Only 20% of the UK’s small businesses are women-led

Government's biggest small business survey highlights continuing disparity in number of companies founded by women and minority ethnic groups

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Following recent research which showed UK female founders are not being heard by investors, new government analysis of the business landscape further cements gender disparity in UK enterprise.

In its Longitudinal Small Business Survey for 2016, an annual report based on telephone interviews conducted with 6,897 small business employers (one to 249 staff), the government found that just 20% of small and medium-sized businesses were majority-led by women – a 1% drop on 2015.

The SBS survey also highlighted a lack of women running scale-up companies; only 15% of medium-sized businesses (defined as those with 50 to 249 employees) were found to be ran by women compared to small and micro-businesses (both 20%).

Women-led businesses were more common in human health (56%) and education (45%), while there was a distinct lack of female employers in the transport (11%), construction (13%), and finance and property sectors (16%).

Further diversity issues were flagged in the government’s analysis of founders from minority ethnic groups (MEG-led) – also shown to be underrepresented in the UK business landscape.

A mere 5% of UK small and medium-sized businesses are MEG-led; split to 5% of micro-employers and just 4% of small and medium-sized companies.

London businesses are more likely to be MEG-led (16%) but were found to be “less than common” in the South West, Yorkshire, and Northern Ireland (all 2%).

Other key findings from the SBS survey include news that:

  • The majority of UK small and medium-sized businesses are family run; 71% in fact – 2% higher than in 2015.
  • The number of UK home-based businesses is on the rise, up by 2% on 2015; 27% of the small-and-medium sized employers surveyed have a home office and work from home.
  • A large majority of UK small and medium-sized businesses are in the black; 79% of those surveyed generated a profit or surplus in the last financial year – 1% up on 2015.
  • UK exporters are on the decline; only 18% of the small and medium-sized businesses surveyed had exported goods or services in the last two years; 1% less than in 2015 and 5% less than in 2010.
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