Scotland lags UK on number of female-led businesses but research reveals bright spots

Scotland lags the rest of the UK when it comes to the number of female-led businesses, new research suggests.

The largest study of its kind into female entrepreneurship highlights in gender terms the disparity between male and female-led companies across the UK.

Drawing on AI-powered live data from more than 4.5 million businesses and with the aim of creating a “fairer future”, the Gender Index reveals that while 16.8 per cent of all active UK companies are female-led, the proportion is lower in Scotland, at 15.4 per cent.

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Some 13.2 per cent of female-led companies north of the Border are considered small (employing ten to 49 people), which is higher than the UK average of 12.4 per cent.

The statistics informed a presentation made by Jill Pay, chairman of the Gender Index, at a seminar at law firm Shoosmiths in Edinburgh.

These are some of the statistics that informed a presentation made by Jill Pay, chairman of the Gender Index, at a seminar at law firm Shoosmiths in Edinburgh.

The research also reveals that the highest percentage of female-led companies in Scotland operate in health, wellbeing and social care (34.4 per cent) - a figure that is comparable to other UK nations. However, average revenue growth rates among female-led companies in Scotland are lower than those observed in other UK nations across all company size bands.

Of the 34,485 female-led companies in Scotland, 15.7 per cent are considered “micro” in size, with fewer than nine employees.

Pay said: “The Gender Index is ground-breaking and the largest research study into female entrepreneurship ever undertaken. It accurately measures the number of female-led companies and their impact on the UK economy.

“Notably, in 2019, the Rose Review identified that an additional £250 billion could be contributed to the UK economy simply by empowering more women to start and grow companies. The Gender Index research shows that whilst this is now happening - female-led incorporations in 2021 reached 20 per cent - more needs to be done UK-wide to support female-led companies to make the jump from small to medium and large size enterprises.”

She added: “Professor Eleanor Shaw of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship at Strathclyde Business School enjoyed presenting our key findings and discussed the challenges and opportunities the data presents for business in Scotland.

“It was an opportunity to share our ambition to create a more equal future in gender terms by providing, for the first time, a clear and accurate picture of the UK company landscape.”

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Alison Gilson, corporate partner and head of Shoosmiths’ Edinburgh office, said: “I have no doubt that Shoosmiths partnership with the Gender Index will help us play our part in building a more detailed picture of where there are gender gaps in business.

“Its insightful analysis has highlighted that in addition to Scotland being one of the areas in the UK with the highest percentage (12 per cent) of high-growth female-led companies, the overwhelming majority of identified investments for female-led companies were made by angel investors rather than through venture capital funds.

“These are significant findings and it will add further value to Shoosmiths’ spHERe network that’s designed to support female founders and venture capitalists.”

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