I and my Department have a concerted focus on creating a business environment which will see an increase in female headed enterprises. I am ensuring that my Department is at the forefront in the provision of supports and programmes to assist women to lead businesses, whether they are established businesses or new businesses.
Women make up more than half the population in Ireland. However, women are less likely to work or run their own business. The ERSI 2016 report “Ireland’s Economic outlook perspectives and policy challenges” report highlights that the female labour market participation rate is 52.8%, whereas the male participation rate is 68.5% (2011-15). The CSO statistics show that women make up 60% of the inactive population, i.e. those not in the work force.
This report indicates that female labour market participation has remained relatively robust during the recession, falling by just over one percentage point in the 2011-2015 period compared to the 2006-2010 period. The baseline projections from the ERSI are for participation rates to rise over the coming years. Female participation rate is projected to continue the upward trend that was interrupted by the crisis and rise to over 58 per cent over the next ten years.
I want to encourage more women to join the workforce but more importantly to lead the workforce. To assist women into taking the helm of enterprises, the Government must lead by example. Through a concerted effort throughout departments and agencies, the participation by women on State boards has increased over the last few years to 41 per cent. Unfortunately, female representation on corporate boards is lagging far behind. Women currently make up just 18.1 percent of directors of Irish-registered ISEQ20 companies, which is significantly lower than the EU average of 26.2 percent for large publicly-listed companies. That is why the Better Balance for Better Business initiative was launched at an event in Government Buildings in July last year.
The review group 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.
Another method to encourage more businesses in Ireland to be led by women is to have businesses start with women at the helm. The 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Ireland data suggest a persistent gender divide in Ireland in the business startup rate in Ireland. A gender divide is evident in most countries. The 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report for Ireland indicates that the gender gap between male and female early stage entrepreneurs is 2:1. This reflects a continued narrowing of the margins since 2014 where it stood at 2.5 male to 1 female.
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% of HPSU approvals went to female-led companies in 2018 and 22% of CSF approvals were for companies led by female entrepreneurs.
Enterprise Ireland also partners with key providers in providing training and capability development for early stage and establishes entrepreneurs. It developed and supported a series of female accelerator programmes in partnership with knowledge providers. These included:
- Going for Growth,
- DCU Ryan Academy Female Propeller Programme,
- NDRC Female Founders Programme, and
- CIT Female Exxcel Programme.
- 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.
- We have seen progress in the numbers of women availing of many of the Services provided by the LEOs. For example, in 2017, 57% of participants attending core training programme, such as Start Your Own Business, were female.
- From these actions and supports, it is evident that my Department has a strong focus on supporting female led enterprises. I want to see the numbers of these businesses increase for the betterment of the business environment and for society in general.