Sharon Davies, CEO of Young Enterprise, discusses how unleashing the untapped potential of female entrepreneurship in Generation Z is vital to the UK’s economic recovery
Undoubtedly, young people have been severely affected by the pandemic. But as is so often the case, it is women who are bearing the brunt of an economic downturn.
To avoid history repeating itself and women’s progress stagnating once again, there needs to be a shift in our perspective and mindsets. We cannot rest on our laurels just because there has been some progress made for women. There is so much more that needs to be done.
The effects of this pandemic are not gender neutral. In the first lockdown, women took on two-thirds of the childcare duties and mothers are 47% more likely than fathers to have quit or lost their job since the pandemic began. This has persisted over time – the average woman working full-time could lose out on £330,000 in comparison with men’s earnings over her working life.
The gender gap is well documented when you look at the number of female entrepreneurs in the UK. According to the Alison Rose Review, only one in three of the UK’s entrepreneurs are women. The result of this is one million missing businesses. In monetary terms, addressing the gender gap could result in an additional £250 billion for the UK economy.
Entrepreneurship could make such a valuable contribution to both unleashing the creative and valuable potential of Generation Z women and supporting post-pandemic economic recovery.
While this may be challenging and young women are already facing many obstacles that have been exacerbated by the pandemic; as a society, we can address these.
The question of how we successfully do this was posed at our recent Young Enterprise Future Female Founders event. The unanimous answer? We have to shift perceptions.
There are a number of all too familiar obstacles put in front of female entrepreneurs. These are generally rooted in unfair stereotypes about the business acumen of females, heightened risk awareness, perceived missing skills or experience, lack of relatable mentors and absence of or limited supportive networks.
Dragons Den panelist Sara Davies MBE, explored these challenges and provided key insights on the importance of harnessing opportunities by instilling the idea of entrepreneurship from a young age: “I found that for me, it was overcoming those barriers or having the self-confidence to think that I can just go for it.”
Izzy Obeng, founder and director of the future founders coaching community, Foundervine, explained how the pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to critically assess the ways that businesses are run and how they can support communities, and young people.
Women in enterprise
When we view the pandemic in this way – not just a setback for women but as an opportunity, then it becomes clear that now is the time to address the exclusion of women in enterprise. Far from being a lost generation, Generation Z is driven by social change. They are well placed to harness the opportunities that entrepreneurship brings.
The range of testimonies witnessed at the Future Female Founders event from Young Enterprise alumni was a real example of this. Young women throughout the pandemic have successfully led teams in small businesses and grown in confidence, and independence. Many of them spoke about the impact of being part of a start-up team during the pandemic. It has enabled them to talk to people they would have otherwise never met and develop skills to help them access and facilitate conversations in a business environment.
Opportunities and experiences
Another key part of the way forward is to normalise the role of entrepreneurship from a young age. Our panellists unanimously agreed that there is a need to provide entrepreneurial opportunities at a younger age, to harness the potential of youth.
Izzy Obeng argued that young people need to have the opportunity to work within a business and gain the necessary experience in order to develop the crucial entrepreneurial experiences to equip them for the future. Former Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening also reinforced our long-held belief that we need to find ways of connecting academic studies with real-life application.
Future female founders
We can encourage Generation Z’s women to think “why not me?” and build a generation of bright and passionate entrepreneurs to lead COVID-19 economic recovery. During our event, we surveyed the audience and asked them to suggest words that represent the one thing that would make the difference to unleashing the potential of future female founders. The running theme was confidence. And everyone in enterprise education today has a role in nurturing this confidence.
Young Enterprise has helped more than four million school-aged children to develop enterprise, employability and financial education skills, as well as confidence. And I have seen firsthand how these skills truly benefit young people.
When schools closed, it became challenging for parents to keep children occupied and focused on learning at home. We gave children the chance to become young entrepreneurs through the Young Enterprise Fiver at Home programme, which saw their independence and confidence burgeon and the creation of a range of entrepreneurial projects.
We know that as the world opens up and the pandemic is managed, there will be a long-lasting impact on the economy and society at large. We now have an opportunity to shape what that impact might be. Let’s seize this opportunity to mould an enterprise landscape that includes women, providing inspiration from a young age of the opportunities to succeed through entrepreneurship.
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