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Barriers to women in business

Last week, Luma was invited to participate in McKinsey and RBS’s research on “barriers to female entrepreneurs”.

A quick google search flagged up some familiar lines on imposter syndrome, confidence, and women not putting themselves forward enough.  Namely, there are fewer female business owners, board directors and entrepreneurs because women don’t ask loudly or clearly enough, or even talk themselves out of it before they’ve begun.

Not so, in our experience.

The journey to entrepreneurship

Our discussion with McKinsey began with questions about our own journey to running our own business.  For both Sarah and Lucy, our leap into entrepreneurship was straightforward: we wanted to do good marketing for good people, and the best way to do that is on our own terms.

(you can read about Lucy’s story here.

The interviewers wanted to explore what we saw as the barriers, “Why are 70% of entrepreneurs male?”.  In our experience, there isn’t a straightforward answer.

Is it the gender pay gap, leaving women entrepreneurs with less start-up capital of their own?  Is it the parenting penalty, which leaves many women as the main caregiver?  Becoming a parent is what pushes many women out of steady employment and into entrepreneurship.

Is it that women are more risk averse than men?  Female friendship groups tend to voice their concerns when presented with an idea, whereas male groups tend to encourage each other on.

The fact that men secure more business funding than women – which seemed to be the focus of the research – is incidental.  A woman may have overcome many barriers before they ask for funding.

The bigger question is, what is the ratio of success at the point of seeking investment?  If women are more likely to receive funding, it implies that female entrepreneurs have stronger ideas and more robust business plans.

The confidence trick

The prevailing assumption is that women are quieter than men and lack confidence.

Not so, in our experience. 

A female entrepreneur has fended off belittling remarks, groping hands and sexist jokes at every step of her journey.  She has learned to articulate her offer and her needs clearly; she knows precisely where she is going and doesn’t have time to waste.  She will be stronger and more focused than the man standing next to her.

Our interviewers asked about networks, specifically the “old boys’ network”.  Yes, it’s a real thing, particularly in property and professional services.  So we sought it out, created advocates… and created our own network of powerful, connected people who would give good advice and open doors for us.

Quiet and lacking in confidence? Not us.

What barriers?

There are barriers in business, whether you are male or female.  It’s how you deal with them that counts.  Our advice to anyone making the leap:

  • Build your tribe – choose confident, well-informed, candid people who will help you and who you can help in return.
  • Seek advice, listen, query, and decide what’s right for you. We have jumped with both feet into business support programmes at MMU Business School, DIT and Natwest, and have learnt new things at every point
  • Listen to the voices in your head but don’t get tied up in pointless knots about not being good enough. There are many people in this world who will put you down: you don’t need to do it yourself.
  • Be good at what you do: collaborate, don’t compete.

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