‘Women go for funding and are asked if their husband will be running the business’


The cost to the UK economy of not supporting female entrepreneurs has been calculated as £250 billion.

Launching the 100 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch List in collaboration with The Telegraph, NatWest’s chief executive Alison Rose said this would be the potential value if women in this country matched men who are starting new businesses. The figure represents around four years of natural Gross Value Added (GVA) growth, added to the UK’s current total GVA of around £1,900 billion per year.

However, Rose said the barriers to women setting up businesses are often falsely perceived as a lack of ambition, being more risk averse than men and not being as good networkers. 

“Women do not lack ability or ambition and we have the data to show that from the Rose Review,” said Rose.

Only one in three UK entrepreneurs is female: a gender gap equivalent to 1.1 million missing businesses. Female-led businesses are only 44 per cent of the size of male-led businesses on average, in terms of their contribution to the economy; and male small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are five times more likely to scale up to £1 million turnover than female ones.

Rose was commissioned by the Government to head the Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, published in 2019. She said the problem is often the “soft barriers” women encounter when pitching for scale funding. “At the horrifying end of the scale I’ve heard stories of women going for funding and being asked if their husband is running the business for them. Or the receptionist being brought in from the front desk so there’s another woman in the room. Or being asked ‘Do you really have the ambition to deliver this?’, really questioning their ability. These microaggressions as well as the perception issues are the problem.”

Last week, it was reported that Joshua Ma, a senior executive at TikTok, was stepping back from his role after making remarks disparaging the concept of maternity leave. He allegedly said that as a “capitalist” he “didn’t believe” firms should offer maternity leave.

“It’s hugely worrying,” said Rose. “It gives the message to young women and business leaders that someone in a senior position can think like that. It’s the reason why role modelling and mentorship is so important; that often used phrase, ‘If you can’t see it you can’t believe it’.”

As the first woman to run a major bank, Rose is a visible example of how family and business are not mutually exclusive. “That idea that if you want a successful career you can’t have children is utter nonsense. I’ve got two children and my career is not going so badly,” she said.

The 100 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch list will be spotlighting some of the most exciting high potential women owned businesses in the UK. The top ten will receive support that includes mentoring by the Rose Review Board, while the top businesswoman will receive a £10,000 grant to invest in their business. The results will be published in the run up to the Telegraph’s Women Mean Business event, launched in 2018. 

Rose hopes that the watch list and the event will continue to connect more women with mentors and bridge the gap at a time when women are facing challenges in the workplace and business.


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