From the outside looking in, a business is a business. It exists to create products, attract customers, generate revenues and, hopefully, make profits. There are good businesses and bad businesses but they try to do pretty much the same thing.
So does it matter whether an entrepreneurial company is male or female-owned and managed?
Well, according to a survey published by London-based financial technology company Sumup, there are some differences. Female entrepreneurs and small business owners have – to some extent – different priorities when compared with their male counterparts and the companies they run tend to be more diverse in terms of hiring policy.
It’s perhaps not surprising that priorities will differ between the sexes, but as the report also highlights feale entrepreneurs continue to face some real challenges when they enter the choppy waters of entrepreneurship. I spoke to Sumup’s VP of Global Marketing Nina Etienne about the findings of the survey.
Sumup’s interests in the subject matter reflect its own connection with entrepreneurs. The company’s products are aimed squarely at small business owners. They range from hardware (card readers) to accountancy, invoicing and online store software. As VP of Global Marketing Nina Etienne explains, the purpose of the company’s research – based on responses from its small business customers – was to understand the experience of women in business.
“It was coming up to international women’s day,” says Etienne “We spoke to our members to understand the challenges they face.”
More than 2,000 business owners, 700 hundred of them in the UK took part in the research. Part of the purpose was to gain insights into how female entrepreneurs could be better supported but male-led companies were also included in the conversations in order to make comparisons.
Why Start A Business
One of the traditional motivations for starting a business could be characterized as “I want to be my own boss.” As it turns out, this might be a bit of a male viewpoint. The largest driver for female entrepreneurs (38%) was a desire to achieve a better work/life balance. And with their businesses up and running, 66% of women said maintaining that balance was the number one priority. For men, generating income topped the list of goals.
But is there a disconnect between aspiration and the realities of making a business work? Talk to business owners – especially when their ventures are early stage – and many will tell you that work is all-consuming. Instead of spending 40 hours in the office as employees, their working week as entrepreneurs could be 60 hours at least.
The survey captures a certain tension here, with 31% of women saying that pressure on family life was a concern, compared with only 20% of males.
Squaring The Circle
So can female entrepreneurs square the circle? The survey doesn’t capture that, but Etienne says women may be prepared to show more flexibility in the way their businesses are run. “To say female-owned businesses are run more efficiently is perhaps a generalization, however, I think there is strong evidence to suggest that female business owners are more open to experimenting with different policies and management styles -such as prioritizing diversity and inclusion, implementing flexible working hours and remote working . This often leads to happier and harder working staff.”
Well, perhaps, a separate survey published by Global Tech Festivals to coincide with London Tech Week suggests that some women are not only struggling to secure a work/life balance but actually being forced by economic necessity to take more than one job. Fifteen percent of female tech workers said they had previously been either self-employed or business owners but had to take on other roles to survive. Work/Life balance can be an elusive thing.
Inclined To Diversity
Sumup also finds that small businesses led by women tend to be inclined toward diversity. Almost a third of male employers saw no benefit to having diverse workplaces, compared to a quarter of women.
Female-led companies were far more likely to hire women. Is this a conscious or unconscious choice? “In many cases, during the hiring process job adverts can be exclusionary by accident, so male-owned businesses are often less likely to attract female talent. I don’t think it’s necessarily an active choice from both male and female-led enterprises to recruit members of their respective genders, but instead a mix of underlying cultural factors that has caused candidates to seek better-suited, and more understanding, working environments.,” says Etienne.
Etienne is keen to stress that encouraging more women to start businesses is one of her personal passions. But there are deterrents. The survey suggests that women are much more likely than men to suffer from imposter syndrome – the voice in your head that says “no you shouldn’t be doing this.” Men, on the other hand, tend to fret most about bureaucracy.
There is a danger of over-simplifying when interpreting these surveys and also the headline findings perhaps don’t take account of the different kinds of entrepreneurial businesses that emerge. For instance, a tech entrepreneur seeking VC-cash is likely to be extremely focused on growth and revenues rather than, say, work life balance, regardless of gender. Other businesses may be formed specifically to support a lifestyle, with balance between the home and office at the front of the founder’s thinking. Again, that won’t necessarily be a gender thing.
But the findings that businesses gender does influence the way businesses are run and in terms of innovation and diversity, that’s probably a good thing.