Lack of role models holding female entrepreneurs back

New research looks into the impact the lack of role models is having on female entrepreneurs starting up their own business.

One in ten UK women now want to set up a business, but a ‘confidence curve’ between the ages of 25-39 could be holding the most likely candidates back, according to new research commissioned by Facebook for its #SheMeansBusiness programme.

While one in five women at this life stage say that they’d like to set up a business – twice the national average – just 64 per cent feel confident in their ability to do so. This compares to 81 per cent of women aged 40-54 and 68 per cent of women in their late teens and early twenties.

Tackling the confidence curve could be big news for the UK economy. If just one in five women who wanted to start their own business did so, they could create 425,000 UK jobs by the end of 2020 – adding a possible £10.1 billion to the UK economy, according to a separate study for Facebook by Development Economics.

More relatable role models could tackle the confidence curve

Relatable role models could be key to tacking the confidence curve, according to the research. Eight out of ten (83 per cent) would-be female entrepreneurs say having a relatable role model would inspire them to start a business. This is most significantly felt amongst the 25-39 year-old group. Despite this, only a third (34 per cent) can currently think of a business role model that inspires them.

Relatable circumstances and characteristics are seen as far more important in a business role model than someone with celebrity status. In fact, the top factors women look for in a relatable role model include:

  • Someone in the same sector as the business they’d like to set up (49 per cent)
  • Someone who has overcome challenges or failures (44 per cent)
  • Someone who was in similar financial circumstances when they started their business (37 per cent)
  • By contrast, well-known or celebrity role models appeal to just eight per cent of women

Facebook tackles confidence curve with #SheMeansBusiness programme

In partnership with Enterprise Nation, Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness programme aims to tackle the confidence curve by delivering dedicated training, events and online courses to give more women across the UK the tools, support and practical advice they need to grow their businesses.

Facebook today reveals that #SheMeansBusiness has already exceeded its target of training 10,000 would-be female entrepreneurs in 2017. In 2018 Facebook will continue to work with Enterprise Nation and will call on the 10,000 women to ‘pass on’ their experiences, acting as role models to share their knowledge with other female business owners. It will also run monthly nationwide Clinics to act as a regular meeting point for women to network and gain support from one of #SheMeansBusiness mentors within Enterprise Nation’s marketplace.

Facebook’s ambition is to engage and educate 50,000 women across the UK next year.

Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president EMEA at Facebook says, ‘To empower women to achieve both their personal business ambitions and make a difference to the UK economy we need to address the pressing need for more relatable female leaders. #SheMeansBusiness aims to do that by creating opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs to meet and learn from others who are relatable to them.

‘We’re proud that the programme has already made a difference to more than 10,000 women in 2017 alone. In 2018 our ambition is to help thousands more, while offering opportunities for them to come together as a community to share the confidence and skills they need to succeed.’

Emma Jones, MBE, founder of small business support group Enterprise Nation, says, ‘There is a direct correlation between training and good outcomes in business. That’s why we’ve been so pleased to work with Facebook to deliver digital skills workshops to more than 10,000 women over the last ten months – and will continue to do so in 2018.

‘It’s true, we are seeing more and more women starting businesses today and there’s never been a better time to start-up. But it’s also true that if we are going to make further progress addressing the female confidence curve, we must to continue to offer accessible and practical support, whilst shining a spotlight on the work of resilient self-starters who have overcome not just life hurdles, but solved problems and felt financial pain along the way to find success.

‘This new report shows that in reality, the illusion of the well-connected female celebrity entrepreneur simply does not wash. If women are going to run with this start-up opportunity, they are going to need to hear about women who are like them, that they can relate to and aspire to be like.’

Mel Bound, founder, This Mum Runs, says, ‘My business, This Mum Runs, is all about inspiring and empowering women by using real women as role models. I’ve seen the power this has in driving change, so I really identify with the ambitions behind #SheMeansBusiness. The women I look up to are those that are balancing the everyday challenges – from finding the confidence they need to put pen to paper on a business plan, to practically finding the time to do this in between school runs!

‘I know first-hand how vital it is to provide the support and skills women need to bring their business ambitions to life. This is why I’m so excited to continue my work with the #SheMeansBusiness programme and to be part of a community helping women to share knowledge, advice and to support each other in building our businesses.’

Next week Facebook is holding an event for over 300 entrepreneurs and small businesses in London with the Department for International Trade. It will give entrepreneurs the opportunity to participate in workshops and receive practical face-to-face training on how to use Facebook to grow their businesses on a local, national and international stage. They will also hear from other business owners who have successfully grown their businesses across borders.

UK small businesses that export internationally are more positive about their futures and are more likely to create new jobs, according to the most recent Future of Business Report from Facebook, the OECD and the World Bank. The vast majority of Facebook’s six million+ active advertisers are small and medium sized businesses, which create more than half of all new jobs globally. Through helping businesses leverage the power of mobile, developing new ad products, and making ads more relevant and effective, Facebook helps businesses all over the world attract customers, sell their products, and create jobs.

Female owner-managers less optimistic

Women entrepreneurs are less optimistic than their male counterparts about predicting their company’s growth.

Some 7 per cent of female entrepreneurs expect to see in excess of 50 per cent growth for their businesses this year, compared to 14 per cent of men, according to advisory firm Deloitte. [260 people were polled}

Debbie Griffiths, entrepreneurial business partner at Deloitte, says: ‘Expectations amongst women, entrepreneurs are relatively guarded at this point, a sentiment that is only heightened when compared with the confidence displayed by their male counterparts.

‘However conservative this outlook may seem, growth remains a key theme for many female-led organisations. One would hope that as the wider economy stabilises, a more bullish stance will emerge.’

Related: Pay gap remains unfair to women in UK businesses, according to study

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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