Entrepreneurs report

Women held back by ‘uneasy truth’ of sexist society

Ana Stewart
Ana Stewart: chaired the inquiry (pic: Terry Murden)

Ambitious women fail to get the same support as men because of the “uneasy truth” that society is sexist, according to a Scottish government-commissioned report.

Its authors, businesswoman Ana Stewart and the Scottish government’s chief entrepreneurial adviser Mark Logan, say attitudes towards women require “meaningful” change if the support system is to improve.

That must include more attention to diversity in education, tailored funding packages, as well as quotas to ensure women get proper recognition and a fair share of investment.

Start-ups founded by women in Scotland receive only 2% of overall investment capital, representing a “denial of opportunity on an industrial scale”, according to the report Pathways: A New Approach for Women in Entrepreneurship.

The authors say they are conscious that this situation has remained “more or less constant over many decades”, and that progress in changing this level of under-participation has been “stubbornly slow”.

They admit: “We inevitably confront an uneasy truth along the way, which is that our society is, to a degree, sexist, and not just at its extremes, and that this has a considerable bearing on participation levels in entrepreneurship, amongst many other fields.

“To make genuinely meaningful progress in addressing under-participation requires us to accept that reality, and its consequence.”

The authors say that most – and probably all – stakeholder groups within the entrepreneurial sector make decisions “with some level of, at least, unconscious sexism operating upon their processes”.

Mark Logan
Mark Logan: entrepreneurial adviser

The problem of low participation by women in the start-up mix is deemed to rest with the entrepreneurial capabilities of women themselves and, accordingly, places the burden of behavioural change upon them.

Ms Stewart and Mr Logan have made 31 recommendations to improve women’s access to advice and financial support.

They call for more focus on diversity in schools and in college courses, a Scottish Start-Up Summer School, and bringing start-up incubation, education and support closer to primary carers, who tend to be women.

Funding packages should also be designed specifically for this group, while co-investment should be contingent on participating VCs having at least a minimum threshold level of women in senior-investment roles.

There is a call to establish Scotland as a leading nation in “Femtech” – technology based around women’s issues and backed by a Femtech fund

The report recommends the setting up of an Entrepreneurial Pathfinder, providing a central resource to cut through the “cluttered environment” of early-stage start-up space consisting of “hundreds of organisations, including support groups, government agencies, accelerator hubs, mentoring groups, training programmes, incubators and others.

It notes that Israel is already providing centralised access to entrepreneurs and Investors through its Start-Up Nation platform. New Zealand has launched a similar solution and Canada’s Women’s Entrepreneurship strategy includes a centralised collaborative digital knowledge hub which connects women with support services at a local level.

“It may be no coincidence that these three countries lead the world in female entrepreneurship” say the authors.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the list of recommendations as “compelling”.

She added: “The review’s findings are challenging but underline the need to tackle the root-causes, as well as the immediate barriers, of this inequality.

“Fully realising the entrepreneurial potential of women in Scotland will not only promote greater equality in our society, it will also deliver significant benefits for the economy. 

“The Scottish Government will respond quickly to the review as a whole, and its recommendations.”

Other reaction

Niki Mckenzie, joint managing director of business angel group Archangels, said: “There is something essentially wrong with the system and it’s important that we understand the underlying root causes of gender bias in entrepreneurship.”

Jackie Waring, founder and chair of women-focused awards scheme AccelerateHER and founder of Investing Women Angels, said: “It is vital that all of these points are embraced by the Scottish Government, both the easier-to-embrace policy solutions as well as addressing the deeper causes, by focusing on female entrepreneurship within the education system and tackling unconscious bias within society which adversely impacts on growth opportunities for many female-founded companies.”

About the authors

Ana Stewart, chair

Ms Stewart is a tech entrepreneur. She founded i-design in 1995 which she listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market in 2007.

In 2013, she joined the Executive Committee of NASDAQ-listed ATM Services company Cardtronics when it acquired i-design.

She is an investment part at the the seed investment firm Eos and holds several non-executive director positions including at pet wellness business Bella & Duke and the Scottish FA, and she is an active angel investor.

Mark Logan

Mark Logan is the chief entrepreneurial adviser to the Scottish Government and is the author of the Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review.

He is also a professor of Computing Science in the University of Glasgow, a Senior Enterprise Fellow at University of Strathclyde, an investor and non-executive director.

He has over 25 years’ experience as a senior executive in the technology start-up and scale-up sector, including as COO of travel search engine company Skyscanner.

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