This blog was written by Norin Arshed of the University of Dundee, as part of a Fellowship with the Scottish Parliament Information Centre. The analysis and conclusions are made by the author.
I have today published a report considering the impacts of COVID-19 on female entrepreneurs in Scotland, and steps that might be taken to assist.
The aim of the report is to provide an in-depth understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on women entrepreneurs in Scotland and to explore the support that was available to them during the pandemic.
The research for this project was undertaken between October 2020 and March 2021. This qualitative study was based on 12 focus groups with women entrepreneurs (6 with start-ups and 6 with growth businesses) in 6 regions in Scotland and individual interviews with 12 women entrepreneurs and 26 enterprise support organisation staff in Scotland.
My previous blogs considered how the pandemic was affecting women entrepreneurs in Scotland and how enterprise support organisations supported them. This final blog outlines the broad key policy actions which have been informed by the extensive primary data collected and from the literature review.
The finding of the report highlight that:
- The challenges women entrepreneurs faced were amplified during the pandemic.
- The main challenges focussed around the historically reported barriers for women entrepreneurs.
- These are access to finance (many sectors dominated by women were first to be hit the hardest and the last to receive financial assistance), networking (understanding how the women entrepreneurs could ensure their businesses were promoted), and social and cultural barriers (for example, childcare and working from home).
- Opportunity also arose for many, in learning new skills, exploiting digitisation, and continuing their relationships with their communities.
- Enterprise support organisations were quick to attempt to support women entrepreneurs, but much of the support (in particular the financing and funding element) was found to be confusing by women entrepreneurs and did not consider the heterogeneity of women and their roles.
Policy actions from the findings
Policy actions arising from the evidence gathered in this research include:
- Access to quicker funding routes by investing in creating a one-stop-shop for financial support and assistance.
- Facilitating access to kick-starter and/or seed funding for women entrepreneurs.
- Creating new approaches to sourcing investment capital, such as crowdfunding and impact investments.
- Creating digital centres based in local infrastructure such as libraries, universities, colleges and community centres to enable women to come together to learn and also network.
- Creating coaching and mentoring champions in all Scottish regions for women entrepreneurs.
- Expanding and lowering the cost of childcare – this can include higher investment in after-school care and early years.
- Offering childcare options within the social infrastructure.
The policy actions can be met by:
- Simplifying the women’s entrepreneurial support ecosystem in Scotland.
- Producing a toolkit to help women navigate the support and advice available to them.
- Long-term evaluation of what is being offered to women entrepreneurs to assess the impacts, both socially and economically for women.
- Establishing regional women’s business centre hubs with regional champions.
- Collaborating with financial institutions to provide available, accessible, and appropriate finance for women entrepreneurs.
Scotland has a long-standing policy framework for women’s enterprise, but the study’s findings highlight the age-old issues that policy-makers need to address to ensure the support for women entrepreneurs is available, accessible, and appropriate. More importantly, policy development for women entrepreneurs needs to be “productive and fair.” The OECD has highlighted that “women’s enterprise policy initiatives are often fragile – time-limited, small-scale, sparse, symptom-oriented – and not sufficiently underpinning by a genuine vision and framework for women’s entrepreneurship.”
The evidence suggests that the time is right for governments, including the Scottish Government, to commit resources to ensure programmes are suitable, with stronger policy frameworks for women’s entrepreneurship in Scotland.
The full report is available via the following link: https://digitalpublications.parliament.scot/ResearchBriefings/Report/2021/10/20/5ef04564-5d91-47af-a92d-a7a54ee4d162
Professor Norin Arshed, School of Business, University of Dundee