Women constitute 52% of the total European population but only one third of the self-employed or of all business starters in the EU. Despite representing a large pool of entrepreneurial potential in Europe, women are probably the most underused source of economic growth and of new jobs in Europe.
There are several factors that recommend women as successful entrepreneurs. Firstly, women have proven a genuine source of creativity and empowerment, accessing new markets, sectors, and creating innovative products. Secondly, women are “diligent risk takers”: due to their caution in taking risks, women rarely default when it comes to reimbursing their loans. Thirdly, women are also better in networking and establishing durable partnerships. Nevertheless, they do not use these skills for business often enough.
When establishing and running a business, women face more difficulties than men, mainly in access to finance, training, networking, and in reconciling business and family. This makes women less inclined to become self-employed than men. It is therefore essential to provide women the support they need to start, manage and grow their own enterprises.
The European Commission has taken a number of actions to support inspire and support women entrepreneurs: within the European Network of Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors (2009 – 2012) 270 successful women entrepreneurs raised awareness among women of all ages in 22 European countries about the opportunities of an entrepreneurial career and inspired more than 250 women to found their own enterprise. In the framework of the European Network of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs (2011 – 2013) 170 successful women entrepreneurs serve in 17 European countries women who have recently founded their companies as mentors and provide them practical advice how to run and grow their companies. Furhermore, the 2012 European SME Week Summit Conference was dedicated to women entrepreneurship: 650 entrepreneurs, representatives of business associations and NGOs, academics, educators etc. explored in 4 thematic workshops the key levers to foster women entrepreneurs:
- Access to finance
- Entrepreneurship education
- Women in technology-based businesses
- Women entrepreneurs with a migrant background.
On a more global level, the EU Strategy for Equality between Women and Men 2010-2015 comprises actions directed at strengthening the entrepreneurial culture among women by building knowledge, skills and changing attitudes.
Finally, the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan that was adopted on January 9, 2013, focuses specifically on supporting women entrepreneurs and their enterprises. In particular, it aims to continue and enhancing the reach of the above mentioned European ambassadors' and mentors' networks via a European Portal for on-line mentoring, advisory, E-learning and business networking.
The Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan invites Member States to introduce national strategies directed towards the promotion of women entrepreneurship as well as to expand the ambassadors' and mentors' networks at national level.
In fostering women entrepreneurs it is important to apply a holistic approach and work on a number of key supporting factors simultaneously, like better access to finance, targeted entrepreneurship education and training, the development of networks of entrepreneurs but also by creating a favourable environment in the wider sense, e.g. by fighting stereotypes and changing perceptions and ensuring a better work-life balance through a more comprehensive provision of child and elderly care.