Women face gender-specific barriers to entrepreneurship

While the COVID-19 pandemic has left no one unaffected, when it comes to labour market participation and prospects, some groups have been impacted more than others. Including women, who historically have always been hit harder by recessions than men. To halt rising inequality, it is crucial that we invest in young women now.

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s participation in the labour market has been 26% lower than that of men globally. This figure is likely to have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic for a number of reasons. Women are more likely to work in sectors that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, such as hospitality and retail as well as the informal sector, which often excludes them from social protections. And in the UK alone, women have been twice as likely as men to take time off work to take care of children following school closures. Alarmingly, UN Women estimates that this fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic will result in 11 million more women than men living in poverty by 2030.

Entrepreneurship offers a way out of poverty and a long-term answer to female unemployment but is not equally accessible to everyone. Only one in three small, medium and large businesses globally are owned by women and there are many gender-specific barriers to entrepreneurship, including:

  • Gender norms, cultural and religious expectations: In most countries around the world, women are still expected to be the primary caretakers of children and do more unpaid housework than men, giving them less time to pursue a business. In many cultures, mothers who choose to participate in the labour market are frowned upon or even shamed.
  • Lack of access to finance: On average, women tend to earn less, save less and hold less secure jobs; giving them a smaller financial safety net for business failures or economic shocks such as COVID-19. In addition, only 2% of venture capital funding currently goes to women-led startups.
  • Lack of confidence and skills: Countless studies have shown that women are generally less confident in their capabilities and skills than men. Many feel they don’t have sufficient knowledge or skills to start their own business, which results in fear of failure and further erodes confidence.
  • Lack of access to networks and mentors: Women tend to have less access to business networks and mentors, for reasons such as being unemployed, spending the majority of their time at home looking after children and the household, or being faced with sexist and discriminatory attitudes. This means they are missing out on opportunities to find business partners and funding opportunities as well as building confidence and knowledge.
  • Lack of access to resources and the internet: The digital gender gap holds many women back from accessing resources and entrepreneurship support online. According to the World Wide Web Foundation and the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), men are 21% more likely to be online than women, rising to 52% in the least developed countries.
  • Lack of female role models: An online survey by YouGov showed that 1 in 5 young people have a business idea but almost half (46%) of young women do not believe they could be a successful female business leader.

Estimates suggest that closing the entrepreneurial gender gap could boost the global economy by up to USD $5 trillion. But this is not the only reason for supporting women into entrepreneurship. To truly build back better for a more equal and inclusive world, we need diverse business leaders representing all groups in society.

This is why Youth Business International (YBI) works with a global network of expert organisations in youth entrepreneurship to empower young women around the world to become successful entrepreneurs. Since April 2020, our COVID-19 Rapid Response and Recovery programme, supported by Google.org, provided intensive support to 67,895 underserved entrepreneurs, including women, migrants, refugees and young people. Read more about YBI’s work here: https://www.youthbusiness.org/.


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