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Women Entrepreneurs—Strength in Networks

  • 05.03.2019

In May 2018, the Women Initiative Foundation—in partnership with BNP Paribas Wealth Management and with support from CEDE – ESSEC—published a study on entrepreneurship and gender stereotypes in Europe. Its goal was to measure diversity in entrepreneurship and learn more about the obstacles facing women entrepreneurs. Results and analysis below.

Four factors of gender inequality in entrepreneurship

According to a survey of 400 men and women entrepreneurs in France, Germany and Italy:

  1. Family plays an essential role in the decision to start a business. As a model, families can act as facilitators since women entrepreneurs are often daughters of entrepreneurs (80% in Italy, 37% in Germany and 25% in France). Family is also an obstacle. “Family constraints that impinge on work” are seen as the primary barrier to women entrepreneurs (and also mentioned by 90% of Italian women entrepreneurs surveyed). 
  2. An unsatisfactory salary environment is the primary motivation for starting a business, cited by women entrepreneurs in all three countries. This is felt even more strongly among those under 35.
  3. According to the people surveyed: “Women entrepreneurs are pragmatic and good at listening, non-authoritarian, non-combative and nonpolitical … Men are ambitious, authoritarian and strategic, but not good at listening and unethical.” Stereotypes can have a strong hold on perceptions! The myth of the self-confident and political male entrepreneur is especially prevalent among the women surveyed. This perception of women can generate self-censorship and a lack of self-confidence among women entrepreneurs. In fact, women entrepreneurs share a feeling of low self-confidence: this is the case for 86% of French women surveyed and 63% of German women. This lack of self-confidence presents a stubborn barrier keeping women from starting a business.
  4. Women also take a different approach to their company’s capital—90% of women entrepreneurs prefer to maintain control of their capital, compared with 67% of men, which often neutralizes the size effect of their firms (smaller on average for women entrepreneurs). Men envisage more growth through acquisitions (40% compared with 31% of women) or creating subsidiaries (45% compared with 34% of women). Women show a preference for launching new products with their current business (82% compared with 77% of men), which leads to a slower rate of organic growth. 

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How can women break through these barriers? 

In light of these findings, the Women Initiative Foundation has defined a set of recommendations that BNP Paribas works to implement:

  • Expand the study, conducted in 2017, in order to better understand the mechanisms of gender inequality 
  • Drive institutions (notably financial institutions) to consider policies to support women entrepreneurs
  • Organize advanced strategy training to develop leadership skills for women
  • Reinforce mentoring programs

With the Women Entrepreneur program on Stanford’s campus , the Group notably helps women entrepreneurs exercise their leadership and accelerate their business’s growth. The program combines lectures, business/incubator tours and networking sessions among participants. Since it was created four years ago, the program has contributed to the professional and personal development of 150 women entrepreneurs.

Unity makes strength

BNP Paribas encourages the creation of mutual aid networks to learn the ropes of research and financing, acquire the building blocks of self-confidence, and shatter glass ceilings. In this light, the Group has developed a dense network of advisors specialized in women’s entrepreneurship, networking events and workshops on specific themes. The “Connect Hers” support program  combines tutoring and networking to create an optimal environment for women’s entrepreneurship, by providing women entrepreneurs with financing and expertise, as well as connecting them with the right people at the right time.

The Group also partnered with the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society. The purpose of this international event is to improve female representation and gender parity among society’s leading bodies.  

BNP Paribas also offers many other events dedicated to building a tight-knit community of women entrepreneurs. That is the aim of Women Inspiring the Future,  a forum devoted to women entrepreneurs in Belgium, and the BNP Paribas Global Prize for Women Entrepreneurs,  which has recognized an exceptional woman entrepreneur each year since 2017.

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