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23 August 2018

Female entrepreneurship in Wales: a look at past and future generations.

Research suggests that individuals living through shared historical and social experiences will result in the development of ‘collective memories’ which go on to form generational attitudes, preferences and behaviour. Generations are the agents of social change and provide us with a fascinating lens through which to reflect on social changes in female entrepreneurship and women’s opportunities in the workplace.

If we look at the pace of social, cultural, and political change related to gender equality both in Wales and across the World over the last few generations, it raises some interesting questions – when have the changes in generational values and behaviours towards gender equality occurred? Why did they occur? And what were the key historical and social events that influenced them?

Baby Boomers (those born between 1940 – 1960)

In their youth, the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation observed women starting to challenge the glass ceiling in fields such as teaching, religion, journalism, law, marketing, and the arts [1]. Consequently, as adults, Baby Boomers viewed women’s role in the workplace differently to previous generations.

Generation X (those born between 1960-80)

Generation X grew up with the first female Prime Minster and were also known as the ‘latch key’ generation [2] because many children grew up with two working parents. With career mums many Generation X grew up knowing they would have more choices than previous generations.

Millennials (those born between 1980-00)

As they have entered the workplace Millennials have also seen the gender pay gap close significantly compared to previous generations. A study by the Office for National Statistics [3] reviewed pay disparities between generations and found that the pay gap has fallen from an average of 16 percent for baby boomers to only 5 percent for Millennials. Despite this, the gender pay gap remains a live and contentious issue, with campaigning continuing to take in industries and workplaces across the UK. Increasingly viewing gender as a spectrum, Millennials have been labelled as tearing down gender stereotypes and embracing gender fluidity. [4]

Generation Z?

Many of us are able to reflect back on the pace of change in our own and subsequent generations. As individuals, we will have all interpreted the social, cultural, and political events that have influenced our thinking, on issues such as gender equality and the role of women in entrepreneurship and in employment, differently. However, most of us will hold views which we are able to recognise are shared amongst our generational peers. Viewing social change through the lens of generations gives us an opportunity to stop and reflect on the current world events and how this might influence the pace - and possibly the direction - of social change for the young women belonging to the next generation – ‘Generation Z’.

The differences between generations or the pace of social changes are not always small or incremental. On many social issues our most recent generations have seen significant changes in attitudes -for example, young adults’ approval of same-sex relationships soared from 14 percent in 1987 to 66 percent in 2016 [5]. Older members of Generation Z may be familiar with organisations such as the BBC having recently been challenged on the gender pay gap and grow up around a male voice increasing fighting for gender equality.

Although the entrepreneurship gender gap remains higher in many areas of Wales, there has been a significant growth in self-employment with women leading the way with in responding positively to pull-factors [6]. In these areas, this will help to provide the next generation of young entrepreneurs in Wales with female entrepreneurial role models. However, there still remains low levels of female entrepreneurship in areas of Wales where female entrepreneurial roles models are most needed to close the gender gap such as the Valleys and deprived urban areas [7].  

It would be easy to think that we are currently in a period of accelerated social and cultural changes, and the ‘basic attitudes’ formed within today’s youth in relation to the role of women in the workplace are continuing to change at an increasing pace. However, there is evidence to suggest that the closing of the gender gap may be significantly slowing down, and in some areas have come to a halt. The current global gender gap trend shows that the gap will not be closed for another 217 years, meaning a Generation Z baby girl born in 2017 will never see the gender gap closed within her lifetime.

Wales has seen slow and incremental progress towards achieving equality between men and women in public bodies, politics, and business [8]. In business, men continue hold the top positions within large companies in Wales with women only accounting for 6 per cent of Chief Executives or equivalent of top 100 businesses in Wales. In politics, the number of female elected representatives in Wales in less than the start of devolution in 1997, and at a local level the percentage of female Council leaders is only 9 per cent [9]

Broader UK and worldwide trends reveal that in some areas the closing of the gender gap has gone into reverse. The UK has seen an overall decline in female legislators and senior officials in the past year, and female economic participation and opportunity has slipped to the lowest level in 10 years, pushing it into 53rd position. And globally gender parity has shifted into reverse for the first time since the World Economic Forum started measuring it [10].

It is difficult to predict how quickly the gender gap will continue to narrow as Generation Z enter the world of entrepreneurship and employment. Social, cultural, and political events, such as Donald Trump being democratically elected following widely reported misogynistic remarks in America, will continue to both positively and negatively alter the direction and pace of gender parity across the world.

As with all social shifts that drive generational thinking, the narrowing of the gender gap may not always be gradual or linear. It is important that we all take responsibility in positively influencing the next generation of entrepreneurs in Wales by continually imprinting positive messages of gender equality. What action could we take to continue to positively influence social change and the next generation of female entrepreneurs?

  1. The importance of entrepreneurial role models on young entrepreneurs Is widely reported. Strong female role models, particularly in business, will help to promote entrepreneurship as an option to the next generation of women.


  2. Generation Z are used to having a voice through social media. A collective voice no matter how small individually, can and will make a difference in closing the gender gap. We need to harness this collective voice to encourage an environment where the next generation of female entrepreneurs are both encouraged and can achieve and prosper.


  3. Generation Z are increasingly wanting to know about the backstories of organisations they are engaging with as consumers and employees to ensure that their values sit with their own. The benefits of organisations publicly supporting female entrepreneurship, and gender equality more broadly, needs to be better evidenced and promoted.


  4. Generation Z are highly connected and take in, filter, and process large amounts of information. The information at their fingertips means that Generation Z can be inspired and engaged with positive gender equality messages, but equally can also be exposed to less helpful messages and gender stereotypes. It is important that messages and evidence supporting gender equality are relevant and ongoing.

[1] Howe, N. and Strauss, W. (2007) ‘The next 20 years’, Harvard business review, 85(1), pp. 41-52

[2] Kupperschmidt, B.R., 1998. Understanding generation X employees. 


[6] Henley, A. (2017). ‘The Post Crisis Growth in the Self-Employed: Volunteers or Reluctant Recruits?’ Regional Studies, Vol. 51.9, pp. 1312-1323.