Mark Hart is the Deputy Director of the Enterprise Research Centre and Professor of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Aston Business School.
He is a major thought leader in female entrepreneurship and a #TGIGameChanger who has been calling out for this data for years!
What does The Gender Index mean to you and why is it important?
I’ve been agitating for proper data on female entrepreneurship for decades. It’s missing from the wider debate on business performance, whether it’s start-ups or established companies. I work a lot with HMRC data and there’s no gender watermark there either. So we’ve been held back in doing complex, serious research on the most important issues such as drivers of growth and access to capital.
I run the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor project (www.gemconsortium.org) and that’s been the only national data source on female owned entrepreneurship in the UK to date. So we’ve been struggling to provide robust evidence.
I also work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Enterprise and for years we’ve been calling out for better data on this subject!
The Gender Index is going to be a big game changer. We already know in headline terms, 19-20% of all companies are run by women, but we need more detailed analysis on the drivers of growth. It will also enable us to do important sectoral and regional analysis.
It means we can move away from the dubious view that we simply need to generate the same number of startups as men to solve unemployment. An oversimplified assertion, which is not helpful, as women and men set up different types of companies, and their ability to employ people is different.
The Gender Index enables us to be more sophisticated than simply closing the gap! We want to do better research so we can feed that into the programs that we deliver for female entrepreneurs. I work on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Programme and with the Government, and this is a huge opportunity.
In your capacity as a research specialist on SMEs, what are the biggest challenges they face? Particularly female led companies?
The first one is access to finance. There’s a huge problem here. The statistics on the number of women accessing venture capital in the UK, compared to the U.S., show a huge gulf.
The venture capital industry is often white males who do not take propositions by women as seriously. They ought to be getting a much greater share!
With The Gender Index, we can run analysis of the whole business sector which involves looking at the total number of female run companies and doing some more rigorous research on access to finance. Previously we’ve only been able to work with small sample surveys of companies.
Risk is also a challenge. There is some evidence that women tend to be more risk averse. But I think a lot of that comes down to societal attitudes to women and their companies.
What change might occur through the publication of this data?
It should impact policy. I get a huge number of demands from the government for my GEM data. We will be able to confirm ideas and initiatives to encourage government and the private sector. It will give a lot more evidence for leaders like Alison Rose to keep banging the drum for female entrepreneurship.
We’ll understand the issues more effectively, and treat them with more seriousness! Whether its banks, Government or the treasury, we are on the cusp of something extremely interesting.
It’s hugely encouraging for women to see their role in the economy being properly researched and taken a lot more seriously. And that confidence will feed greater ambition.
What else needs to be done – in your view – to support female entrepreneurs?
Access to finance and better understanding! We want to see genuine attempts to address some of the discrimination facing women, especially in the VC market.
We shouldn’t just impose a male dominated view of growth on women. Often women have a different role in society and this is reflected in business. They often have wider motivations than just making money, such as community and societal benefits. They still want to make money! But it’s not just about that.
We need to understand the motivations and ambitions of female entrepreneurs. Their purpose and vision and how they can be better supported to flourish and grow.