November 2018

How role models inspire women to start up their own businesses

Women in enterprise are playing an increasingly important role in driving UK economic growth.

The latest research, published by FSB, finds that businesses owned by women are now calculated to contribute £105bn GVA to the UK economy (calculation based on the latest figures, 2015) - that's up from an estimated £75bn in 2012, an increase of 40%.

They are also providing more jobs - with employment in businesses owned by, or led by, women now accounting for an estimated 23.85% of private sector employment in the UK.

But despite the increase, figures show that women still do not set up businesses at the same rate as men. While more and more women are becoming self-employed, just 22% of SMEs are majority women-owned.

The Government, which launched its own review into the barriers faced by female entrepreneurs in September 2018, says that while the UK is one of the best places in the world to grow a business, women are still half as likely as men to be involved in starting one.

Why? One of the reasons identified in various reports - from the Women's Business Council to Facebook and FSB’s #SheMeansBusiness campaign - is a lack confidence among would-be female entrepreneurs.

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(FSB's Louise Stewart and Ruby Peacock launching the report at Facebook's Community Boost event in London on 13th November.)

Women are less likely than men to already know someone in business and benefit from their experience and less likely to see people like themselves, succeeding.

And that's where role models can help.

Findings by the Women's Business Council in 2015 suggested 83% of women who have started their own business, knew someone else who had done the same.

So inspirational figures have a big role to play in persuading other women that entrepreneurship is a viable career option.

"Every single woman out there has a story to tell. Even if they tell one person, it will make a difference," says Julianne Ponan.

In 2012, aged 22, Julianne became the owner and CEO of Creative Nature Superfoods. The company is now at the forefront of superfood and free-from innovation, and was the FSB Small Business of the Year in 2018.

But it wasn't all plain sailing.

"A lot of people didn't take me seriously in the beginning, I couldn't get credit with suppliers, I got called a 'little girl' and told I wouldn't succeed. Hearing stories from other friends who were entrepreneurs - they faced something similar," she said.

Now a mentor for Virgin Start-ups, Julianne says hearing about the struggles faced by other  women business owners - and their achievements, despite the obstacles - can inspire women to believe "if they can do it, I can do it".

"I think seeing struggle is really important. Seeing that [that] person has not just had success overnight, and not just see amazing wins and how much they are worth now," she said.

"Knowing they did stay up working til 4am, they did have kids and had to work at the same time, these things really resonate with people."

FSB recognises the importance of role models in encouraging more women to set up their own business.

Its #100FSBWomen PR campaign featured images of 100 female FSB members acting as ‘digital role models’, along with each one’s inspiring advice, on International Women's Day 2018, to raise the profile of women entrepreneurs. 

Lina Bourdon, MD and founder of City & Country Financial Services and the FSB lead for women in enterprise, has found giving ordinary business women a stage to share their experiences, for example at local networking events, can inspire other would-be entrepreneurs to take that extra step.

"We do have women role models but, as a rule, the media promotes those who achieved great results and built big business empires.

"But for a woman who just started in business, for someone who runs her business from her kitchen table these types of role models are too far away and unreachable.

"We need real women, those who live next door. The biggest issue women in business have is confidence. And to address this issue and help more women succeed we need to talk about our wins - no matter how big or small they are," she said.

"The best role models are those who can share their story and inspire others. And through my work with FSB’s Women in Enterprise Taskforce, I have learned that every woman in business has a powerful story to share."

And encouraging more women to run their own businesses can ultimately pay dividends all round.

Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Robert Jenrick told the Telegraph in September that untapped female entrepreneurship "may be the greatest economic opportunity of the 21st Century".

FSB’s report Supporting Women’s Enterprise in the UK: The Economic Case was launched on 13 November 2018 at the #SheMeansBusiness event in partnership with Facebook.

The report complements the FSB report Women in Enterprise: The Untapped Potential (2016).

To find out more about FSB’s work for women in enterprise: fsb.org.uk/women