The History Channel is currently showing a drama-documentary series called ‘The men who built America’ featuring none other than our founder, Andrew Carnegie alongside a number of well-known nineteenth and twentieth century entrepreneurs, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Ford, JP Morgan.
These men, so the strapline goes, are credited with transforming the United States into the country we know today. So how likely is it that in a hundred years, we’ll be looking at our own history, but focusing on the women entrepreneurs that built Twenty-First Century Britain?
Last year, the Carnegie UK Trust carried out one of the largest studies of young peoples’ attitudes to entrepreneurship ever conducted. Over 1,500 young people between 16 and 21 years old completed our survey, from 17 colleges across the UK. Together they gave us a picture of young people’s positive attitudes to enterprise and entrepreneurship.
The report, Enterprising Minds doesn’t say much about gender. Overall, on the Carnegie Measure of Student Attitudes to Enterprise (a composite measure bringing together a range of attitude scores), women scored slightly lower than men at 5.28 out of 10 for women, compared to 5.69 out of 10 for men. But these are not large differences.
Further analysis found that young women were no more or less likely than young men, to say that they had experienced enterprise education, been to events where they meet business people, to say that they admire business people. A majority of both young men and women reported that their current course at college, and wider experience, were giving them the skills they needed to do well if they do start a business (70% overall). Importantly, there was no gender difference in how supportive the students thought their family would be, if they wanted to start up a business rather than going into a traditional career (93% of young men and 93% of young women said their families would be supportive).
This is great news, but it’s also only half the story. There are still elements of gender difference. In terms of their own aspirations there are differences between the young women and young men in our survey: young women are less likely to say that they aspire to be like enterprising people and want to follow their example (52% of young women, compared to 61% of young men); young women are less likely to say that they have a specific business or enterprise idea that they have decided to develop (30% compared to 41% of young men); young women are less likely to think that there will be grants and funding to start up a business, if they wanted to (35% compared to 44% of young men); young women are less likely to say that they would be interested in starting up their own business, rather than going on to a traditional job or career (56% compared to 61% of young men); and young women are less likely to say that they are likely to start up their own business or work for themselves in their lifetime (47% compared to 54% of young men).
But perhaps the starkest findings related to how young people think of entrepreneurs. Both young men and women in our survey were less likely to see a self-employed hairdresser as an entrepreneur, compared to a self-employed plumber (76% overall for the plumber compared to 52% who say the hairdresser is an entrepreneur). When asked to visualise enterprise the names used were all men: Lord Sugar, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were all mentioned, not a single women made the list. Gender stereotypes still matter in enterprise.
Clearly there is still a fair way to go before there is gender equality in attitudes to entrepreneurship. One of the things that the Carnegie UK Trust believes would help, is raising the profile of the female entrepreneurs that we do have and shining a light on their achievements. Young women need to be aware of the success og Ann Gloag, Lena Wilson, Holly Fulton, Gillian Berrie, Nosheena Mobarik, Liz Cameron, Michelle Mone, Eileen Gallagher and many, many more. And if you don’t know those names, google them, they’re amazing women at the top of their careers in business and enterprise and are badly needed role models for the next generation.
The Trust is delighted to be sponsoring the inaugural Women’s Business and Enterprise Conference in Glasgow on 9th May. We hope it will raise the profile of women in business and for one day at least, put the women’s enterprise agenda at the forefront of Scottish media coverage, creating positive role models and breaking down barriers and preconceptions.
Jennifer Wallace is Policy Manager at Carnegie UK Trust http://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/home