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2014: the rise of the female entrepreneur

It's up to us to inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs. So what will it take? 

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, but here’s a question: Would you be more inclined to take the plunge into your own entrepreneurial adventures if a greater number of successful female entrepreneurs filled our screens and column inches?

To put it another way, does a lack of visible entrepreneurial role models clip your wings when it comes to thinking about starting your own business?

Beatrice Bartlay, founder and managing director of recruitment firm 2B Interface, believes so. She thinks women need more diverse female role models to look up to, and argues that a more realistic representation of female businesswomen in the media would help make that happen.

“It is up to us to inspire the next generation of women and show them that they can achieve highly in business – and the way to do this is through more diverse representation of females in business,” Bartlay explains.

SWSC recently covered research conducted by RBS which revealed that a fear of failure holds the majority of women back from starting their own entrepreneurial enterprises. Josie Emberton, who heads up Young UnLtd which supports young social entrepreneurs, said of the research:

“More than 60 per cent of the surveyed women admitted that fear of failure would stop them trying to start their own business, compared with just over 50 per cent of men.” “Additionally only 37 per cent of women believed they had the ability and skills to set up their own business, compared to 47 per cent of men.

”The research also revealed that women, who make up just 17 percent of business owners in the UK, are half as likely as men to start a new business venture. Bartlay suggests this proves that we are adversely affected by a lack of diverse female entrepreneurial role models, particularly ones involved in businesses outside the realm of those traditionally occupied by women such as retail, arts, food, crafts, beauty and healthcare.

“That’s all very cute and cuddly and reinforcing of the type of roles women are likely to fulfill, plus ‘mend and make do’ style businesses are very in vogue, and there is a risk that it is not sustainable,” Bartlay explains. “It’s encouraging to see more women represented as business owners - but we need to encourage women who are in less traditionally-female positions to come forward and share their stories to inspire diversity. We must see more representation of the female entrepreneur who has set up an engineering company, the female CIO, the female welder or the female manufacturing business owner.”

Tech Stars founder David Cohen expressed a similar argument in a piece he wrote for the Wall Street Journal (which we covered here) about the importance of celebrating the unsung female heroes of the tech world. Cohen cites a 2010 study which found that groups with more women had a higher ‘collective intelligence’ which in turn led to better group co-operation. He believes that a shortage of women in the tech startup world means “we’re missing out on immeasurable untapped talent, creativity and different points of view”.

Cohen also proposed making female startup community heroes more visible by celebrating them and publicizing their successes “just as often and loud as our male founders”. But do role models really matter so much? Shouldn’t our own self belief give us the confidence and wherewithal to make bold or risky business moves? Not according to Susan Krauss, professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of The Search for Fulfillment (January 2010, Ballantine Books). Writing for Psychology Today, she argues that having role models directly impacts not only how you perceive yourself but, just as importantly, how others perceive you. And it matters that your role models are ethical too, not just successful. She writes:

"Studies of aggressive learning in children show that through a process known as vicarious reinforcement, we start to model the behavior of individuals whose actions seem to be getting rewarded." "It makes sense that the older you are and the longer you’re in the job, the less effect your childhood role models will have on you and the more powerful will be the role models you have in your work. Ethical adults may shape your character as a young person, but the more you’re out in the world, the more likely it is that your current role models will be the ones to shape your attitudes."

Similarly, Bartlay is convinced that exposing young girls to more diverse role models could help address the fact there has been “no change in women’s’ share of business ownership since 1992” despite that despite increasing numbers of women opting for self-employment. “Younger girls need to be aware that self-employment or starting a business are fantastic career choices,” concludes Bartlay. “Not only that, but there is no limit to the areas that they can branch into – they do not need to fulfill perceived roles and should be inspired by a newer generation of role models.” So if greater exposure to successful female role models would inspire you, why not begin the year by checking out the world's most powerful entrepreneurs, according to Forbes magazine.

Heidi Scrimgeour

Originally from London but now based on the Causeway coast of Northern Ireland, Heidi is a former PR Executive turned freelance journalist and Deputy Editor of SWSC. She has written for a wide range of national newspapers including the Sunday Telegraph, Irish Independent, The Times, Guardian, Daily Express and the Daily Mail, and for a variety of magazines including Gurgle, Top Sante, Grazia and Stylist. She's also the mother of two rambunctious boys and one baby girl, and is married to a quirky Scotsman. Heidi appreciates espresso martinis, her Kindle, and running by the sea.

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