Over the last few years, there has been a surge in female entrepreneurs – in the South East and London especially – and women now make up almost half of the UK workforce. In this issue, and following on from the recent International Women’s Day, Sussex Business Times takes a look at this rise in female entrepreneurs and what we can expect in future years

Fiona Anderson

The South East’s female-led businesses contributed women-led businesses contributed £520 million to the UK’s economy and created an additional 14,000 jobs back in 2015, according to recent findings by NatWest. This research, undertaken in revealed that female entrepreneurs in the South East set up 18,300 businesses in 2015 alone, making it the most successful region in the UK for female start-ups, outside of London, of course.

Nation-wide, female entrepreneurs contributed £3.15 billion to the UK economy overall in 2015. However, despite a strong growth in female entrepreneurship since 2009, the number of women setting up a business in the UK still lags behind countries such as Canada and the US costing the UK economy £1 billion per year.

NatWest’s research also revealed that, while the proportion of the UK’s female working population starting a business nearly doubled from 3.7% to 7.1% between 2009 and 2912, this has since tailed off, falling every year and standing at less than 5% in 2015. This is supported by ONS data, which shows the number of businesses started by women increased every year between 2006 and 2013 from 58,000 to 139,000, before falling to 116,000 in 2014 and to 126,000 in 2015.

Despite the fact that the figures surrounding female entrepreneurs and the success of female start-ups in the UK are on the up, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has identified a ‘missing middle’ of female managers, which is damaging to organisations’ and the UK’s productivity. The UK economy needs two million new management roles for it to achieve predicted growth. The problem for many organisations is the ‘missing middle’.  While women out-number men at junior levels, not enough make it through middle management and to the top.

To achieve a 50/50 split of management jobs between men and women by 2024, the UK will need 1.5 million new female managers over the period. Today there are over half a million ‘missing’ women from management. Going on current figures alone, we’ll still have 480,000 ‘missing women’ from UK management in 2024.

Melanie Lawson

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has gone on to launch CMI Women, a new initiative that aims to achieve gender parity across the UK’s management population by 2024, and to help employers unlock more value in the UK’s workforce to address our productivity gap. To launch CMI Women and address these issues, CMI created a ‘Blueprint for Balance’, an innovative open source tool that helps organisations achieve 50/50 management.  The tool is a free online resource, which allows employers to share information and learn from others the practices and policies that have helped improve gender balance in their organisations. Ann Francke, CEO at CMI said: “Through CMI Women we will provide organisations with a Blueprint for Balance, while also enabling individuals to play their part in accelerating their own careers and supporting others to do the same. It is by working together in this way that we can find the solutions needed to find the 1.5 million extra women managers we’ll need by 2024 to achieve the gender balance that is critical for future UK business success.”

Sussex Business Times got into contact with Entrepreneurial Development Manager for NatWest, Fiona Anderson, who said: “We know entrepreneurs are vital to the economy in the South East as well as the wider UK, and it’s fantastic to see just how much women contribute to this. But it’s clear to see that we need to do more to ensure we don’t lose the momentum we’ve built up over the past decade.”

If the UK had kept up 2012’s level of female entrepreneurship growth in the following years to reach the levels of Canada, the UK economy would have seen an additional £1.35 billion in 2015. Despite this, female entrepreneurs are a central par of the UK’s economy, setting up almost 1.2 million businesses between 2002 and 2015. However, NatWest’s study found that of all new businesses formed in 2015, around two thirds were set up by men, with women responsible for one third.

Founder of Brighton-based Bare Biology, Melanie Lawson also had her say, commenting: “I think it’s time we catch up with, if not overtake, Canada and the US. We know that, generally speaking, women are less ‘gung ho’ than men when it comes to starting businesses and tend to worry more about being perfect, not getting into debt and feeling they lack the right skills or experience.”

Fiona Anderson continued: “At NatWest we have created numerous roles within the bank that are dedicated to providing tailored support for women to start up and succeed in business. It’s not simply about starting up, but supporting through all the business life stages. From introductions to relevant organisations to tangible day-to-day support, we want to go beyond providing financial services and help female entrepreneurs achieve their business ambitions.”

More women are starting to become ‘entrepreneurs’ out of necessity. The 9-5 has always been against mums, but now confidence is rising and mums are starting to realise that they shouldn’t feel guilty about still wanting to ‘do something’ with their talents – and rightly so.  After all women work for years building up a corporate career, and to have this go to waste seems somewhat unfair.

The Mums Enterprise Roadshow – a free-to-attend and child-friendly business exhibition – took place earlier this year in Brighton, with an aim to change the working and business lives of mums for the better. The organisers of these events (Mums Enterprise Ltd) are Lindsey Fish and Lucy Chaplin – both mothers of young children who have still found a way of continuing their careers at the same time as offering advice and support to mothers in similar positions.

Lindsey Fish and Lucy Chaplin

Statistics show that the ‘Mum Economy’ was worth £7.2 billion back in 2014, and the number of women with children under the age of 18 starting a business is growing at an record rate – set to be worth £9.5 billion by 2025. With the expenses surrounding child care ever on the rise along with organisations and companies being slow to implement flexible working, it’s no wonder mums are deciding to go it alone. The Mums Enterprise Roadshow was launched to help combat the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ questions many mums find themselves asking whilst on maternity leave when it becomes clear returning to the 9-5 actually isn’t an easy option at all, nor often is it financially worth it.

“I faced the same conundrum thousands of women face after starting a family. I still wanted to use the talents and experience I had gained over my 16 year career, but returning to my city job just wasn’t a feasible, affordable option and this same story is shared by thousands of mums all across the UK,” commented Lindsey. She continued: “The idea for Mums Enterprise Roadshow was a light-bulb moment. I had seen and experienced first-hand the support and the many opportunities that exist for mums wanting to start or grow a business. As my expertise lies in events and marketing and Lucy’s lie in creative and graphic design, we were the ideal duo to bring this idea to life, so we went for it and it all started in March 2015.”

Bare Biology Founder, Melanie also went on to explain her experience as a mum in business: “As a mother, running my own business gives me the ultimate flexibility. If my children are off school poorly, it doesn’t matter – I’m the boss. Technology and simple, but brilliant e-commerce solutions make for super easy home-run businesses. You just need a computer. Also, there’s loads of help available. I was lucky enough to be a part of the NatWest Entrepreneurial Spark Programme and I highly recommend it to any women wanting to start a business!”