Despite existing equality legislation, women are massively underrepresented in business. Stronger implementation of EU directives and changes to national social policies can turn this around, writes Barbara Matera.
Barbara Matera is a Forza Italia MEP (EPP group), vice chair of the FEMM Committee and rapporteur on the external factors that represent hurdles to European female entrepreneurship.
The successful adoption of the resolution on the external factors that represent hurdles to European female entrepreneurship was the result of months of hard work. Not just in my office, but by the entire FEMM committee (the European Parliament Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality), I am proud that it was passed by such a large margin and with support from members of every political group. In writing this report, we compiled all the recent information available about the state of female entrepreneurship in Europe by looking at years of data collected at EU and member state level.
The resolution begins by summarising this research. We found a lot of troubling results, including that women account for only 31.1% of entrepreneurs in the EU and 34.4% of the self-employed. Results from many other studies point to similarly low numbers of women choosing to become entrepreneurs or investors, and when women do start their own businesses, they are less likely to be profitable and survive. In the field of investing, despite perceptions that female investors are better risk managers, women are less prone to take risks and so do not set themselves up to get large returns on their investments. Worst of all, we found that women who appear to be small business owners are often merely being used as fronts used to get government aid, but risk their name and credibility if anything goes wrong.
With this in mind, we called on the Commission and the member states to make changes to rectify these imbalances. First of all, we called for the collection of more data at EU, member state and even regional level. The more specifics we know about this issue, the better equipped we are to counter it. As a whole, member states need to make a greater effort in their domestic policies to fight gender stereotypes and encourage female entrepreneurship.
The resolution pushes for stronger implementation, especially at member state level, of existing directives that prohibit discrimination between men and women in the provision of goods and services, opportunities for employment and on corporate boards.
One of our main goals was to address the inequality in traditional work-life balance that still hinders would-be female entrepreneurs and investors. Starting your own business requires long and irregular hours; women need support at home as well as in the workplace. That is why we called on the quarter of member states that do not provide paternity leave to consider doing so. We also called on the Commission to propose, by the end of 2016, concrete steps to improve the disparity in work-life balance between women and men.
Another obstacle women face is that they don’t always have access to networks of investors and peers who could help them get started. So, we proposed several platforms for women to gather, share ideas, and receive funding more easily, including a European Business Centre for women organised by the Commission.
Limited access to funding is a huge barrier for women who want to become entrepreneurs and to invest. This is where we gave several ideas but allowed room for the Commission and member states to create their own initiatives. We proposed that the Commission, as well as member states, set aside funding for female entrepreneurship projects and explore specific solutions that apply to their states or regions. This also means eliminating discrimination against women in access to credit from banks. Banks should deal equally with men and women who want to start their own businesses or investment portfolios, especially during this time of economic crisis.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, we called on member states to improve education from an early age to encourage women to consider careers in business. Women must be educated in the skills, including confidence and assertiveness, that they need to succeed in business, and we have to work harder to provide them with these. And that includes continuing education for women already in the field to keep up with the latest developments and technologies.
We accomplished a lot in the last plenary session, but we have a lot of work left to do. I look forward to seeing the results of this report put into practice. Then we can continue to analyse the situation and provide specific solutions that will deliver equality for all in all fields.