Hannah Bernard on Barclays’ commitment to female entrepreneurs – and why women-led businesses hold the key to the UK’s economic recovery
Backing women-led businesses through coronavirus and beyond
Hannah Bernard explains how the bank is backing women in business – and why helping female entrepreneurs succeed is vital to the UK’s post-coronavirus economic recovery.
Women-led businesses are essential to the UK’s economic recovery post-pandemic – but currently just one third of UK business owners are women.
According to the Rose Review, this disparity represents over one million missing businesses, which could be worth a staggering £250bn to the country’s economy. Businesses led by women are also, on average, half the size of male-led firms and are far less likely to scale up to a turnover above £1m.
Barclays is taking action to close the entrepreneurship gender gap, through a series of measures designed to boost the resources and financial support available to female founders. The first in a series of three-year commitments, launched today, will see the next generation of female founders supported through the bank’s LifeSkills programme, helping them turn their plans into action.
It’s absolutely key to the UK’s economic recovery that the financial services industry comes together to give both female business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs a boost
Head of Barclays Business Banking
“We want to provide female-led SMEs with the confidence, tools and access to finance to help them succeed,” says Hannah Bernard, Head of Business Banking at Barclays UK,
“We know that we won’t be able to solve this problem overnight but we’re committing to doing everything we can over the coming years to help boost female entrepreneurship in the UK.”
Backing female entrepreneurs during COVID-19
Bernard has been inspired by the resilience shown by the female business owners the bank has supported during the pandemic. She says Barclays is determined to tackle the barriers they face, some of which have been exacerbated by the crisis.
“Our proprietary data shows that confidence issues can have an impact on female-led SMEs of all sizes and at all points of their journeys,” she says. This is reflected from the ideas stage all the way through to applying for funding, with women more likely to believe they lack the necessary skills and knowledge to set up a business than men – and, if they do set up a company, to place a lower value on it than male entrepreneurs.
“But while women are less likely to borrow due to a lack of confidence, they’re also more likely to be approved when they do,” adds Bernard. “This is despite female-led businesses being more likely to have greater savings balances – which can stand them in better stead during a crisis but can generally impact on productivity potential if it’s not invested back into their business.”
A 2017 Barclays report, Untapped Unicorns, found that male entrepreneurs are 86% more likely to be venture capital funded and 56% more likely to secure angel investment than women.
The pandemic looks likely to be increasing this gender funding gap. Barclays’ research carried out during the crisis shows that women in business are still less likely to access financial support, and that lockdown has halted some of the support systems they rely on.
We want to provide female-led SMEs with the confidence, tools and access to finance to help them succeed
Head of Barclays Business Banking
“We’re still examining and understanding the impact of the pandemic on female-led businesses, but our initial findings show that they are often in the sectors that have been hit hardest, such as retail, hospitality and beauty,” says Bernard.
“Women entrepreneurs can also face unique challenges, such as family responsibilities and time pressures. We can’t see this in our data, but anecdotally believe this is a big factor that impacts them. It’s absolutely key to the UK’s economic recovery that the financial services industry comes together to give both female business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs a boost.”
“We won’t be able to solve this problem overnight”
Bernard hopes Barclays’ commitment to the government’s Investing in Women Code will further bolster the bank’s longstanding dedication to gender diversity, complementing programmes including the Female Founders Forum – a partnership with The Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) – and the Women in Finance Charter, another HM Treasury initiative designed to support women into senior management roles.
But, she says there are more initiatives in store which will give budding entrepreneurs a host of resources to strengthen their business offerings.
One such scheme is ‘Steps to Starting a Business’ from Barclays LifeSkills, a programme that helps people across the UK build the skills and confidence they need to advance their careers. The scheme will offer school pupils tools that help them gain an understanding of entrepreneurship, from developing their business ideas to making them a reality.
And, despite the huge range of challenges facing businesses during the pandemic, it’s clear that there’s an ever-growing entrepreneurial spirit among many women. Almost three quarters of women aged 16 to 34 who would like to launch a business in the next five years say that the coronavirus crisis has made them want to start one even more.
This trend gives Bernard a new faith in the future of women-led businesses – as well as their power to impact the economy.
“My hope is that we continue to see more female-led businesses thrive in the UK and that it will become one of the best places to be a female entrepreneur,” she says.
“I think a lot of this comes from instilling the next generation with the self-belief and skills to see themselves as female business leaders, as well as breaking down barriers that may be holding aspiring female entrepreneurs back. We’re committed at Barclays to making real change and are ready to support female-led businesses across the UK over the coming years.”