My Lords, like all noble Lords I welcome this opportunity to debate the issue of women’s economic empowerment. I agree with other noble Lords that much needs to be done to address gender inequalities: from the issue of the gender pay gap to the cost of childcare, which makes it prohibitive for some to seek employment; and from fewer girls taking STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—which would lead to higher paid jobs, to the lack of women on FTSE boards, despite there being enough women of seniority and talent available. I know that much has been done to address this, but we still have some way to go. There are also cultural issues preventing aspiration and discouraging women from achieving their full potential.
Of course, there are differences and degrees of gender inequality between countries. Indeed, between the developing and developed world there are extreme and pronounced differences. In fact, women in the developing world are at a serious disadvantage both in education and the labour market. There are many strands to the subject of the economic empowerment or disempowerment of women, and these issues are both national and international. The international issues are enormous and other noble Lords have spoken passionately about these—they need increased and persistent effort. As time is limited, however, I shall confine my remarks to the area of entrepreneurship within the national sphere.
The Institute for Public Policy Research has indicated that men across Europe are 90% more likely to be self-employed than women and that in every European country the rate of female self-employment lags behind the rate for males. The IPPR has also stated that, while the relatively high rates of women entrepreneurs in emerging and developing countries is due to a high level of necessity, in the developed world women are often motivated by other factors, such as maintaining a balance between work and caring for family. There is no doubt that in the UK significant strides have been made in recent years in addressing many of the issues faced by women, with the Government putting in place very many measures to help women into work and to start up businesses. However, we must explore every aspect of what it will take to create real gender equality and real economic empowerment for women.
First and foremost, we must kindle a sense of confidence in women, to make entrepreneurship an attractive career option. Statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that, in 2014, 1.4 million women were in self-employment in the UK—just under one-third of the total number employed. Although this number has increased by 34% it should be noted that the top three occupations for self-employed women were: first, cleaners and domestics; secondly, child minders and related; and, thirdly, hairdressers and barbers. While these activities are important, women have also a role to play in high-worth businesses. For this, we must continue to provide support such as mentoring as well as providing access to education and information and communication technologies.
Very importantly, there must be support in financial literacy along with access to finance. The report of the OECD, Enhancing Women’s Economic Empowerment through Entrepreneurship and Business Leadership in OECDCountries, found that women often have less experience when they start up a business and are also less likely than men to borrow money to finance their business. Although both women and men in OECD countries are likely to hold accounts with formal financial institutions, men are more likely to receive a loan from these institutions. Women also tend to raise a smaller amount of capital when it comes to financing business expansion. According to that report, there is also evidence that women are constrained in accessing equity and venture capital because of their weak representation in key networks.
These are just some of the issues. If the aim is to raise productivity, employment and economic growth nationally, then these concerns have to be addressed. It has been acknowledged that women play a crucial role in driving economic development throughout the world. Expanding our existing business development services to take into account those issues faced by women entrepreneurs would be a useful exercise. Industry-specific business training programmes for women, or other such initiatives, would go a long way towards encouraging more women into business and helping those already there to grow.
If we wish to close the gender gap and to create a diverse and inclusive society where individuals can attain success, then entrepreneurship and leadership for women can play a vital role towards achieving this aim.