Empowering young female entrepreneurs

Written by, Sharon Davies, CEO of Young Enterprise, a national charity who specialise in Enterprise Education and Financial Education.

The creativity, ingenuity, and drive I get to see in young female founders on a daily basis never fails to inspire me. Across the country there is so much potential amongst young women to set up and run businesses. Unfortunately, too much of it still goes untapped.

At Young Enterprise, we’ve had 60 years’ experience of supporting young women to take their first entrepreneurial steps through our programmes. As CEO I see first-hand many of the successes, but also the barriers which continue to hold young women back.

According to The 2023 Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, over 150,000 new all-women led companies were founded in 2022. That was a huge improvement on any previous year. The biggest area of growth was among 16–25-year-old female founders which rose by almost a quarter.

However, only a third of the UK’s total number of entrepreneurs is female. If women were launching businesses at the same rate as men, the UK economy would benefit to the tune of an incredible £250bn.

The pandemic posed challenges for employment and career prospects of all young people – but it hit women harder. A government report showed that between March 2020 and January 2021, there was a 9 per cent increase in the number of unemployed women aged 16-24. That equates to 20,000 young women without a job.

Women are more likely to experience low confidence and a lack of relatable mentors or role models. We need to find innovative ways to address these barriers, shift perceptions, and provide accessible examples, showcasing what is possible for young women.

At Young Enterprise, our interactions with young women have taught us a lot. It is clear to us that a collaborative approach needs to be taken to address barriers, increase support and create more accessible opportunities.

We need to champion more inclusive gender norms and introduce concepts around an enterprising mindset from a very early stage to promote gender equality.

Jacinda Ardern, the recent former Prime Minister of New Zealand, is a great example of positive female leadership. Neither New Zealand’s geographical isolation nor its size and population prevented her from creating a global impact.

When we think about New Zealand now it’s often her values we associate – kindness, authenticity, empathy, and solidarity.

Dutch football sensation, Sarina Wiegman is another great female role mode. After a successful career as a football player, gaining 104 caps for the Netherlands and captaining the team, she went onto to do even more. Sarina has been the manager of the England women’s national team since September 2021, leading the team to win their first ever European Championship.

These two very different examples highlight the breadth of what female leadership can look like. It is essential to celebrate female role models for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn from and look up to, as it positively reaffirms there is nothing women can’t do.

Entrepreneurship can also provide a wealth of opportunities for women. If we can remove the barriers to entry and help young women see the possibility of entrepreneurship in its many and varying forms, then we can enable an entire generation of brilliant entrepreneurs to unlock and achieve their potential.