Time to unleash potential of women entrepreneurs
Shortage of start-ups led by women is national problem affecting economic growth
Pamela Jeffrey (centre), founder of the Women’s Executive Network, with some of the recent award-winners in the Ireland’s Most Powerful Women awards announced last month by the network and HSBC Ireland. “As a nation, we need to change our attitude towards women in business and take radical steps to encourage and support start-ups. We need to break down the barriers to success.” Photograph: Alan Betson
Ireland is acknowledged as a world leader in attracting foreign direct investment. No country can match what we have achieved over many decades. Some 150,000 people are employed by multinationals and the sector rightly commands significant attention in political debate.
By contrast we give far less prominence to the role of our own entrepreneurs in the economy despite the enormous potential for risk-takers with new ideas to boost Ireland’s recovery.
In the United States those who establish their own business are praised by presidential candidates. In Ireland we need to capture a similar spirit of valuing business start-ups. Multinationals will undoubtedly continue to play a very significant role in our economic life but it is my belief that now is the time to unleash the potential of entrepreneurs and, in particular, women entrepreneurs if our country is to prosper again.
On Dragons’ Den we regularly see women with excellent new business ideas they want to develop. Yet men in Ireland outnumber women by more than two to one in starting businesses each year. Only 10 per cent of the high-potential start-ups backed by Enterprise Ireland are women-led enterprises. This low participation of women in entrepreneurial activity seems at odds with the high educational attainments of women in Ireland – more than half of women aged 25-34 years hold a third-level educational qualification. The question we must ask ourselves, therefore, is why do we not have more female-led enterprises and success stories in the world of business?
Certainly there is no shortage of women with good ideas for products and services that people will be willing to buy, but too often the obstacles in their way prove too great. Setting up your own business is a daunting undertaking which involves negotiating a minefield of regulatory and financial hurdles. I should know, I started my own business in 1986 at a time when the economic conditions were every bit as challenging as they are today.
Change of attitude
As a nation, we need to change our attitude towards women in business and take radical steps to encourage and support start-ups. We need to break down the barriers to success.
We could establish a separate national office for women in enterprise to be located within Enterprise Ireland with the objective of raising the start-up rate of women enterprises to at least the EU average.
Access to funds at all levels for women should be made more user-friendly by having special units or schemes to encourage women entrepreneurs – at city and county level, in the banks and the seed and venture capital funds.
A structured system of role models and mentors can provide inspiration and support to women in business. Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and county and city enterprise boards encourage women entrepreneurs to share ideas, support each other and take a team approach to the establishment of new enterprises rather than going solo.