With the recent cabinet reshuffle leaving few women in key government roles, the gender gap seems to have widened again. Does the answer to real equality lie with female entrepreneurs?
David Cameron's recent cabinet reshuffle was labelled disastrous for women. Fewer females are now left in key roles.
Soon the claim was raised that female unemployment has increased far faster than male unemployment under the coalition government. This seems at odds to an interesting article I read recently, which suggested that women in business could be the key to economic recovery.
The gist of the piece was that more women than ever are taking the entrepreneurial plunge and becoming first-time business leaders, in a time when the government continues to fall over itself to emphasise that entrepreneurialism is the medicine the economy needs to get off its sick bed (because it makes a more colourful message than bleak austerity, maybe).
Are women the secret to Britain’s future success? When I ran financial information business Digital Look, we regularly analysed the performance of stock market portfolios – and the results made very interesting reading. Without fail, women always outperformed men.
Why? Women built more balanced portfolios, backed companies that they understood and didn’t take a flyer on more racy investments. In other words, they were better at balancing risks and potential rewards – a vital entrepreneurial skill. Does this suggests that girl power could provide real economic power?
The current business scene is rather different. The number of women who have smashed through the glass ceiling and reached the heady heights of Britain’s boardrooms remains lamentable. Only one in six senior positions are currently being held by women. This has even been heralded as progress, given a rise from just one in eight a year ago, but it's still a shocking statistic.
It will take time, and not a little effort, to change the established culture of the stereotypical male-dominated British boardroom.
So, does the answer to equality lie with entrepreneurs?
As I'm writing this I am sitting in an entrepreneurs' club – and from my (admittedly rough and anecdotal survey) the ratio of women to men here is around one in ten. This is no isolated occurrence. I have met scores of male entrepreneurs over the last few years, but only a handful of female innovators.
London’s answer to Silicon Valley – Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout and East London’s TechCity - are much flaunted by the government and presented as a shining example of our potential. But these seem to be largely male preserves.
It appears that, although women have just as much - if not more - ability to run a business as men, too few of them currently do so. I'd like to know why.
Yes, balancing a business with family life is tricky for any business owner. On the other hand, running your own business can also give you more flexibility – after all, you are the boss.
Perhaps it comes down to one of the points the stock market research showed: women don’t want to take a flyer, and the perceived risks of a startup are too high. However, there are always ways of balancing these risks.
In my experience, most successful businesses are created by people who have experience in a particular field but believe they can do things better than the business they work for. They also have the contacts and network to get off to a flying start. In other words, backing what you know (another trait of successful female investors) can pay dividends.
Key challenges, such as winning clients and building a motivated team, can be achieved just as successfully by women as by men. The skills of passion, enthusiasm and vision are unisex.
Perhaps a lack of female entrepreneurial role models (Dragons' Den and the other isolated examples aside) is a problem. And a lack of an entrepreneurial track record may also make it more difficult to raise finance. But the £82.5m government student loan style pay-outs to 18-24 years old may go some way to break down any perceived barriers to entry for young women. It might even encourage them to give their ideas a go.
I just don’t believe that women are inherently less entrepreneurial. I do think, however, that culturally entrepreneurialism has been seen as a male activity. This shouldn't and needn't be the case - but this perception will take time to overcome.
So, women are not the immediate saviour of the economy – but I can only hope that they will be a big part of its success in the future.