Report by Entrepreneurs’ Organization in Australia.
Although more than half (66%) of new businesses in Australia in the past decade have been started by women (Xero Boss Insights 2020), nearly half of women surveyed by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman’s Office (ASBFEO) identified access to capital as a central barrier to growth.
Historically a male-dominated space, entrepreneurship is changing, though significant barriers to entry and growth remain.
Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) – one of the world’s largest peer-run not-for-profit entrepreneur communities with 16,000+ members globally, have locally (in Australia) introduced Women-of-EO, a network for its women members to find support in addition to being a gender diverse organisation.
Women of EO weigh in on what it would take to achieve gender parity in entrepreneurship:
EDUCATION AND PEER SUPPORT
‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ says Annika Launay Entrepreneurs’ Organization QLD member and Co-Founder and Creative Director – Franc.World.
“There is still a lack of female representation across many industries, making a number of career paths not easily understood nor readily accessible to future female generations – something my colleague and I are hoping to change with a series of books exploring future career paths in a diverse range of industries for teens. With confidence levels in girls dropping dramatically between the ages of 8-14 years, we need to increase education around entrepreneurship, leadership and success in business and remove those ingrained misconceptions that girls can’t be leaders in any field they choose.”
Co-founder and Managing Director of Luxico and EO Melbourne member Alexandra Ormerod agrees education is a key barrier throughout women’s lives. “Often women aren’t afforded the same access to skills training and support for starting a business as their male counterparts. They’re less likely to have entrepreneurial friends to learn from, or the same access to business networking opportunities as men,” says Luxico co-founder & Managing Director (and Entrepreneurs’ Organisation member) Alexandra Ormerod.
“I remember when I started out as an entrepreneur around 20 years ago, one of the most important things I did at the time was joining a startup group run by Westpac called Ruby Connection, supporting women startups. They provided free courses for women in business where you could go along for a six week period once a week and learn things like how to read a balance sheet and P&L, learning the basic financial concepts for running a business.”
“Looking back it was really forward thinking by the bank and instrumental for me and so many others for learning business basics, which we didn’t really have any other formal training in. We need more opportunities for female entrepreneurs to have mentors and support groups to help soundboard ideas and help make decisions and learn from people who have been in the same position.”
Libbie Ray, EO Board member and co-director of Connected Event Group says “surrounding myself with other incredible women and men that are succeeding in business has been the biggest leap to success for me, they say you are the combination of the 5 people you spend the most time with. So find others with the same drive as you, that live their lives without judgement and want to see you succeed and watch how things change, be that change for others also. If you are a woman (or man) who has succeeded in your entrepreneurial journey, make it your mission to seek out female business owners and inspire them, mentor them and befriend them, and next time you hear yourself saying I can’t do this… STOP.”
Women of EO member and Parity Consulting founder Victoria Butt adds “If we keep our focus on the end goal of achieving 50/50 equality in entrepreneurship, paving the way for our children and future generations of leaders, it makes sense that we provide a safe environment to build women up.”
FUNDING TO START AND CAPITAL TO GROW
Gender bias in funding opportunities echoes the gender bias we see in employment and carries the same missed opportunities for growth and success.
Globally, there are initiatives like Beyond the Billion trying to tackle this very issue – a global commitment to invest more than $1 billion in female tech founders to reverse the impacts of COVID-19 that set women back economically significantly further than men.
“Firstly, women don’t have the same level of self-funding to be able to start a business, so that’s a key barrier to entry and it really does stop them from growing,” says Alexandra.
“There’s also a lack of funding ongoing as you’re trying to scale up a business as a female; there’s less VC capital allocated to female founded businesses.”
“We need better funding access for females, not just at startup but growth phase as well, so we’re not so dependent on having to grow to a scale where VC’s are interested, but also having access to capital in smaller funding rounds, which is a real challenge at this point in time.”
A 2020 (US) report by Harvard Business Review found women-led startups received only 2.3% of VC funding. Only 25% of women-led businesses seek funding and on average ask $35,000 less in business financing than men. Despite this, they are still usually offered much smaller loans at drastically higher interest rates.
Victoria adds “Just as women are significantly less likely to apply for a job where they meet only some of the requirements than men, women are socially conditioned to put their hand up less – something an inclusive environment can change. ‘Women of EO’ has played a huge role in providing both psychological and emotional support to both women in the group and partners of male members who are often involved in the business as well.
“Ultimately, we are moving in the right direction. In recent years there’s been a groundswell of support for female entrepreneurs, though more community and entrepreneur organisations need to not just accept, but really accommodate women. Beyond the untapped economic growth potential, raising the success of women in business is important role modelling for generations to come.”
Women Love Tech would like to thank the Entrepreneurs’ Organization in Australia for this report.