Looking from the outside in, a business is a business. It exists to create products, attract customers, generate revenue, and hopefully make a profit. There are good deals and bad deals, but they try to do pretty much the same thing.
So does it matter whether an entrepreneurial business is owned and managed by a man or a woman?
Well, according to research published by Sumup, a financial technology company based in London, there are some differences. Female 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 policy.
It is perhaps unsurprising that priorities differ between the sexes, but as the report also highlights, entrepreneurs continue to face some real challenges when entering the choppy waters of entrepreneurship. I spoke with Sumup’s vice president of global marketing, Nina Etienne, about the survey’s findings.
Sumup’s interests in the subject reflect its own connection with entrepreneurs. The company’s products are aimed directly at small business owners. They range from hardware (card readers) to accounting, billing and online store software. As VP of Global Marketing Nina Etienne explains, the goal of the company’s survey — based on responses from its small business clients — was to understand women’s experience in business.
“International women’s day was approaching,” says Etienne “We spoke with our members to understand the challenges they face.”
More than 2,000 entrepreneurs, 700 of them in the UK, took part in the survey. Part of the goal was to gain insights into how female entrepreneurs could be better supported, but male-led businesses were also included in the conversations to draw comparisons.
why start a business
One of the traditional motivations for starting a business can be characterized as “I want to be my own boss”. Turns out this might be a male point of view. The biggest driver for female 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 disconnect between aspiration and the reality of running a business? Talk to business owners – especially when their ventures are in their early stages – and many will tell you that work is all-consuming. Instead of spending 40 hours at the office as employees, the workweek as entrepreneurs could be at least 60 hours.
The survey captures some tension here, with 31% of women saying pressure in family life was a concern, compared to just 20% of men.
squaring the circle
So can women entrepreneurs square the circle? The survey doesn’t capture this, but Etienne says women may be prepared to show more flexibility in how their businesses are run. “Saying that women-owned businesses are more efficiently managed is perhaps an overstatement, however, I think there is strong evidence to suggest that female business owners are more open to experimenting with different policies and management styles – such as prioritizing diversity and inclusion, implement flexible working hours and remote work. This usually leads to a happier, more hard-working team.”
Well, perhaps a separate survey published by Global Tech Festivals to coincide with London Tech Week suggests that some women are not just struggling to ensure a work-life balance, but are actually being forced by economic necessity to accept more than a job. Fifteen percent of female tech workers said they were once self-employed or business owners but had to take on other roles to survive. Work-life balance can be an elusive thing.
Inclined to Diversity
Sumup also found that small businesses led by women tend to lean towards diversity. Nearly a third of male employers saw no benefit to having diverse workplaces, compared to a quarter of female employers.
Female-led companies were much more likely to hire women. Is this a conscious or unconscious choice? “In many cases, during the hiring process, job advertisements can be excluded by accident, so male-owned companies are less likely to attract female talent. I don’t think it’s necessarily an active choice of male- and female-led companies to recruit members of their respective genders, but rather a mix of underlying cultural factors that have driven candidates to seek more suitable and more understanding work environments.,” says Etienne .
Etienne is keen to emphasize that encouraging more women to start businesses is one of his personal passions. But there are impediments. Research suggests that women are much more likely than men to suffer from imposter syndrome – the voice in your head that says “no, you shouldn’t be doing this.” Men, on the other hand, tend to be more concerned with bureaucracy.
There is a danger of oversimplifying when interpreting these surveys, and also the key findings may not take into account the different types of entrepreneurial businesses that emerge. For example, a tech entrepreneur chasing VC-cash is likely to be extremely focused on growth and revenue rather than, say, work-life balance, regardless of gender. Other businesses may be formed specifically to support a lifestyle, with a balance between home and office in the founder’s mind. Again, this won’t necessarily be a gender thing.
But the findings that gender in business influences the way businesses are run, and in terms of innovation and diversity, that’s probably a good thing.