Concerns that some efforts to boost female entrepreneurship are 'fragile' and too limited

Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) has called for an acceleration of efforts to release untapped female economic potential after it hosted a conference in which an entrepreneurship expert raised concerns about initiatives that are not far-reaching enough.

WES, which works to close the gender gap in enterprise, hosted its third-ever International Conference – titled The Path to Economic Equality – at The Royal Bank of Scotland Conference Centre at Gogarburn earlier this year.

It says it was a collaborative event that united more than 300 policy-makers, researchers, business-leaders and academics, with a shared interest in progressing women’s participation in the global economy, to discuss and lay out solutions for a future in which women across the world achieve economic parity.

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Among those addressing the event was Professor Barbara Orser, Deloitte professor in the management of growth enterprises at the University of Ottawa, who has cited research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development finding that women’s enterprise policies and programmes are typically “fragile, time-limited, small scale-pilots”.

She has cautioned against “one size fits all” models, and is calling for governments to work with expert organisations who understand the needs of women, and women’s markets.

Bronwen Thomas, newly appointed chief operating officer at WES, said: “The pandemic is predicted to have added another 36 years to the fight for gender parity, so it is imperative that we collectively step up to build a better future, and respond effectively to the challenges women face in trying to unlock their economic potential.

“At a time when our economy faces considerable pressures, including a cost-of-living crisis and a predicted recession, there has never been a more urgent need for collaborative, informed action to help us realise women’s untapped economic potential.

'It is imperative that we collectively step up to build a better future,' says WES chief operating officer Bronwen Thomas. Picture: Phil Wilkinson.

"We hope that the expertise and the recommendations gleaned from the entrepreneurs, organisations and thought leaders who participated in the WES Conference will help to inform the forthcoming creation of Scotland’s National Women’s Business Centre.”

WES in February of this year marked its tenth anniversary with calls for action over the establishment of a National Women’s Business Centre model.

The WES conference was supported by the British Business Bank, the University of Glasgow, Business Gateway Edinburgh, and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), and the latter’s regional enterprise director for Scotland, Paula Ritchie, said: “As the largest supporter of UK businesses, we’re committed to continuing our investment working alongside our partners [WES], supporting the start-up and scale-up of women-led businesses across Scotland.

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"We have ringfenced a minimum of 60 per cent of our support through our enterprise programmes for female entrepreneurs. Together, we will tackle the business funding gap by boosting access to and awareness of business financing, tackle the societal barriers standing in the way of women entrepreneurs reaching their full potential, and champion entrepreneurship by addressing some of the key challenges facing women in business identified in The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship.”

The latter’s findings, first published in 2019, highlighted how if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as men, up to £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy. The Rose Review Progress Report 2022 was reveal ed in February of this year, with Ms Rose saying: “We must go further to achieve the goals of the Rose Review.”