According to the 2015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard, Australia is currently ranked second in the world for female entrepreneurship, just behind the US and ahead of Canada, the UK, and Sweden. While this is an amazing achievement, in order to catapult young female entrepreneurs into the workforce for many years to come, we need to foster a stronger and more supportive culture for aspiring female entrepreneurs and innovators from all walks of life.
In Australia, we have a growing group of young disadvantaged women who are untapped potential for the future of Australia’s economy. Unfortunately, the number of young women from disadvantaged and low socioeconomic backgrounds who are NEET (Not in Education or Training) is on the rise. A 2014 report by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research found that young disadvantaged women are 29% more likely to be NEET than young men. Instead of pursuing further education or training, these women are twice as likely to take on caring responsibilities, such as looking after children, and not enter the workforce.
To combat this issue, we need to nurture young female entrepreneurs in the Australian workforce, with inspiring female role models at the forefront of change.
Despite our growing culture of female entrepreneurship, women in the business world continue to face discrimination and inequality — especially when it comes to juggling work responsibilities with motherhood.
Young women, including disadvantaged women and mumpreneurs, have enormous potential to drive Australia’s social and economic prosperity. Happily, this transformation is starting to occur. However, we need to address the growing numbers of disadvantaged young women who are NEET; unequal between pay between men and women; and discrimination against mothers in the workforce.
To do this, here are three key things to focus on:
1. Celebrate female champions for change.
We need to strive harder to celebrate female entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders in the Australian workforce. We have so many female role models to look up to and feel inspired by. However, these women are often discouraged to profile themselves and speak out about their unique experiences — particularly in sectors such as STEM. Female entrepreneurs have a duty to inspire the next generation of young women — but they can’t achieve this alone. We need to create a culture that celebrates female champions for change, encouraging our female entrepreneurs to be assertive, network, and take initiative; to be reachable and available to other women; and to advocate for more women to start their own businesses.
2. Foster a culture of mumpreneurs.
We need to foster a flexible, adaptable, and supportive culture for mumpreneurs, so that mothers of every age feel they can balance managing a business with care duties and motherhood. Research from the National Council of Women shows that raising children further exacerbates the wage gap between women and men, which currently stands at 20% lower lifetime earnings for women, compared to men with a similar qualification. We therefore need a supportive, nurturing, and understanding environment where mumpreneurs can grow and flourish. Being one myself, I’ve always encouraged this kind of culture in my workplace. Young women are particularly impressionable, so it’s important to ensure that they feel respected and valued, with equal opportunities available for all women and girls, whether or not they are, or choose to become, mothers.
3. Nurture the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
We need to encourage entrepreneurial thinking among girls from a young age. Although girls perform statistically higher at school than boys, less than one in twenty girls considers a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), compared to one in five boys. There is still much reluctance for girls to shake up male-dominated environments. By nurturing the next generation of female entrepreneurs, we can change this. As a mother of two girls, I strive every day to teach my daughters to pursue their dreams, no matter the stakes. My girls live and breathe business, and are proud that their mother is an entrepreneur and business manager. In fact, they recently came up with business ideas that they each wanted to pitch to Richard Branson, during my recent week on his island with a group of entrepreneurs. We need to build the next generation of girls who embrace innovative thinking, and bring new and exciting ideas into reality.