As part of our focus on International Women’s Day, Carol Flockhart, managing partner at accountancy firm Chiene + Tait, highlights the work done by Investing Women’s Ambition and Growth Conference, which opens in Edinburgh today, to drive female entrepreneurship throughout the country
Marking International Women’s Day this year, I am delighted that Chiene + Tait is once again supporting Ambition and Growth Conference, an event which promotes female entrepreneurship across Scotland.
The Conference, which includes the finals of the annual AccelerateHER competition is run by the all-female angel investment group Investing Women. This organisation is made up of successful businesswomen who have come together to invest in mainly female-led businesses and provide support to their owners.
With women currently accounting for an extremely low level of business angels in Scotland – believed to be less than 10 per cent – Investing Women aims to raise those numbers and, in doing so, replicate the success seen in America. In the US, the percentage of female business angels now sits at more than 25 per cent, up from single figures a decade ago. The increase in female angels has led to a direct rise in the number of women-led companies that are now securing financial investment, commonly known as the echo effect.
The Investing Women approach is a hugely positive development in Scotland; helping female entrepreneurs overcome key barriers, including accessing finance and connecting them to a wider peer network. This is not only promoting greater gender equality but brings wider benefits because increasing the number of women-led businesses means more economic prosperity.
Research by Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) suggests that female-led businesses currently contribute more than £5 billion GVA towards the Scottish economy. They have estimated this figure would rise to £13 billion if the rate of businesses led by women equalled the level of those run by men. A 2016 RBS report estimated that there would be one million more female entrepreneurs across Britain if they were able to set up new businesses at the same rate as men, which could add £60 billion to the UK’s GDP by 2030.
It is, of course, important to continue to promote entrepreneurship across all genders but with women currently heading up just one in five business in Scotland, according to WES’s figures, there remains a high level of untapped female potential to build on. This is also the ideal time to focus on greater entrepreneurship in Scotland. Despite the uncertainties of Brexit hanging over us, there is an increasingly positive business environment in Scotland. A report issued last month by the Bank of Scotland said that Scottish business confidence was at its highest level in more than three years. The Bank’s PMI survey found a rise in private sector growth and an increase in staffing levels compared to the start of the year with many service sector employers reporting higher orders.
Meanwhile a separate report by the global consultancy Arcadis named Edinburgh as the most attractive UK city for inward investment, ahead of Oxford, Cambridge and Liverpool. Having our capital city secure this type of accolade is positive news for all Scottish-based entrepreneurs. Edinburgh’s success in attracting more investment also brings potential for a ripple effect to benefit other regions of Scotland.
While there are lots of positives, we can’t pretend that everything is rosy for women in the business world. It was reported earlier this year that only two of Scotland’s 40 listed trading companies have so far hit the Government target for larger businesses of having at least 33 per cent of board positions filled by women. It also claimed that only five of the 103 executive directors at these businesses are female, highlighting how far there is to go in raising representation of women within boardrooms.
During my professional career things have, however, been moving in the right direction to help more women succeed. Employers are introducing more flexibility in the workplace while changes in legislation such as shared parental leave, employment rights for pregnant women and the right to request flexible hours have greatly benefitted women and families and they also make good commercial sense by helping companies attract and retain talent.
International Women’s Day is a time for celebration; we must shout about the progress of females, including the immense contribution many are making as entrepreneurs. That is a solid base to build on as we aim to help more women succeed in business.