Women elect to be their own boss

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Women are voting with their feet and setting up their own businesses to get more flexibility between work and family life, according to a new survey of female entrepreneurs commissioned by Minister for Women and Equality Harriet Harman. Issued by the Cabinet Office on behalf of Government Equalities Office

The biggest motivation for going it alone - 70% of those polled - was to be able to work more flexibly, with three quarters (75%) saying work family life balance is better when you run your own business, rather than being an employee.

Women entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of being self-employed, with nine in ten (86%) happy to set up their own business all over again.

Additional findings from the survey include:

  • More than three quarters (78%) gained greater independence from setting up their own business, two thirds (66%) increased confidence, and 60% said it gave them greater self-worth.
  • Other reasons for women started their own business are to be their own boss (65%), to be able to work from home (61%), to get more job satisfaction (53%), to achieve a better work-life balance (52%).
  • The proportion of manual/unskilled (C2DE) female entrepreneurs is increasing - 55% set up their business in the past five years, compared with 47% of professional/skilled women (ABC1), indicating that starting up a new business is not just for those with degrees.

Female entrepreneurship in the United Kingdom is increasing. There are now more than one million self-employed women - a 17 percent rise since 2000. But the gap between female and male entrepreneurship remains stubbornly wide. Despite women making up half of the UK population, they only constitute 27% of the self-employed.

The survey marks a reception hosted tonight by Ms Harman and John Hutton for women in business to celebrate their contribution to the UK economy. They will announce a new publicity campaign which will encourage more women to start up a business and direct them to sources of help.

Ms Harman said:

"Women want to call the shots by running their own business. They're recognising that being their own boss gives them control and allows them to balance their work and family life.

"Mothers often tear their hair out trying to balance earning a living with bringing up their children, and need more flexibility from their work. Setting up their own business can be the solution.

"But we need to encourage more women to take the plunge. Men are almost twice as likely as women to start a new business. That's why we are determined to close this gap by providing solid support and encouragement."

Business Secretary of State John Hutton said:

"Increasing entrepreneurship among the UK's women brings us huge economic benefits - maximising an untapped economic dividend and increasing productivity.

"If the UK matched the USA's level of women-led businesses we would have an additional 900,000 businesses and 150,000 start-ups every year. I want us to be the most enterprising economy in the world and to do this, we need women to start and grow their own businesses. That's why measures to boost female entrepreneurship are central to our recent enterprise strategy."

The Government recently announced an Enterprise Strategy, with measures to increase the number of women's entrepreneurs, including a £12.5million Women's Investment Fund with the aim of private sector to match the funding to develop women-led businesses. Other measures include a pilot of US-model Women's Business Centres and the establishment of a national mentoring network, both of which will provide women entrepreneurs will support and advice.

Top tips on starting out:

  • Find a mentor who can share their experiences of setting up a business. Everywoman.com can help with this.
  • Innovative services or products are always in demand. Successful entrepreneurs are often those who spot a new trend or market, or put a twist on an existing idea.
  • Do initial research and seek advice alongside your day job. This allows you to test your idea out without taking risks.

What the government is doing

As part of the new Enterprise strategy, published in March, the Government will promote the development of women's enterprise through a range of measures and will:

  • Invest £12.5 million in a Women's Investment Fund, with the aim of securing a total of £25 million of investment;
  • Partner with the British Bankers Association and others to Assist Women to Finance their Business through an awareness programme of activities;
  • Work with the Regional Development Agencies to pilot Women's Business Centres, providing a supportive environment to assist women in starting a business. A separate pilot will provide information to women in a supportive, family-friendly environment through Children's Centres.
  • Work with external partners to champion a National Mentoring Network for women in business, including enabling the existing women's enterprise ambassadors to become mentors;
  • Support the development of a National Women's Enterprise Centre of Expertise to assist in building the economic case for women's enterprise;
  • Run a Media Campaign "Spark an Idea" to encourage more women entrepreneurs. This will be run jointly between the Government Equalities Office and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform;
  • Support work being undertaken by the WEConnect organisation to open up access to corporate and public sector procurement opportunities for women's businesses.


  • The reception hosted by Harriet Harman and John Hutton will be in Westminster on Monday 12th May. It will be attended by women in business to celebrate their contribution to the UK economy and the Ministers launched the Girls! Make your Mark awards.
  • The survey was conducted online by YouGov from 30th April to 7th May 2008. Sample size 1,026 women who have started their own business. Full results (including regional breakdown) are available from the GEO press office.
  • The Government Equalities Office is responsible for the Government's overall strategy and priorities on equality issues. It was established in July 2007. The Office has responsibility for policy on gender equality, issues around sexual orientation, and for integrating work on race and religion or belief into the overall equality framework.
  • The Girls! Make Your Mark Awards are to celebrate female entrepreneurs and inspire a new generation: http://www.makeyourmark.org.uk Make Your Mark is the national campaign to unlock the UK's enterprise potential. It aims to inspire people to have ideas and make them happen. The not-for-profit campaign is backed by a coalition of businesses, charities, education bodies and government.


Surveyed: women who have started their own business.


  • Nine out of ten women (86%) said that having set up a business they would be likely to do it all over again.

Reason for women starting their own business

  • To work more flexibly (70%)
  • To be their own boss (65%)
  • To be able to work from home (61%)
  • To get more job satisfaction (53%)
  • To achieve a better work-life balance (52%).

Work family life balance

  • Three quarters (75%) felt their work life balance was better running their own business than they did as an employee.

What women gained from starting their own business

  • More than three quarters (78%) felt they had gained independence
  • Two thirds (66%) has increased confidence
  • 60% said it gave them greater self-worth

What would have made it easier to start-up

  • A third (34%) thought more encouragement from the Government would have helped.
  • 27% would have liked easier access to finance
  • 23% would have liked a mentor

Social class

  • The proportion of manual/unskilled (ABC1) female entrepreneurs is increasing - 55% set up their business in the past five years, compared with 47% of professional/skilled (C2DE).


  • Three quarters (74%) of female entrepreneurs felt that successful business women have to be better than men.

Concerns when starting up

  • Fear of failure - a minor concern for 44%, significant concern for 27%. However, actual failure rates are on a par for both male and female entrepreneurs.

Research was conducted online by YouGov between 30th April and 7th May. YouGov interviewed a sample of 1,026 UK women who have started their own business. Results have not been weighted. YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council.

Client ref Cabinet Office on behalf of Government Equalities Office

COI ref 160749P