The Changing Environment of Women in Business

Our Fiona Kingston was in Accountancy Plus this week. Here is her article:

Women start ups

Every year, more and more women take the step of starting their own business. Women are also taking up senior roles in established small and medium enterprises. Research emphasises that access to training and a supportive structure are key elements in successful enterprise supports for women. The three most commonly cited causes of female business failure are: lack of proper financing, lack of prior experience, and lack of training.


In Ireland, we seem to have relatively low numbers of women engaging in entrepreneurial activities. Women are the largest under-represented group when it comes to enterprise, less than 187., of established entrepreneurs are women. Also of note is that early stage start ups in Ireland are two and half times higher for male entrepreneurs (10.3%) than for females (4.2%). However statistics from other countries such as the US and Australia are far higher when compared to Ireland -10.4% and 8.4% respectively. Pressures from family life, a lack of high profile role models and a lower perception by women that they have the skills to set up a business are other factors that have discouraged women from starting their own businesses.

Confidence as an issue

Numerous surveys have concluded that confidence is a significant barrier to success for women in business. Women in large organisations often hold themselves back for promotion, sometimes admitting that they feel unqualified or undeserving for the role in hand. There is no doubting that there’re equal proportions of female and male talent in the work place but unfortunately notions of self doubt come into play, which holds back many talented females from taking senior steps on the career ladder. In fact research suggests that females in Ireland are exceptionally well educated with 86% of females having post primary education versus 74% for males. However when we examine the number of females in executive positions the picture is not so bright with only 14% of executive positions in Europe being held by women and in Ireland it is less, at 9%.

Role models

By increasing the number of women in senior roles we will provide more supply of role models for ambitious female talent moving through organisational ranks. Has the time arrived to deploy a quota system in Corporate Ireland to ensure more senior positions are filled by women?


Females are great to socialise and engage. However, when it comes to formal business networking engagements, it is proven that we don't attend as many business networking engagements as our male peers. This can be explained by a number of reasons, for example: uncomfortable in the environment, lack of confidence to push ourselves/our business forward or simply not enough hours in the day to attend a function outside work and home life. Relationship building is a proven science to building and winning new business. It is really important for women to make the time and invest in the art of networking. A succinct elevator pitch, a firm handshake and a warm smile are three key ingredients to making yourself and your business memorable. Women are empathetic creatures so when we do get ourselves mobilised to network we are great to support each other and make referrals, connections etc.

Things are changing

But things are changing. In the US, for example, women are the majority owners in 5070 of privately owned firms. These businesses produce$1.9 trillion in turnover, employ 12.8 million employees and grow at twice the rate of all US firms. The mobilisation of additional women into entrepreneurship would add jobs and growth to our domestic economy and make significant contributions towards economic recovery. In Ireland over the last few years there have been some very positive steps taken towards supporting and encouraging female entrepreneurship. There are a range of educational programmes ongoing throughout our colleges and universities, specifically designed to train, educate and enhance the skills of women who are starting their own business or indeed scaling up an existing business. Cork Institute of Technology launched the PINC programme in 2011; Queen's University is running the Innovate Her programme; and the DCU Ryan Academy is on its second sitting of the Female High Flier programme. In addition Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland have funding programmes specifically targeted at female entrepreneurs. In 2013 Enterprise Ireland have seen an increase in the number of female led high potential start up investments Such educational and funding supports will lead to a 'women in business' boom for Ireland and help bridge the gap that currently exists between male and female led businesses.

Business Women Can

At Ulster Bank we launched our Business Women Can programme in 2012 to support, nurture and mentor female entrepreneurs and business women in Ireland. We have created a dedicated online information and engagement platform where women can meet, collaborate, share, give help and ask for help with other women running businesses. This has articles, tools, templates and events that are of interest to women and women networks. The programme includes forty ambassadors who are trained and focussed on understanding the needs and relevant supports that are specific to workingwomen. They work closely with an external group of ambassadors from small and medium enterprises, not for profit agencies and professional services. Together this group leverage local connectivity and support on a broad range of items such as business fundamentals, local contacts and knowledge, and the ability to connect with a network of like-minded people.

Fostering female entrepreneurship

We believe that support is of the utmost importance to foster a growing, confident and vibrant female business community. Business Women Can encourages female entrepreneurs to profile themselves and to push their business, product or service through this forum. It's a very good way of reaching a very wide audience, at no cost. The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is a Nobel Peace prize winning microfinance organisation and community development Bank founded in Bangladesh in 1976. Interestingly most of its loans are extended to females. In 2005 Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of this Bank said that ‘a man with money in his pocket would always spend it on himself first (and not always wisely). A woman would first spend it on her children, then on the household and on herself last of all. As a result women presented an excellent risk for Banks'. We want to encourage more women to take the leap and establish business. We do believe that more and more women will actually take the next step and start a business, which is exactly what this country needs.

Fiona Kingston is Programme Director for Ulster Bank's Business Women Can initiative.




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