An initiative to promote women in business

Gunilla-Thorstensson200

Foto: Gunilla Thorstensson

It exist a gender gap with respect to new venture creation and business ownership in the European Union, meaning there are less women than men running enterprises. In Sweden for instance 30 percent of the new businesses are started by women and approximately 25 percent of the existing ones are women owned. By increasing the number of women entrepreneurs there is a possibility of higher employment and economic growth. One initiative where these mechanisms are highlighted is the programme Promote Women’s Entrepreneurship managed by the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket).

– The programme started in 2007 and aims at providing benefit to women running companies now and make it possible for more women to do so in the future. The overall objective is to increase the visibility of women’s entrepreneurship, says the Programme Manager Gunilla Thorstensson and continues:

– Most resources are focused on making business support and consultation as well as innovation funding more accessible and adapted to women’s needs and demands. Basically, we like to contribute in the process of making it easier than it is today for women to be entrepreneurs and run businesses that grows.

Change in ownership and ambassadors

The programme funding is not transferred directly to the companies, instead it is channelled through Tillväxtverket or the County Administrative Boards who funds specific projects. Such projects concern for example the transfer of ownership, where women who want to buy existing companies are supported. Other initiatives are mentoring and highlighting women entrepreneurs as role models. The ambassadors are an example of the latter, where more than 800 women entrepreneur’s works on a non-profit basis to inspire other women to see entrepreneurship as possible career path. This is done through lectures at schools, universities and different events.

Full focus on the issue

Promote Women’s Entrepreneurship is what you might call a ”side-streaming action” where women are the target group. Concerning the relationship between gender mainstreaming and targeted actions Gunilla says:

– All these measures must go hand in hand. It is important to raise gender awareness in the existing system for business promotion so both men and women are treated in a professional way. However this is a long process and then it is valuable to get specific resources for targeted measures where a lot of efforts can focus on this one issue.

Changing attitudes

Another focus area within the programme is to change attitudes and Gunilla Thorstensson mention notions about service companies, where many women are active, as an example.

– Businesses in the service sector tend to be small with few employees and traditionally they have not been seen as equally important as manufacturing industries. This attitude might affect the assessment of business plans and opportunities to get financing or venture capital.

To raise gender awareness among business advisers the public funded actors ALMI and Coompanion has implemented gender training. Another action to highlight the service sector is the price Best service developer which is awarded for the third time in January 2011 as a part of the national contest Beautiful Business Award.

– All in all the programme includes a mix of measures since one can not just aim for one thing to achieve a broad transformation, concludes Ms Thorstensson.

Text: Sofia Händel
Photo: Tillväxtverket

Legend: Gunilla Thorstensson has the mission to increase the number of women that buys, operates and develops businesses.

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