Lack of diversity in entrepreneurship is ‘holding back recovery’

Chief executive of The Women’s Organisation in Liverpool, Maggie O’Carroll, is calling for urgent Government intervention to support more women and black and racial minority-led enterprises. Tony McDonough reports

women, meeting, business, entrepreneurs
More diversity in entrepreneurship will benefit the economy


Liverpool city region business leader Maggie O’Carroll says the power of “diverse entrepreneurship” is key to post-pandemic recovery and is calling for urgent Government action.

New research from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), which has been monitoring levels of entrepreneurship since 1999, says new enterprises are being harnessed as a key driver in a sustainable, purpose-driven economic recovery. 

Yet it reveals that despite positive trends for women and black and racial minority communities over previous years, recent levels of diversity in entrepreneurial activity have significantly decreased. 

Ms O’Carroll, chief executive of Liverpool-based social enterprise, The Women’s Organisation, says the UK risks losing momentum in its post-COVID-19 recovery by not actively encouraging greater diversity in entrepreneurship.

The latest findings indicate a 40% gap in entrepreneurial activity between men and women in the UK, reporting on average of six female early-stage entrepreneurs to every 10 men at the same stage. 

The GEM research found that increasing female participation in entrepreneurship boosts an overall economy, creating thousands of new businesses and adding significantly to employment opportunities and incomes. 

Increasing female and black and racial minority participation in enterprise creation needs to be a much more important policy objective in the UK to boost national economy and deliver a sustainable economic recovery, Ms O’Carroll says. 

Only 15% of SME employers are women-led, and only 5% of SMEs have at least 50/50 representation of people from BAME groups on their senior management teams. The Women’s Organisation plays a big role in helping to create new enterprises. It runs the Enterprise Hub programme in Liverpool Excelerate Labs in Greater Manchester.

Ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Budget in March, The Women’s Organisation called for a £1.6bn investment for a national programme of employment and business support to be implemented locally to help more than 2m women who lost their jobs and businesses during COVID-19, resulting in an £8bn economic return.

“Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown period The Women’s Organisation supported more than 1,160 businesses to access over £12.5m of business finance and grants,” said Ms O’Carroll.

“Research has proven that women have disproportionately shouldered the lion’s share of additional care duties and home schooling during this period while also being dealt devastating blows such as higher rates of redundancy and furlough, and unfair and restricted access to the Self Employment Income Support Scheme and Universal Credit. 

Maggie O'Carroll
Maggie O’Carroll, chief executive of The Women’s Organisation


“In order to build back better post-COVID we must ensure the power of diverse entrepreneurship is truly harnessed this will enable businesses to thrive and better serve and support local communities.”

Most recent estimations calculate women-led SMEs contribution to be £85bn to overall economic output, and this can be significantly increased given sufficient policy interventions. 

By adopting policies to support women, creating women-focused entrepreneurship initiatives, and creating gender-based policies, female entrepreneurs would contribute significantly to the UK economy, but also create a substantial amount of sustainable employment opportunities across the country

Professor Mark Hart of The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, UK team, added: “It is clear from the evidence that the overall impact of the pandemic on women has been disproportionate as they are more likely to carry the additional burdens associated with COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

“The persistent gap between male and female early-stage entrepreneurial activity rates in the UK is a matter of on-going concern and has been exacerbated during the pandemic in 2020 as the latest GEM results show.  

“Much of that may well have been due to the lack of Government support the many hundreds of thousands of self-employed women who provide such an import role in the enterprise economy.

“As the economy begins to emerge from this unprecedented public health crisis decline there is a need for renewed energy into the work of organisations such as The Women’s Organisation.”

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