I have a longstanding focus on seeing an increase in the numbers of women in business and women becoming entrepreneurs. As recognised in Future Jobs, increasing female participation is a vital way to grow the diversity and strength of our indigenous business sector.
My Department is leading the way in providing a variety of programmes through its agencies to increase the number of women starting businesses and assisting them at every stage, from potential business leaders to women growing their businesses. My Department published the first National Entrepreneurship Policy Statement in 2014. Action 19 of the policy statement is to promote female entrepreneurship through identification and promotion of female role models, targeted events and awards, support for female entrepreneur networks and promotion of a dedicated area on corporate websites.
Enterprise Ireland have been at the forefront of examining the variance in the female to male ratio of start-ups and have put in place measures to address the imbalance. The Competitive Start Fund (CSF) for Female Entrepreneurs aims to support early stage start-ups. The establishment of this programme has resulted in a spill-over effect with increased female participation in other EI programmes. In 2012, just eight percent of the 97 High-Potential Start Ups (HPSUs) were female-led. However, 22 per cent of HPSU approvals went to female-led companies in 2018 and 22% of CSF approvals were for companies led by female entrepreneurs.
The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are actively engaged in encouraging and inspiring an increase in female-led businesses through initiatives such as the annual National Women’s Enterprise Day and the Women in Business Networks. An important aspect of the networking programme is the promotion of successful female entrepreneurs as role models and the use of mentoring and networking opportunities which aims to build confidence of newly emerging female entrepreneurs and women operating established businesses. In 2018 the network of Local Enterprise Offices across the country provided training to 21,859 female entrepreneurs (an 18% increase on 2017 figures) and mentoring to 4,565 female entrepreneurs (an increase of 19% on 2017 figures).
I am aware that the GEM Report for 2018 notes the rate of early stage entrepreneurial activity increased among women in Ireland in 2018 and remained stable for men. The rate of early stage entrepreneurial activity is well above European norm for both men and women in Ireland. In most countries more men than women are early stage entrepreneurs. The ratio in Ireland continues to narrow as more women become entrepreneurs (1.6:1). Ireland is now ranked 6th across Europe in this regard. The rate at which women aspire to start a business in Ireland also increased in 2018. The ratio of male to female owner-managers of established businesses is higher (1.8:1) than it is among early stage entrepreneurs (1.6:1), but the gap is narrowing as the female rate is increasing.
To ensure we do everything to narrow this gap further, my Department and its Agencies continue to shine a light on the promotion of female entrepreneurship. I have asked Enterprise Ireland to review and bring forward a new Female Entrepreneurship Strategy by the end of this year.
Over the past number of months there has been wide ranging consultation undertaken with key stakeholders. An in-depth review of current research has been carried out through meeting female entrepreneurs at all stages of development via focus groups and one to one interview.
The main challenges identified can be broadly categorised into three areas:
- Pipeline (of future female entrepreneurs)
- Female founded Start Ups (High Potential Start Ups)
- Scaling of female led enterprises.
In developing this new strategy, consideration is also being given to encompassing the broader entrepreneurship agenda, to target ambitious female led companies to scale in international markets as well as continuing to focus on increasing female founded HPSUs.
Across Government, my Department is supporting the newly formed “Balance for Better Business” initiative, led by my colleague Minister Staunton. This initiative was launched in July this year and will examine the gender mix at the governance and senior management levels in companies, as well as the issues that arise in connection with the appointment of directors and senior management.
Dr Orlaigh Quinn, Secretary General of my Department, is one of the leaders on this group alongside Martin Shanahan, chief executive of IDA Ireland and Julie Sinnamon, chief executive of Enterprise Ireland. It will engage with companies to make the case for change and will report annually on its progress.
I and my Department and its Agencies will continue to advocate and promote the importance of increasing representation of our female entrepreneurs amongst Ireland’s business ecosystem.