Enterprise and entrepreneurship are hot topics, with masses of new tech companies being thrust into the limelight on the back of fame, fortune and viral downloads (Uber, Snapchat and the notorious Flappy Bird, to name but a few).
It seems that many of us have been inspired by these successes and spurred on by TV shows like Dragons’ Den to take the plunge and become an entrepreneur. But there is also a lot of discussion around equality. Are certain demographics benefiting more from this startup trend and development initiatives?
On Tuesday 19 May 2015, the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (part of Nottingham University Business School), hosted the Business Incubation: Male, Pale and Stale seminar, which asked the question, is it time for change?
Professor of gender in enterprise Susan Marlow (pictured, right) from the University of Nottingham and Maggie O’Carroll chief executive officer of The Women’s Organisation (pictured, left), came together to discuss gender equality in the current entrepreneurial environment and what, if anything, needs to be done to improve the picture.
Marlow outlined her research in the field, highlighting the unintentional gender bias which sneaks into the imagery about business development, chiefly that of a smartly dressed young white male, wearing glasses and carrying a briefcase.
“You might think I picked this image to make the point, but just search Google Images for ‘business incubator’ to see the results for yourself. It’s all saplings, eggs and men in business suits, often combined,” Marlow argued.
While I wasn’t surprised to hear these clichés, I was surprised at just how ‘normal’ they are becoming, and how easy it is to be affected by them without even noticing. Marlow made an interesting point about “the Star Trek problem”. Studies show that female applicants for undergraduate computer science courses are considerably less likely to follow through with their application if images from the Star Trek TV series are displayed in the room.
Although I disagree with the subject matter being used (I’m a bit of a Trekky, as it happens) I do agree with the sentiment. We are all human beings with our in-built preconceptions and prejudices. So as much as we would like to remain impartial to every situation we face, it just isn’t possible. We make quick subconscious judgments based on our environment and those judgements will most likely affect our decisions.
O’Carroll tried to answer the question of whether all this matters by examining the situation from a global perspective. In the US, 47 per cent of newly launched businesses are female-owned with eight million businesses currently majority women-owned. If the US women-owned businesses formed their own country, they would have the fifth largest GDP in the world.
Europe is lagging behind, with women-run companies standing at 18 per cent to 20 per cent. O’Carroll said that UK women are “an untapped economic resource”. As Marlow stressed, there are no proven physiological differences between men and women to make either one more fit to run a successful company.
Thankfully, times are changing. There is now a more general recognition of the subconscious and conscious barriers stopping women entering into business ownership, yet no one is quite sure how this can be achieved, which is slowing down progress.
O’Carroll went on to explain about the initiative 54 St James Street, a business incubation centre established specifically to support women-owned enterprises. It has had many successes and supports a wide range of women-led businesses.
During my time as a business owner, I have come across many initiatives created to help women to front their own companies. And I still think this is an excellent time to be a woman entering into entrepreneurship. While there are many challenges to be faced, and you will occasionally walk into a situation rife with gender preconceptions and prejudice, you don’t have to go too far to find support.
The more women tap into that support network, push forward with their dream of starting their own businesses, and ignore the stereotypes, the faster that stereotyped image will change.
About the author
Annie Haley has always had a creative mind, enjoying studying art and textiles from an early age. Annie graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 2008 with a BA in Theatre Design. She initially had a love-hate relationship with technology, but after creating the user interface for her first app Spectrum Puzzles, she discovered a passion for digital design. She and partner Steve now run their own app development agency, MultiPie Ltd. Annie’s main role is designing the branding and user interface for the apps that they build, but she also has a hand in running most areas of the business.