Maria Miller, Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, has launched an action plan devised by the government and banking industry to encourage women entrepreneurs to ask for the financial help they need for their businesses.
The move follows a review commissioned by the Deputy Prime Minister which concluded that although there is no evidence that UK lenders discriminate against women when it comes to applying for business loans or mortgages, they may be put off applying for such finance because of mis-conceptions.
The action plan aims to reassure business women that lenders are committed to treating them fairly by ensuring they are provided with:
- greater transparency – through the production of independent research on business lending broken down by gender to reassure women that lending is done in a non-discriminatory way and to track trends and on-going support needs
- more targeted and tailored information – so that women in business, or women who are pregnant or on maternity leave, can make the right choices when applying for a business loan or mortgage
- increased collaboration between the government, bank and trade associations – to help raise awareness of the choices available to women and reassure them that lenders are committed to treating them fairly
- inclusivity – ensuring gender equality is embedded into everyday business practice
RBS established a Women in Business initiative in 2007. Chris Sullivan, Chief Executive of RBS’s Corporate Bank said: “Our strong experience in this field has allowed us to develop specific programmes based on our good understanding of the needs and requirements of women business owners, and to develop an accredited training scheme for our women in business specialist banking managers.
“We know many women are more risk-averse than men and want more bespoke guidance, so we run start-up surgeries, mentoring and networking opportunities targeted towards women entrepreneurs.”
Announcement of the action plan coincided with publication of a report by the Women’s Business Council - Maximising women’s contribution to future economic growth, which praised the support provided for women entrepreneurs by RBS Group.
It said: “Financial institutions should ensure they market their services to women who want to set up their own business. NatWest is one of the high street banks already active in this area. They currently have 200 Women in Business specialists throughout the UK and work closely with organisations such as Everywoman, Encouraging Women into Franchising and WEConnect Europe.
“We would encourage other banks to provide this level of service to women who want to set up their own business.”
The report revealed that only 6.3% of working-age women were engaged in entrepreneurial activity in 2012, compared to 11.6% of working-age men. It also found that 19% of SMEs are run by a woman or have a management team that is more than 50% comprised of women. In contrast 49% of SMEs are entirely led by men.
It said: “Many women perceive access to finance as a barrier to starting up their own business and currently women-led SMEs are less likely to use external finance than men. However, there is evidence to suggest that those who did apply for finance were more successful than male-led SMEs.”
* Find out more about the support RBS is providing to women in business