Dr. Julia Rouse is Director of the Centre for Business and Society within the Department of Management at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) Business School. She is the founder and Co-Chair of the Gender and Enterprise Network (GEN), an international community of more than 400 stakeholders interested in advancing and employing scholarship on women’s enterprise and the gendering of entrepreneurship. GEN is a special interest group of the Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
On 4th November 2014, the MMU Business School hosted an event ‘Developing Women’s Enterprise to Create Sustainable Communities’ as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Festival of Social Science, which takes place from 1st – 8th November to provide an opportunity to meet and engage with the UK’s leading social scientists. The event explored innovative ways to support women’s enterprise.
Vast pool of female entrepreneurial potential continues to be wasted
The 34% rise in the numbers of self-employed women shown in the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) report is not evidence that women’s enterprise is flourishing in the UK. Rather, a vast pool of female entrepreneurial potential continues to be wasted. The reality of entrepreneurship for most people is not the glamour of Dragon’s Den but the struggle to make ends meet.
To date, enterprise policy has not been well integrated with childcare and maternity policies which simply don’t meet the needs of women wanting to launch a business. The failure of successive governments to understand the strength of the maternity and childcare barrier to enterprise means that a great deal of female entrepreneurial potential is being wasted. Many mothers are discouraged from starting businesses and constrained in the businesses they do start. Policy failures create costs for everyone – families, communities and UK plc.
Childcare support needed
We need maternity pay for women trading part-time in a struggle to just keep their businesses alive after having a baby. And we need more funded childcare support for women entrepreneurs, particularly at start-up when effort must go before income, and tax breaks mean very little if the woman is not yet turning a profit. Childcare support would also be a great investment for established businesses that cannot grow while women are tied to their local area and part-time working due to the school run.
Research findings include:
- Women still make up a third of the UK’s 1.4 million self-employed and the top occupations for self-employed women are cleaners and domestics, childminders, carers and hairdressers.
- Both policy and practice changes are need to help women far from economic activity (i.e. being out of paid work for a long time) to start-up.
- Enterprise programmes that support business start-ups fail to address the strength of the childcare barrier to enterprise and so do little to remove the barrier to start-up or growth.
- Even women from better off families, with good career histories and networks are much less likely to start in business if they have childcare responsibilities.
- Self-employed women need childcare support at the launch of their businesses before the business turns a profit because the start-up period is very intensive and time hungry.
- Self-employed women are not entitled to maternity leave and yet can only claim maternity pay if they take leave. Support is needed to help them keep their businesses alive while they juggle care for an infant with part-time trading.