The number is still pretty low – just nineteen per cent of SMEs are female-led, according to the study, but, more encouragingly, a quarter of new businesses – two to three years old – were formed by women.
I was fortunate enough to speak at an all-female business event held by the New Entrepreneurs Foundation last week to drive more women to apply for its new programme, which got me really thinking about how we can encourage more women to choose the enterprise path, like I did.
Something Anne Marie Morris MP mentioned in her speech really brought it home – women-led businesses contribute £70 billion to the UK economy. That is surely too significant a figure to ignore?!
So, here’s my advice to make sure women get in the game and level the playing field:
1. Stop thinking of ‘female’ as a disadvantage.
You’re a woman… so what?! I once heard a young female entrepreneur ask, “I’m pitching to investors and worried that they’ll look at me and think, ‘What if she gets engaged and has babies?’”
If the investors even ask those questions, answer them, but it’s most likely a projection of your own anxieties. If you get to the point where you’re even pitching to investors, you’ll be able to handle whatever comes your way. If you don’t believe that you can do anything you put your mind to, how do you expect your investors to?
2. Choose your girlfriends carefully.
The importance of carefully choosing a guy who will emotionally support both you and your career is obvious. What’s equally crucial is befriending women who reflect what you wish to become.
If you want to feel good about making strides with building your business, you need to be around women who are comfortable with ambition and dreaming big and through chasing goals of their own encourage you to keep chasing yours.
3. Know your heroes.
To make your ideal scenario happen, you need to know what it looks like. I really look up to Katie Couric, Sheryl Sandberg, and Brene Brown – namely, the way that they’ve had careers and families without making it an ‘issue’ – they’ve just gotten on with it. Mindy Kaling and Connie Britton also inspire me to value the freedom and beauty of being single.
There’s no ‘right’ way to be a woman. But figuring out who your heroes are strengthens your emotional compass. Those women may not be cookie-cutter ‘entrepreneurs’ but they are all entrepreneurial with the approach they’ve taking to building their professional lives.
4. Focus on what you can control.
You’re going to come up against people who want you to feel like you don’t deserve something because you’re a woman. Let these people make you, not break you – those who try to bring you down often act that way because they feel like you are above them.
Don’t try to change negative people – instead, accept that you can gracefully ignore what isn’t worth your time and just keep on moving forwards.
5. Don’t judge other women.
Some women choose to focus on career. Some women choose to focus on family. Some women choose both. I don’t feel like it’s my right to comment on any other woman’s choices because I know that there’s always more to her story than what I can see. The way in which you judge others often says more about you than it says about them – the only woman you need to focus on judging is yourself.
6. Really get to know yourself.
Women are often so focused on those around them instead of putting themselves first. Whether it’s through journaling, yoga, therapy, or a retreat – take time out to be with the only person you’re ever going to really know. Getting to know your own mind can keep you grounded when things are rocky.
7. Nurture your male friendships
Male-female friendships don’t have to be weird unless somebody makes it weird. I have a lot of male friends and I value those friendships just as much as I value my female ones.
As we get older, more women choose to focus on their families. This means that a greater proportion of the people in the full-time working population end up being male. Male friends mean that you learn to form close platonic bonds with men, which can only help you feel more comfortable in professional settings where you’re the only female.
8. Ignore your mother’s nagging when it comes to your love life
My mother used to be on my back about the ‘lack of effort’ that I apparently put into my love life until I told her what I’ve always believed: it happens when it happens. As you get older and get to know more guys, you learn that truly loving relationships are places where you go to give, not places where you go to take. It can take time to find (and to become ready) for that. Focus on building your business and follow your own timeline, not one projected by magazines and popular culture.
9. Celebrate being a woman
The worlds of femininity and masculinity are colliding and I feel like millennial females are caught in this collective identity crisis. On the one hand, it’s exciting to be a woman in an era where we can vote, become CEO, or run for President.
On the other hand, I also enjoy nursing people, befriending babies, playing with kids, getting dressed up, and following my feelings. Embrace that coming of age in this era means taking the aspects of femininity and masculinity that work for you and creating your own equation.
10. Always have faith in yourself
I’ve met a lot of female entrepreneurs who have faith in their abilities but don’t have faith their worthiness of love, affection, true friendship. When it comes to finding investors or customers, or a boyfriend or a life partner, or great girlfriends… it starts with being able to accept yourself wholeheartedly.
We need to get better at empowering each other as women and opening our eyes to the incredible opportunities that are ours for the taking. Last week, Sheryl Sandberg became a billionaire – if you are now feeling inspired, just go for it – you have nothing lose, and absolutely everything to play for.
Adele Barlow is education director at Escape the City
Nominations are open for the First Women Awards until 4 April. Help Real Business and the CBI recognise pioneering women whose achievements open opportunities for others.