Today is International Women’s Day 2019 and the theme this year is #BalanceforBetter
“Better the balance, better the world”
I have attended a number of events this week owing to fact that I am an entrepreneur. A couple of these events, including a panel session for the RBS Women’s Network, were because I am a female entrepreneur. I don’t often stop to think about what it means to be a female social entrepreneur and so this evening I sat down and did some digging to find out some hard facts and figures which I want to share here and then reflect on my own experience.
Most of the information quoted here comes from a British Council Report in 2017 – Activist to entrepreneur: The role of social enterprise in supporting women’s empowerment. It didn’t surprise me to learn that fewer women than men set up social enterprises, however I was surprised to learn that women social entrepreneurs are still likely to earn less than their male counterparts. For some reason I thought this might be different in the social enterprise world.
However, it seems that women social entrepreneurs are not primarily driven by earning an income! Their primary motivation in setting up a social enterprise is to address a social or environmental problem, or to benefit their community.
I can relate.
When Kat and I started running S4TP, we both had to support ourselves with other work for the first year to remain financially afloat. When we employed our first member of staff, they were earning considerably more than we were, but we kept chipping away and now we have a growing team of passionate women (as it happens) who are all highly-motivated, ambitious individuals who are genuinely much more motivated by the societal problems that we are looking to address than by maximising their financial reward.
The British Council report goes on to say that many of the challenges faced by people setting up a business are the same, however, women social entrepreneurs do encounter some additional barriers including:
- less confidence in skills and ability
- greater fear of failure
I can relate both of these things very deeply, but where they have been presented above as additional barriers faced by women, I challenge women and men alike to see them as potential advantages.
The fact that I didn’t have overflowing confidence in my skills and abilities when we started Solutions for the Planet meant that firstly, I did it with an incredibly strong female friend of mine who had complementary skills. Secondly, I totally accepted the fact that at 26, regardless of gender, I did not and could not know everything that I needed and wanted to to run a business. So I positioned myself and Solutions for the Planet as living, learning, evolving entities, and as our team has grown we’ve developed a culture that encourages learning from and with each other and our wider network. I ask a lot of questions, and I seek out both female and male mentors and coaches with skills and abilities in areas in which I am less confident.
I still struggle with a fear of failure -doesn’t everyone? The question that jumps to my mind is whether that really is a big difference between men and women? Or is it that women are just more likely to admit to the fear? I don’t know the answer -I just have a sense that it might be the latter.
At one of the panels I sat on this week, the first question was “Do you suffer with impostor syndrome (doubt your accomplishments and feel like a fraud)? If so, how have you overcome this?” Again I somewhat spun this on its head, and reflected that actually, if I have a sense that I’m out of place somewhere – for example in at a networking event which is dominated by older men – then I feel that’s exactly where I should be. A mentor once said to me, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable”, and I agree wholeheartedly with that. If I’m going to an event that is likely to be full of dark suits then I will make an effort to be more colourful, and get comfortable being uncomfortable.
A couple of other social enterprise stats to finish off with: in the UK 40% of social enterprises are led by women compared to 18% of for-profit businesses. Women make up 46% of the total workforce in the UK but a considerably higher 66% of the social enterprise workforce. To finish up I’ll end with the conclusions from the British Council report in 2017:
“The social enterprise sector should be proud of its record of producing women leaders, but certainly not complacent. More work needs to be done to support women leaders in the sector, and more work needs to be done with larger social enterprises to make sure they consider their board, leadership teams and pay structures with a gender lens. A sector that exists to create a more equal world should not have a glass ceiling or a gender pay gap. Our research in Brazil, India, Pakistan, the UK and the USA has shown that social enterprise is already empowering women and girls across the world. A combined effort from governments, funders, women’s empowerment organisations and the social enterprise sector itself is needed to help maximise this impact on gender equality. And if SDG 5* is to be reached by 2030, this effort needs to start immediately.”
*Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
There’s no time to lose.
Written by: Jen Baughan, CEO
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd.
Sources: British Council, 2017: Activist to entrepreneur: The role of social enterprise in supporting women’s empowerment, 2017