The below is an edited extract of a speech I gave at the Australia Post Tall Poppies Summit last week.
I’ve been editing and publishing Women’s Agenda for four years now, with a couple of short maternity leave stints thrown in.
We launched back in 2012 as an online news publication for career-minded women, published by Private Media.
At first, I took that as meaning professional women who’re determined to climb the leadership ladder. Women in law firms, in accounting firms, in banking and media etc.
What I quickly noticed was this growing group of female entrepreneurs and business owners.
Today, around 20% of our audience call themselves entrepreneurs or small business owners. But another 40% have aspirations to – some day — launch their own business. That’s a whole lot of ideas being discussed around the kitchen table. Some will get up. Others will fail. The majority will never go anywhere.
Now we don’t have readership data to explain why so many women have business aspirations, or would want to leave the relative security of an employer to take the massive risk of doing their own thing.
But I’ve interviewed more than a thousand women during my career and I’m willing to make a few generalisations regarding why women consider making the leap:
1. They want control over their work, and over their ambitions.
2. They want flexibility over how and when they work.
3. They have great ideas and want to access the possibility of something bigger.
I’m also one of these women.
Three months ago the opportunity to acquire Women’s Agenda came up.
It was the worst possible timing for me: I had a two year old, and a three-week old baby at home.
But I knew that certain opportunities simply don’t wait for you to be ready or in the right frame of mind to pursue them. So I’ve since been figuring out how to believe I’m taking maternity leave while running a business, and also how to answer the common question from other new mum’s asking, ‘when are you returning to work?‘ I’m at constant war with my email — continually apologising to people about why I can’t always respond — and am getting well acquainted with working at very odd hours (and enjoying the silence).
I’m also constantly talking through opportunities and ideas for Women’s Agenda with my family and friends. I’m happily taking up the many, many offers of help that have come my way (thank you!). And I’m preparing to launch a parent company for this publication in the coming months that will help give more women in business an influential voice.
My very brief story is just one story within the female business ecosystem.
We are the 12.5%. We are the 12.5% of the 5.3 million working women who’re running our own businesses.
We all have our own story behind how we got here and why.
That story could be that we just came up with a brilliant idea
It could be that we’re natural entrepreneurs, that we’ve worked relentlessly hard at business after business.
It could be that we started a business out of necessity – that there was no choice but to be successful, to support our kids, to pay the rent, to build a retirement.
It could be that we needed flexibility and autonomy, that the confines of the corporate world did not match how we needed and wanted to work.
No matter what it is, it’s a story that’s unique to each and every one of us. And it’s the collection of these stories that drives the ecosystem of female entrepreneurship in Australia.
Here are a few things we know about this 12.5%, much of which has been pulled from a number of datasets outlined in an excellent report prepared for the Office For Women in 2015.
Currently, 34% of Australian business operators are female. It’s a figure that’s grown significantly – by 46% — over the last two decades, almost twice the rate of men, but one that shows women are still underrepresented as entrepreneurs.
Forty four per cent are aged 40 to 54, 30% were born overseas, 82% have a diploma or a degree, 52% participate in voluntary work. Forty seven per cent have dependent children living at home – we’re the most likely segment of working people to have such caring responsibilities.
A massive 81% of female business owners are mothers of children of any age – in 2011, the word ‘mumpreneur’ (a word that I seriously dislike) entered the English dictionary.
We’re living in the equal second best country in the world to be a female entrepreneur (shared with Canada and behind the United States), according to Dell.
And here’s the very good news: Fifty seven per cent of us are “pleased or delighted with the quality” of our lives.
It seems business is a good place to be, but it’s not without its challenges.
The first one being earnings. According to 2011-12 data, the average earnings for a female unincorporated business owner was $423 a week. compared with $890 for men. That’s higher than the national gender pay gap, currently at 17.3%.
And how about superannuation? Well according to 2007 stats (agree, we need something more up-to-date here) female business owners were less likes than female employees to have superannuation, 76% compared to 93%. Just 45% were making super contributions.
Fifteen percent of us work seven days a week, another 15 percent work six days, few of us work a standard five day week. No wonder 38% of us report never having any spare time that we don’t know what to do with!
A lack of finance is the key reason (58%) women give for not going ahead with a business they had been considering. Less than 5% of investors are female.
Meanwhile women hold the top two spots on the Forbes Australia Rich List, but feature independently in only seven of the top fifty spots — and most of those got there through inheritance. We need more female billionaires, we need major female success stories on par with the likes of tech startup Atlassian.
But back to the eco-system, the really great thing about female entrepreneurship is that we all understand and recognise these problems, and we all want to do more to support each other in overcoming them.
Indeed, social media has created wonderful avenues for us to connect and engage with others. It makes the experience a little less lonely and a whole lot more fulfilling. Digital sites like Women’s Agenda, Smart Company and StartUpSmart help us learn direct from mentors like Naomi Simson, Jodie Fox and Janine Allis, without ever actually meeting them.
And there are so many networking opportunities available to all of us — often for free — and organisations like Rare Birds, Australia Post and Dell who realise the significant power of this segment of working women, and want to step in to help. A number of female-run investment networks are also doing excellent work, including Scale Investors, and Renata Cooper’s Forming Circles.
We’re not solely a publication for female entrepreneurs — we aim to support and offer news to women who’re working in corporates, in SMEs, and those who’re studying or on a career break as much as we support those who’re working for themselves. Our agenda is about creating work, home and community environments that can offer more career and lifestyle choices for women and men. We aim to represent all career-minded women — but I’m proud to have now joined the 12.5%.