Female entrepreneurship: should we really copy the US?

The UK still lags behind the US in the number of businesses run by women. But is the latter really a good model for us to follow?

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
It was of course International Women’s Day this week, and one of the less tangential press releases we received at MT concerned the number of women-owned businesses in the UK. According to the FSB, these account for just 29% of self-employed Brits, despite women forming nearly half of the working population. If we got our level of female entrepreneurship up to US levels, that would mean an extra 600,000 businesses in the UK - a not-insignificant number, and one that would certainly bolster our flagging economy. But the US model has its drawbacks…

According to Laura Tenison, founder of JoJo Maman Bébé, there’s a cultural gulf between the UK and the US when it comes to female entrepreneurship. ‘In America, women have a more aggressive attitude to work compared to childcare. Lots of women go straight back into the workplace after having babies, and there is less of a culture of taking time off,’ she says. ‘Because of this, women feel they are able to give more to their business and are less distracted.’ However, this is not an approach she likes. ‘The ethos of sending your child to summer camp for eight weeks so you can get on with your life and business, I find totally abhorrent.’

Similarly, Karen Mattinson, co-founder of part-time recruiter Women Like Us, thinks that one of the best ways to encourage more female entrepreneurship is to highlight examples of women who have not sacrificed family life for work. ‘We’re always told the only way to set up a business is to have no life, and work 24/7, that there’s only one way to do it. I would argue the absolute opposite: one of the biggest drivers for women is setting up their own businesses is that they can write their own rulebook. But more successful female entrepreneurs need to speak up about doing it – and doing it their own way.’

In fact, says Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry (who’s just about to launch family group buying site likebees.com) becoming an entrepreneur means that women shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything – in their professional or personal lives. ‘If you can create a successful business, that will give you more flexibility than having a job for somebody else ever could. She even goes as far as to say entrepreneurialism is the ‘best career for mums’.

Dewberry also believes it’s fine not to want to start a multi-million pound company, as opposed to one that ticks over and creates enough cash to keep your kids in babygros. ‘When you think of an entrepreneur you think of someone like Richard Branson. But people need to realise there are different levels of being entrepreneurial. You don’t need to want to become the next Branson – you can just have the desire to create something that pays you a nice wage and gives you flexibility.’

In other words, we could boost female entrepreneurship by convincing more women that running a business doesn’t mean giving up on the other important things in life…

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