Looking from the outside in, a company is a company. It exists to create products, attract customers, generate revenue and hopefully make a profit. There are good companies and bad companies, but they are trying to do much the same thing.
So does it matter whether an entrepreneurial company is owned and managed by a man or a woman?
Well, according to a study published by the London-based financial technology company Sum up, there are some differences. Women entrepreneurs and small business owners have – to some extent – different priorities compared to their male counterparts and the companies they run tend to be more diverse in terms of hiring policies.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, priorities will differ between the genders, but as the report also highlights, would-be entrepreneurs continue to face some real challenges as they enter the choppy waters of entrepreneurship. I spoke with Nina Etienne, Sumup’s VP of Global Marketing, about the findings of the study.
Sumup’s interest in the subject reflects his own connection with entrepreneurs. The company’s products are aimed squarely at small business owners. This ranges from hardware (card readers) to accounting, invoicing and webshop software. As VP of Global Marketing Nina Etienne explains, the goal of the company’s research — based on responses from its small business clients — was to gain insight into women’s experience in business.
“It was almost International Women’s Day,” says Etienne. “We spoke to our members to understand the challenges they face.”
More than 2,000 entrepreneurs, of which 700 hundred in the UK, took part in the survey. Part of the aim was to understand how to better support female entrepreneurs, but male-led companies were also included in the conversations to allow comparisons to be made.
Why start a business
One of the traditional motivations for starting a business could be characterized as “I want to be my own boss”. As it turns out, this might be a bit of a masculine point of view. The biggest driver for women entrepreneurs (38%) was the desire to achieve a better work-life balance. And with their businesses up and running, 66% of women said maintaining that balance was their number one priority. For men, generating income topped the list of goals.
But is there a gap between ambition and the reality of making a business work? Talk to entrepreneurs – especially when their venture is in its early stages – and many will tell you that work is all-consuming. Instead of spending 40 hours in the office as an employee, their work week as an entrepreneur could be a minimum of 60 hours.
The survey captures some tension here: 31% of women say pressure on family life is a concern, compared to just 20% of men.
Square the circle
So can female entrepreneurs square the circle? The research doesn’t reflect that, but Etienne says women may be willing to show more flexibility in how their businesses are run. “To say that women-owned businesses are run more efficiently may be a generalization, but I think there is strong evidence that women entrepreneurs are more open to experimenting with different policies and management styles, such as prioritizing diversity and inclusion, implementing flexible working hours and remote working. This often leads to happier and harder-working staff.”
Well, maybe a separate survey published by Global Technology Festivals coinciding with London Tech Week suggests that some women are not only struggling to find work-life balance, but are even being forced by economic necessity to take on more than one job. Fifteen percent of female tech workers said they had previously been self-employed or business owners, but had to take on other roles to survive. Work-life balance can be an elusive thing.
Prone to diversity
Sumup also finds that women-led small businesses are trending toward diversity. Nearly a third of male employers saw no benefit in having diverse workplaces, compared to a quarter of women.
Women-led businesses were much more likely to hire women. Is this a conscious or unconscious choice? “In many cases, job openings can be inadvertently excluded during the hiring process, often making male-owned companies less likely to attract female talent. I don’t think it’s necessarily an active choice by both male and female-led companies to recruit members of their respective genders, but instead a mix of underlying cultural factors that has led candidates to look for more appropriate and more understanding work environments,” says Etienne.
Etienne is keen to emphasize that encouraging more women to start businesses is one of her personal passions. But there are deterrents. The research shows that women are much more likely than men to suffer from imposter syndrome – the little voice in your head that says “no, you shouldn’t be doing this.” Men, on the other hand, are most concerned about bureaucracy.
There is a risk of oversimplification in interpreting these surveys, and the key findings may not take into account the different types of entrepreneurial businesses that emerge. For example, a tech entrepreneur looking for VC cash will likely be extremely focused on growth and income rather than, say, work-life balance, regardless of gender. Other businesses may be founded specifically to support a lifestyle where home-office balance is at the forefront of the founder’s thinking. Again, that’s not necessarily a gender issue.
But the findings that the gender of companies influences how companies are run and in terms of innovation and diversity is probably a good thing.