Why women entrepreneurs are being held back

- Leadership - Apr 19, 2016

Irregular hours, children in the office and a higher burden of unpaid work are stifling female entrepreneurship, a study by AXA reveals.  

Only 18 per cent of small businesses in the UK are run by women. Since the recession, the UK has seen a 38 per cent increase in female self-employment, and home is largely where this revolution is taking place. According to AXA’s study, 75 per cent of women business owners spend three to five days of their week working from home.

Home does throw up some extra challenges for women, however, as they continue to bear the brunt of unpaid domestic labour and childcare. While 65 per cent of men stick to a 9-5.30 day in their home offices; only a third of women say they can do the same.

Scheduling the working day around the school-run is common: half of women business owners start work before 7am or after 11am. For one in 10, a typical working day can end up spreading over 12 hours as a consequence. For comparison, only two per cent of self-employed men face such an elongated day.

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Some 51 per cent of businesswomen say they also have to squeeze housework into their working hours too (compared to just 23 per cent of men). For a third, this is in response to pressure from their partners or other family members.

Women are also twice as likely to have family members present in their work area during the day. One in four said their work space is regularly invaded by well-intentioned partners trying to entice them away from work – by contrast, only eight per cent of men have the same struggle.

All this amounts to a very crowded day. It is no surprise that erratic working hours are named the biggest source of stress for women business owners, followed by lack of boundaries between family and work space at home.

While putting a strain on business, this crowded day does bring some unexpected benefits, however. The women surveyed struggled less with the loneliness of working alone than men, as well as being far less likely to miss the office or having colleagues to confide in.

“Let’s face it, the UK economy can only suffer if talented entrepreneurs are discouraged because life is becoming impossible,” says Darrell Sansom, Managing Director, AXA Business Insurance. “Our study shows that a day in business looks a lot different – in many ways a lot tougher – for a woman than for a man.

“Enterprise programmes will only be able to succeed in giving women the same start as men when they start addressing their family situations too. It’s time we had a proper conversation about that, and let’s get more research too. Funded nursery care in the first year in business, for instance, could provide that crucial breathing space a woman needs to launch out on her own”.

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