WES calls for urgent release of full data shaping Women’s Enterprise Review recommendations

Carolyn Currie (WES CEO)

WOMEN’S Enterprise Scotland (WES) – the community interest company which works to close the gender gap in enterprise participation – has welcomed the newly published Women in Enterprise Review, but calls for the full detail on the data shaping the recommendations to be urgently released.

The Women in Enterprise Review, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government in early 2022 and chaired by entrepreneur Anna Stewart, was released on Monday 20 February at an event at Bute House.

Following the publication of the report, WES is today calling for the release of the full data insights applied to inform the approach and recommendations of the Review. The report was informed by a survey completed by 30 entrepreneurs, although over 200 direct interviews were stated to have been undertaken with individuals and organisations.

Commenting on the report, CEO of WES Carolyn Currie said: “We fully welcome the aspiration but there is a disconnect between the published evidence and the recommendations presented. To truly realise transformational change for all women seeking to start-up and grow their own businesses, the review needed to specify actions to tackle the many different challenges faced by women with intersecting experiences and the systemic structural inequalities holding back progress. We must be careful to avoid an ‘add women and stir’ approach to the issues being faced.”

The review recommendations include providing women with greater access to finance and to existing support services, yet contain no plans to tackle the structural inequalities within those support structures. Proposals for new services lack detail on how or if delivery will be specifically tailored to women’s needs.

It is almost one year since the review was launched and research shows women’s rights are regressing. Research by the World Economic Forum finds that it will now be 132 years until gender equality is achieved, up from 99.5 years in 2020. While studies show women face specific challenges and have called for support to be provided in specific areas, the review does not acknowledge some of these key challenges and support needs.

Currie continued: “Women-owned businesses were badly let down during Covid-19 and did not receive their fair share of business relief grants. If the government is serious about transforming women’s entrepreneurship, the commitment to a women’s business centre model must be urgently progressed. 

It is vital that the full data and rationale forming the review approach and recommendations are made available to aid understanding so that we can bring an informed and collaborative approach to delivering transformative change. We need robust solutions to tackle the inequitable status quo and ensure that no women or girls are left behind.”

Women-led businesses are currently less than one quarter of all employer businesses in Scotland. Whilst entrepreneurship and gender-equality are key pillars of the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, the persistent long-term gender gap in enterprise participation points to a business support structure which is failing to advance women’s entrepreneurship.

Businesses majority-owned by women in Scotland contribute £8.8bn to the Scottish economy every year and account for over 231,000 jobs. However, progress is slow, with the number of women-led employer businesses in Scotland just 23% in 2021. Challenges faced by women business owners include discrimination, a lack of dedicated, gender-specific support, a lack of expert gender-aware business advisors and a lack of access to procurement.

WES continues to call for the Scottish Government’s commitment of £50m towards a Women’s Business Centre model to be realised.

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