Why we need to support more female entrepreneurs

It’s been reported that if women started businesses at the same rate as men, global GDP would be better off to the tune of $28 trillion by 2025. We can only begin to imagine what positive impact this would have on the planet and all people.

Yet, as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg points out, current rates of progress still put us 100 years away from gender equality. And that’s just looking at business, where women are still too often overlooked for high-level positions.

Richard Branson and Shery Sandberg San Francisco Virgin Disruptors 2015

How do we break down these entrenched hierarchies? One solution is to empower women to start up their own businesses, and be their own bosses right from the start.

The word entrepreneur barely existed when I started out, but then quickly gained macho connotations – often associated with the powerful Monopoly man making megabucks. Thankfully, as the business landscape has changed so too has our idea of what kind of people entrepreneurs are.

Virgin StartUp ambassadors and Richard Branson

In the UK, studies by the Federation of Small Business show that just 20 per cent of single-person businesses were owned and run by women in 2014. But, according to a study by RBS, boosting female entrepreneurship could deliver as much as a staggering £60 billion extra to the UK economy. New jobs, new investment, and a new attitude. There is so much to gain from supporting women to start up at the same rate as men.

Diverse work cultures produce forward-thinking businesses. It’s something we see every day at Virgin, with inspirational (and entrepreneurial) female leaders like Virgin Sport CEO Mary Wittenberg and Virgin StartUp Managing Director Mei Shui driving us into the future. It’s also something we see every day with our Virgin StartUp-supported businesses. Forget the 20 per cent figure; 40 per cent of businesses funded by Virgin StartUp are run by women. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Richard Branson 1000 loans for UK start-ups cake

Why is this figure so high? We offer loans for as little as £500 at a low interest rate. It’s a far cry from the stereotypical start-up idea of young, brash men in tech, winning multi-million investments. Our entrepreneurs are real-world people, addressing real-world problems, with simple yet effective solutions. You only need to take a look at the #VSU40percent hashtag to see what dynamic businesses are being created every day.

Let’s not just encourage women to smash through the glass ceiling, but empower them to build their own towers. Those with family commitments or a desire to do something different are perfectly placed to benefit if they do.

Richard Branson walking meeting with Virgin StartUp

Empowering women to start up business is an issue of global development too. Huge investments don’t help women in developing countries into financial independence – microloans and education do. And the dividends paid by this kind of investment have a lasting impact. We have seen through our work at Virgin Unite how entrepreneurialism can be a force for enormous social good, bringing communities together, reducing women’s financial dependence on men, and giving them control of their health and futures.

Women make up half the world, and so too should they the business world. When they do we will all happier and better off. A more tolerant, diverse, and creative business landscape will better equip us to tackle future challenges.

Spend International Women’s Day on March 8th with Virgin StartUp at a very special meetup in London celebrating female entrepreneurship, and #BeBoldForChange.


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