Women in business: overcoming the obstacles to success
September 18, 2019
By Rebecca Burn-Callander
Five female entrepreneurs explain how they have set about smashing down the barriers to success in setting up companies and getting them not just to survive but thrive
The enduring disparity between male and female entrepreneurs has been cited as one of the major barriers to economic growth in the UK. It is still harder to start and grow a business as a woman, which results in fewer female-led companies – just one in five is run by a woman.
Issues about raising finance, juggling building a business with family life, and the impact of unconscious bias can mean companies created by women grow more slowly.
They are also more likely to fail: Deloitte found that the survival rates of women’s businesses are lower than those set up by men.
This is why unlocking the potential of female entrepreneurs could have a dramatic effect on the UK.
According to the Rose review, spearheaded by Alison Rose, NatWest chief executive of commercial and private banking, the advancement of female entrepreneurs could be worth £250bn to the UK economy.
Here, we meet five women entrepreneurs who are smashing down the barriers to success.
Jessi Baker – I overcame preconceptions over my technical knowledge…
Jessi Baker is the founder of Provenance, a digital platform enabling producers, manufacturers and retailers to track the origins of their ingredients and components, and to ensure their supply chains are ethical and robust.
Ms. Baker is an engineer by training, and a rare female founder behind a hi-tech business. She says: “I don’t see many women starting businesses in deep tech, or in technical roles.”
Throughout her education, Ms. Baker combined arts and technology, taking A-levels in math, physics, art and design. She says most of her female peers felt they had to follow one path or the other, which limited their options later in life.
This trend may have contributed to women’s lack of confidence in their technical skills. The Rose review found that women are consistently less likely than men to believe they have developed necessary technical skills.
Ms. Baker admitted it has been strange, at times, being one of the few female founders in her space, but her wealth of technical experience has ensured that she has never faced any criticism or bias while growing Provenance.
“I was doing a PhD in computer science when I started the company,” she says. “It had a focus on blockchain. I only gave it up because I wanted to work on Provenance full-time.”
Ms. Baker says that women have many of the skills required to make brilliant technical founders. “One of the things you need to design great technology is empathy: empathy for the customer,” she says.
Provenance uses blockchain to map supply chains for some of the world’s biggest brands. It recently grew from 10 to 25 people, and turned over £1m last year. Ms. Baker says that the best way to silence those who doubt your technical skill is to focus on building your own confidence.
“Just taking a basic coding course is useful,” she says. “There are lots of great courses out there; some are designed for women. Once you start building up your knowledge, you are in a much better position. You don’t need to be an engineer or coder, but understanding the jargon is essential.”
Ms. Baker compiled her own “glossary of technical terms” in the early days to make sure no one could bamboozle her.
She has also benefited from having a mentor: “I am lucky to have Alicia Navarro, the founder of Skimlinks, to talk to,” she says. “She’s not a technician but she has incredible experience in building a product and growing a business.”
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