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All things must be equal in tech entrepreneurship

All things must be equal in tech entrepreneurship

Some £250 billion could be added to the UK economy if the number of women starting and scaling businesses matched the number of men, according to the 2023 Alison Rose progress report on female entrepreneurship.

The same publication goes on to report the encouraging news that there is some progress on this front. Last year, over 150,000 new companies were established by women (more than twice that in 2018), and one-fifth of all UK businesses were female-led (up from 16% in 2018).

It has been long established that women have a high potential to display exceptional leadership skills. Over a decade ago, the Harvard Business Review revealed that women rated higher in 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. It suggested that female managers are often better communicators and collaborators than many of their male counterparts because they are focused on teamwork and inclusivity, amongst other traits. They are also motivated by overcoming challenges, a theme that Avivah Wittenberg-Cox picks up on. Writing for Forbes, she says, “Companies expect talent to fight for power. That’s what men do. Women don’t. They fight for a purpose. That’s why men sit atop the corporate world and women are now reaching the top of the public and non-profit sectors. That’s also why we need more women running businesses.”

Movements such as the Investing in Women Code seek to encourage this, with 190 signatories from banks, venture capital firms, angel syndicates and other financial services organisations, supporting female entrepreneurs.

So why is it that 52% of women in the UK today still feel that their gender limits their careers? It appears that significant barriers remain for women to overcome including confidence, work-life balance, isolation and access to mentors. This is particularly true in male-oriented STEM industries.

When it comes to confidence, many women play down or do not feel comfortable talking about their achievements and ideas. Sometimes regarded as an internal barrier, this trait is embedded in how girls are raised in society, and triggered by situations like business meetings when the gender balance is often strongly biased towards men. This lack of confidence in their abilities hinders risk-taking, inherent in starting and scaling successful businesses.

Other women find balancing work and other responsibilities a barrier to career progression and entrepreneurship. Almost 25% of women cite a lack of work–life balance as a key reason for leaving tech careers, and, across Europe, 7% of women (versus 0.5% of men) are out of the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities at home. This stimulates fears of failure (and the impact that this might have on dependents) and also fears of success, leaving many to think ‘How will I cope if my business takes off?’

The prospect of isolation persists. McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report confirms that ‘for women, being an ‘only’ in the workplace is endemic’. 20% surveyed for this report said they were commonly the only person of their gender in the room or one of very few, but this figure is far higher in sectors like technology and engineering. For women of colour, that number rose to 45%. For men, it was just 7%.

Finally, a lack of access to role models and mentors is a barrier for many women, who are unaware that high-level support is available to them. Yet, an Ipsos/We Are Tech Women survey reported that 58% of women who had accessed mentoring felt that it helped increase confidence in their abilities, 57% said it supported them in difficult work situations and 54% were inspired to achieve more.

There’s certainly growing evidence that bringing like-minded women together to share challenges and learn from peers can have measurable and lasting impacts. 40% of the founders participating in Southampton Science Park’s Catalyst programme for early-stage businesses last year were women, and they all commented on the benefits of being in such a supportive environment.

Janine Chard, founder of Veopl, said, “I can confidently say that being exposed to other successful entrepreneurs has been an outstanding, priceless, and inspiring experience. By learning from their experiences and successes, I was able to gain invaluable insights into what it takes to build a successful business. I have run a business for 10 years and still learned so much from Catalyst. It’s a hub of expertise and advice, support from peers and an opportunity to learn about exactly what your business needs and how to take it to the next step.”

Fflow entrepreneur, Sarah Eggleston, also highlighted the empowering benefits of working with others, commenting, “Embarking on Catalyst, I was initially hoping I would get answers. I didn’t get answers, but I did get support and guidance to find answers myself.”

Another participant in the programme, Nicola Davey who founded the Quality Improvement Clinic, observed that it had provided “a window into the art of the possible,” while Eleanore Kelly, owner of start-up RiHde simply said the experience was “transformational for her outlook”.

There’s never been a better time for women to take the plunge and start their own business. To boost their chances of success, Southampton Science Park and SETsquared have created a Women Entrepreneurs’ Workout, developed exclusively for female founders of digital, technology and science-based ventures to help them develop their start-ups in an inclusive and supportive environment. This face-to-face event will take place on the 21 & 22 June in Southampton.

Fast-paced and practical, this two-day workshop with expert mentors is fully-funded and will give participants the time to focus on building a strong foundation for a profitable and successful business. Register today to secure your free place.

Taking part in this event could lead to access to further funded support through the highly-acclaimed Catalyst Programme, also run at Southampton Science Park. As well as the practical business support, which you’ll get in abundance on this programme, it’s also an opportunity to connect with and build a community of ambitious female founders in the region.

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