Much has been said about the possible financial repercussions of Brexit, but few have talked about how it could be affecting the rights of women, including female entrepreneurs. Worryingly, there have been a number of reports that suggest Brexit could have a disproportionately negative effect on women, as much of the equal rights legislation under the EU will no longer be applicable in the UK. Here we will outline some of the biggest challenges female entrepreneurs have to overcome today, and will have to overcome in the impending Brexit transition.
Women are less Certain About their Future Prospects than Man
According to a recent study conducted by RateSetter, entrepreneurs who were women had a far less positive outlook for their business post Brexit than their male counterparts. As a matter of fact, only 10% of women surveyed said that they believe the Brexit would actually benefit their business, compared to about 21% for men.
Women also expressed more of a need to have a close relationship with finance providers. About 10% said that this relationship was central to them, versus around 6% for the males. This reflects the financial uncertainty many starting female entrepreneurs have to deal with. They were also more inclined to want to work with lenders that understood their business model, which could be an issue as Brexit is set to have huge repercussions on the amount of capital available to investors.
Trade Issues Disproportionately Affect Women
One of the biggest areas of concern in Brexit talks is trade agreements. Trade agreements influence all areas of businesses, but will have a particularly big impact on women. These agreements often do not acknowledge the distinct but important contributions of men and women in industry, and how certain policies could end up hurting female dominated ones.
A recent report by Dr Marie Ann Stephenson concluded that the UK government will have to build the necessary skills and expertise from scratch to perform thorough impact assessments on possible trade agreements, and to make sure that trade negotiations are informed by complex analysis that takes gender equality into consideration as well. According to the report, trade agreements often completely overlook women's economic rights and adopt a sort of gender blindness that could ultimately be detrimental.
Women in Life Sciences
One of the industries that could be severely affected by Brexit is the life science industry, in which the picture is complicated in terms of gender equality. According to a report by Deloitte, women make up 49 per cent of the life sciences workforce worldwide, which is higher than other STEM industries. However, women fill just 10 per cent of board positions and 20 per cent of leadership teams. Some industry players recognise this gender imbalance, for example Antibodies.com offer scholarships to support the next generation of scientists and leaders. However, if Brexit ends up damaging the whole industry, it is unlikely that these initiatives will continue and that the numbers of females in the board room will improve, as addressing this gender imbalance will no doubt fall to the back of the line in terms of priorities.
Women are Already Struggling with Funding Bias
Female entrepreneurs are already in a difficult position, as they are dealt a disproportionately low amount of funding in the UK today. As a matter of fact, only about 20% of all start-ups that get funding are founded by women. And the fact that only about 13% of all senior executives on investment teams are women is problematic as well.
Not only does it make obtaining finance more difficult for women, it also discourages a lot of women from taking the leap and starting their own company in the first place. A recent review found that the UK might be losing up to £250bn in innovation and economic value due to the many barriers female entrepreneurs have to face. One such barrier being the fact that women still have to take on the larger portion of childcare duties on average.
Another barrier is the lower amount of capital women have to start with. According to the Rose Review, women had to start with 53% less in capital the men on average. Not only that, but they were also less likely to take on debt, and many were less informed about funding options.
The review recommends that the UK does more to boost funding for women led businesses. While the country remains the business capital of Europe, it is well behind countries like Spain, Sweden, and the Netherlands when it comes to the proportion of women owned businesses.
According to data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the UK's female to male entrepreneur ratio was at around 0.46, which is about a 2 to 1 ratio in favour of men. In comparison, this ratio was 0.8 in Spain, and 0.9 in Netherlands, which is almost approaching full parity. And what is even more alarming is that these numbers do not take revenue into consideration, meaning that the situation for female-led UK businesses might be even worse than the data suggests.
According to the Rose Report, reaching a 0.9 ratio could add an additional 200 billion pounds in financial value to the UK economy. But for this to happen, more than just isolated initiatives will have to be taken. A whole business culture will have to be changed as well. Investors must realise how diversity can foster innovation, and the potential female entrepreneurs can offer.
One study in particular found that companies that had a more diverse team of executives were 21% more likely to be profitable. This number jumped to 27% when looking at long term figures. Investors will have to value the new solutions and perspectives female entrepreneurs bring to the table, which men too often lack or disregard.
Moving forward, more will have to be done to examine the impact of Brexit on female UK entrepreneurship. More importantly, things will have to be done to fix the existing inequitable business climate. Not only is it doing a huge disservice to the female citizens of this country, but cheating the country of its full economic potential.
"Who are you meeting for lunch this week?"
Without fail, my former boss would ask me this question in every weekly status we had. And I dreaded the question. Because my answer was generally a stammering "Umm… No One." Occasionally I could remember what I actually had for lunch. And almost always it was sitting in my windowless cube eating a soggy sad sandwich.
I didn't understand why "who I had lunch with this week" was worthy of being a topic on our weekly status. After all, I was only 6 months into this new job. I was still figuring out how to pull data from Nielsen. I was still figuring out how to write an innovation brief. I was still trying to figure out where the bathrooms were in this maze of a building.
And despite knowing this question would come up in every weekly status, I was reluctant to change my behavior. I didn't see the value in the question. I didn't see the importance of it in my career. I didn't understand why I had to have lunch with anyone.
Because I hated the idea of having to network, to meet people, to put myself out there. Because networking was something slimy and strange and weird and scary. It made my stomach hurt, my throat go dry. And I could feel a faint headache coming on.
Even Oxford's definition of networking only reaffirmed my fears of what networking looked like: the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
Because please don't ask me to walk into a room where I don't know anyone. And stand in the corner sipping a bad glass of Chardonnay. Please don't ask me to slide my business card out and not so subtly shove it in your face. And ask you to do something for me. Please don't ask me to network. Because I hate networking.
And I used to hate networking (okay, maybe hate is too strong.) I still really dislike the term. "Networking" seemed about getting something from someone. Or someone getting something from you. A favor, a job, a referral. "Networking" seemed very transactional. And someone shoving a business card at you (which happened to me recently at event) only solidified by feelings.
And over the years, I came to really understand that networking wasn't about "the action or process of interacting with others." It was about building authentic connections. It was about meeting people who were different than you. It was about expanding my community. And creating new communities. It was tapping into more and more communities I could belong to.
And as I slowly started to change my view on networking- I mean building authentic connections- I started to realize my communities were more inclusive than I thought. My best friends from middle school. Former bosses. College Alumni I met after we had graduated. Colleagues from past companies. Vendors and agency partners I had once worked with. Colleagues I had once managed. As my family expanded, my husband, my two sister-in laws and my brother in-law. A whole host of fabulous cousin-in-laws. My baby brother as his career skyrocketed. And fellow parents in my kids' school.
I still hate networking. And I love building connections. And helping to build connections and be a bridge for other people.
Now, when I go to a large event, I try to go with a friend. We have a drink at the bar and then part ways to try and make new friends. If we don't authentically connect with other people, and we have made the effort, we always have each other to back to.
Now, I try to meet one new person a week at my company or in my broader community, or reconnect with someone I miss seeing. (This doesn't always have to be in person, can be text, Zoom or Facetime.) And if you can't commit to doing that, that you should seriously relook at your schedule. I thank my former boss for that constant reminder.
Now, I joined Luminary, a women's collaboration hub in NYC, which has been life changing for me. I am also on the advisory board. It's all about women supporting and lifting each other up- to get more money, get that next big promotion, or start their own venture. It's a built-in community of unwavering support.
Now, I am working on expanding my community of moms. Not too long ago, I worked up the nerve to ask a fellow mom in my daughter's class if she wanted to get together. She thought I meant a playdate. I meant drinks. And after one late night out drinking, I have bonded with a whole new set of badass women.
And all of these communities. I am there for my communities. And they are all there for me. Referral for a job at my company. Coaching on how to survive a bad boss. Advice on how to ask for more money. Supporting each other as we care for aging parents. Candid feedback on why they didn't get that promotion. Commiserating over a cocktail on which working parent had the worst week ever.
So please don't ask me to network. Because I hate it. And well actually I don't have a business card to give you. I haven't printed one in four years.