Shattering the glass ceiling: Alison Rose continues to lead the charge for female entrepreneurs

It’s International Women’s Day and, one year on from the recommendations set by the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, Adviser Samantha Kaye asks: “Where are we now?”

The challenges facing women are well documented – from the Gender Pay Gap to the Gender Pensions Gap, not to mention specific limitations for women in business. However, in March last year, one leading British businesswoman took aim at the Entrepreneurial Gender Gap.

Alison Rose, who at the time was Deputy CEO of NatWest and CEO of NatWest Commercial and Private Banking (she has since become Chief Executive of RBS Commercial and Private Banking), was appointed by Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury at the time, to identify the extent of barriers for female entrepreneurs and look at what can be done to overcome them.

The resulting report, the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship or ‘Rose Review’, found some truly shocking statistics and made recommendations to tackle them. The findings were published to coincide with International Women’s Day 2019. Almost a year on, I take a look at what has changed.

The report

Published on 8th March 2019, the Rose Review found that women face too many barriers to setting up their own business – most prominently, a lack of funding directed towards them. Rose’s “stark” findings show that the problem is at all stages of the entrepreneurial journey:

  • Only one in three entrepreneurs are women, a gender gap equivalent 1.1 million missing businesses in the UK.
  • Only 5.6% of UK women run their own business. Fewer women than men intend to start a business. Of those who intend to, fewer women than men start a business. Of those who start, fewer women than men scale their business to greater than £1 million turnover.
  • Fewer UK women choose to become entrepreneurs than in best-practice peer countries: Only 6% of UK women run their own businesses, compared to 15% of women in Canada, almost 11% of women in the US, and over 9% of women in Australia and the Netherlands.
  • Female-led businesses receive less funding than those headed by men at every stage of their journey. Women entrepreneurs receive less than 1% of venture capital and on average have starting capital that is 50% below that of men.
  • Female entrepreneurs are underrepresented in high-value sectors with less than one in four entrepreneurs in sectors such as manufacturing, IT and financial services.

But the lack of women in business is causing the UK economy to lose out – Rose has stated that female entrepreneurship could add £250 billion to the economy. She also said in the report:

“The UK has one of the most vibrant entrepreneurial communities in the world, but only one in three of our entrepreneurs is female – we need to be more ambitious and find ways to unlock the huge untapped potential.”

“I am passionate about this cause, and was proud to have been asked to lead this Review. Some of the findings are stark but by shining a spotlight on the issues and outlining the barriers and opportunities, the aim is to support the full potential of every woman who has the entrepreneurial spirit and ambition to start or scale their business. Today is just the beginning.”

The report set out plans to increase the number of female entrepreneurs in the UK by 50% – “This would create another 600,000 female entrepreneurs by 2030”. The review found five key barriers that lead to lower rates of entrepreneurship amongst women and suggested eight initiatives that target different stages of the entrepreneurial journey.

Source: NatWest


Backing ‘her business’

Following her review, Rose stated: “Today is just the beginning.” And a number of positive steps have been taken over the past year towards encouraging female entrepreneurship. In March 2019 Natwest and Crowdfunder launched ‘Back Her Business’, which enables women to register and prepare a business idea for crowdfunding. The bank aims to inspire and support 400,000 female-led businesses by 2025.

In July 2019, the government’s ‘Investing in Women Code’ set out to improve female entrepreneurs’ access to tools, resources and finances. With mentoring schemes considered one of the key requirements to tackle these issues, Santander UK launched their new ‘Women Business Leaders’ mentoring programme last year, which aimed to pair 90 female business owners with a mentor.


Rose’s £1 billion fund

But once again Alison Rose is leading the biggest charge – in January this year she announced a £1 billion RBS fund to help more women launch their own businesses. The largest initiative of its kind will deliver a major boost to female entrepreneurs.

Rose aims to support the creation of 50,000 start-ups by 2023, of whom at least 60% will be led by women. She commented:

“We are focusing on the areas where we can have the biggest positive impact across society. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and we are backing Britain’s entrepreneurs and helping them to thrive by removing barriers to success.

“Building a business is often tough and lonely and can be harder than it needs to be. By tackling the most important issues facing our entrepreneurs, we can make a real difference to those who need it most, especially in female-led businesses.”

UK Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:

“Building on the ground-breaking work of the Rose Review, RBS is offering a real boost for the country’s female entrepreneurs and for the whole British business community. Their new investment supports our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business.”

Taking positive action

In the government’s response to the Rose Review, Robert Jenrik said: “Progress will not happen automatically, and we must take positive action.” Indeed, it is crucial to take steps to promote female entrepreneurship – not only reducing the gender gap, but also supporting the British business community and economy.

The Rose Review has generated incredible awareness of the issue, and has encouraged the government to take steps to reduce the Entrepreneurial Gender Gap. And, as we have seen, the key factor continues to be Rose herself.

The two major steps over the year have come from Rose, who last year became the first woman to lead RBS since it was founded in 1727. Not only that – she is the first woman to be Chief Executive of a “Big Four” UK bank. What glass ceiling?


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Author: Samantha Kaye
Author: Samantha KayeChartered Financial Planner, Adviser