Women in Business

If you are a woman taking the first steps towards starting a business, accessing the right kinds of support, networks and mentor can help you to make the right decisions confidently.


7 min read

1. Overview

More and more women are seeing self-employment as an attractive career option and are choosing to set up their own business.

Accessing support that is tailored to your needs, speaking to other business women at different stages of the entrepreneurial journey, learning from role models and working with a mentor can help you develop your business idea and identify strategies for future growth.

Women into Business events are run by some local Business Gateway offices. They give you the opportunity to exchange ideas with other local business women and improve your business skills.

This guide will help you to identify and access the support that has been specially developed to help women in business, as well as signposting to some of the organisations in Scotland who offer help.

2. How entrepreneurial are women in Scotland?

Women's enterprise can be difficult to precisely define and enumerate, but it is estimated that around 21% of Scotland's 339,000 small to medium sized enterprises are majority-led by women and a further 22% are equally-led by women and men. Men are still almost twice as likely to start businesses as women.

While the under-representation of women in entrepreneurship is an international concern, relative to other high income countries, Scotland's rates of female business ownership are persistently low. The scale of Scotland's enterprise 'gap' is illustrated by estimates suggesting that Scotland would have an additional 108,480 businesses if women's business ownership rates equalled those of men. This would equate to a 32% increase in Scotland's business base.

The contribution of women-led businesses to the Scottish economy is substantial. Estimates suggest that women-led businesses contribute (at a minimum) £5 billion Gross Value Added (GVA). If rates of women- led businesses equalled those of men, this would equate to 5.3% growth in the size of the Scottish economy.

Among women-owned businesses in Scotland, there is considerable ambition and growth aspiration. A survey by Women's Enterprise Scotland in 2012 found that 87% were planning growth and 27% wanted to grow rapidly.

3. How entrepreneurial are women in Scotland? (continued)

There are many reasons why starting a business is attractive to women. As well as providing an opportunity to create a challenging and rewarding career and develop financial independence, running a business means developing new skills across a range of different disciplines.

Some women work part time while setting up a business. This gives them the chance to develop their business idea while reducing the financial risk that may be involved.

Others work flexible hours in their new business. This allows them to look after a home or fulfil other commitments while getting the business off the ground.

A growing number of women have a key role within a family run business.

If you are considering self-employment, it's important to realise that there is plenty of support available for female entrepreneurs.

4. Becoming a female entrepreneur

Running a business requires a range of skills. As well as producing a product or delivering a service, you will need to deal with finance, marketing, administration and legal issues. You may also need to deal with recruitment, health and safety and other specific areas.

Don't worry if you feel you are not equipped to handle all of this - few people are. The good news is that all of these skills can be learned and there are many courses available in Scotland. Some of these have been developed specifically for women.

It can be helpful to speak to other women who have set up a business. You may also want to consider working with a mentor.

Networking can provide a key source of information and support. It can help boost your reputation and gather new leads. Networking can also improve your business performance and help develop your knowledge and skills.

Successful female entrepreneurs often have particular personal characteristics as well as business skills. They tend to have good problem solving skills and be highly motivated, creative, energetic, tenacious and not afraid to take risks.

But even armed with these qualities you should be prepared for some setbacks along the way. Setting up a business can be difficult and things don't always go as planned. However, with hard work and awareness of potential problems, your business can be a success.

Take advantage of the free advice available from your local Business Gateway office. Call the Business Gateway Helpline on Tel 0845 609 6611

5. What women say they need from business support

There is a growing body of evidence in Scotland, which highlights the benefits of giving women the option to have a more gender-focused approach.

Women say they would benefit from having the choice of a male or female business advisor, female-focused training courses or networking events for women.

Women-focused support takes into account family/caring commitments, provides friendly, accessible and safe places to meet, and offers impartial advice. Information is accessible and jargon-free, and signposting to other resources and assistance available.

Learning from others, whether at the beginning or further on in the entrepreneurial journey, is also important. Many women identify lack of confidence as a major barrier to progress, and access to role models and mentoring as very valuable.

6. Scotland’s Framework and Action Plan for Women’s Enterprise

In recognition of the need for women-owned businesses in Scotland, Women's Enterprise Scotland and The Scottish Government have been working with organisations across Scotland to develop Scotland's Framework and Action Plan for Women's Enterprise. It was published in early 2014 and can be read on the Women's Enterprise Scotland site.

Ensuring that all of Scotland's people are able to participate in and contribute towards sustainable economic growth is a key outcome for the Scottish Government. This Framework will position women's enterprise as a mainstream economic activity and not a 'special interests' focus.

The Framework Action Plan identifies actions across a range of themes, which will be developed as a series of ongoing and sustained activities involving all private, third and public sector partners.

The themes are Mentoring and Networking, Role Models, Markets and Finance, and Gender Specific Support.

7. Events and sources of support for women

If you're planning to start a business or are in your first two years of trading, Women into Business events can help you. You go through a series of practical business seminars and gain access to business advisers and a network of like-minded people.

Women into Business events are run by some local Business Gateway offices. The seminars cover subjects such as marketing, e-business, finance, business planning and customer management.

There are many benefits to attending Women into Business events. Meeting regularly will:

  • increase your business skills and knowledge
  • widen your network
  • build your confidence
  • create opportunities

This can help:

  • motivate you to get your business started
  • increase your chance of growth and survival

Attending these events and participation in seminars or training is free.

Women into Business events give you the opportunity to exchange ideas with other local business women and improve your business skills.

Other sources of support

There are many regional women's business clubs in Scotland where you can discuss your business ideas with other female entrepreneurs. You can find out more about them by visiting the Association of Scottish Businesswomen website. The Association of Scottish Businesswomen (ASB) is a membership organisation that supports business and professional women throughout Scotland

Women's Enterprise Scotland (WES) is a one-stop-shop resource for all sorts of information and signposting to women-focused support. WES works in partnership with many organisations across Scotland, the UK and internationally towards:

  • INSPIRING... more women in Scotland to set up and grow their businesses or social enterprises.
  • INFORMING... women in Scotland of help available and where to go for support.
  • PROVIDING A VOICE... for women to influence and advocate for women's enterprise to be at the centre of Scotland's economic development policy and strategy.
  • INFLUENCING... government and private sector thinking, policy and strategy on the economic and business opportunities presented by increasing women owned businesses.
  • PROMOTING... women's enterprise in the media; breaking down any barriers and preconceptions which create a failure to recognise the full economic potential of women.

The Women’s Business Centre is a website designed to support women starting and growing a business, from idea creation to start-up and growth. The site provides support on a range of topics including:

  • Identifying and shaping a business idea
  • Getting your business start-up ready
  • Starting and managing a business
  • Advice, blogs, video and support for the challenges of running a business

WEConnect Europe is the leading global supplier diversity initiative spearheading the connection of women-owned business and multinational corporations. It is Europe's leading advocate of women-owned businesses as suppliers to global and national corporations and government bodies.

'Wow Enterprise'; Women Onto Work

'Enterprising Town Project'; Growbiz (Perthshire)

'Moving Enterprises Forward'; Passage from India

'Dreamers and Doers'; West Wemyss Community Trust (Fife)

'First Steps into Business'; Saheliya Women's Learning Centre (Edinburgh)

Read our guide: Help and support available for your start up

Get the support you need right now

You can connect with us through the contact form, call us or contact your local Business Gateway office.

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