FEMALE entrepreneurs are still facing lazy gender stereotyping and other cultural barriers, according to Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, the charity which campaigns for gender equality.
Ms Smethers was responding to research carried out by NatWest, which indicates that more than half (52 per cent) of UK female entrepreneurs have been branded with stereotypical gender labels while running their business.
Around a fifth of the survey’s respondents said they had been described as self-assured (18 per cent) or opinionated (20 per cent), with more than one in 10 being called “feisty” and “vocal”.
Ms Smethers said: “This research shows that lazy gender stereotypes are still dominating the way we think about women in business, and women entrepreneurs in particular.
“Women face additional practical, cultural and attitudinal barriers all the time. I wonder how those feisty or opinionated men would like it?”
A fifth of the respondents to the NatWest survey said these gender labels had made them more determined to succeed. Almost half of the female entrepreneurs who were quizzed as part of the survey believed that the terms used to describe their peers have become more positive over the last five years.
Responding to the survey, Louise Woollard, a director of Louise Woollard Financial, based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, said: “I don’t believe my gender has had anything but a positive impact on my ability to successfully run my business.
“In what traditionally has been a male dominated profession, I have a job which allows me to engage with people and take time to find out what is really important to them.
“It also allows me to use what may be perceived as female traits, such as empathy and the ability to deal with difficult and emotional situations, with ease.
“I don’t feel I’ve been stereotyped during my career and would happily be considered feisty,’’ she added. “Who wouldn’t want to be seen as lively, determined and courageous?”
Kate Hardcastle, the Yorkshire-based retail and commercial expert, said: “I recognise all the terms in the study and have probably been described them all over time.”
She said the terms were often meant “as a compliment of sorts” although she would prefer to be acknowledged for her expertise, intelligence and communication skills.
She added: “As a baton-carrier for the next generation, I sincerely hope that with the wealth female entrepreneurs bring to the economy, there will be much less need to label, and much more focus on achievements.”
Joanna Robinson, the managing director of Bradford-based manufacturing firm Mansfield Pollard, said there was a lack of women in her sector. She said she felt a responsibility to support and champion women in the workplace.
She added: “I understand the challenges that we face, that is why as a company, we provide mentoring and support to students at Skipton Girls’ High School and Leeds Beckett University, to prepare them for the transition from education to industry. I also attend as many women’s networking groups as possible to share objectives with like-minded individuals, and to provide encouragement and support to ensure that they achieve their goals.
“By taking an interest in supporting other women we will help make gender equality in business a reality.”
“There is still a long way to go for women to have the same business opportunities as men,’’ she said. “So leaders must honestly, intentionally and proactively advocate for women in the workplace, showcasing their accomplishments and successes whenever possible.”
Natalie Sykes, the regional director for the Institute of Directors, said that qualities such as kindness, diplomacy and the ability to be firm but fair were also valuable for entrepreneurs, regardless of their gender.
Griselda Togobo of Forward Ladies, the women’s networking organisation, added: “Starting and running a business is not for the faint hearted and most entrepreneurs have to develop skills and attributes that will enable them to weather the storms that come with running your own business - irrespective of gender.
“We should be applauding entrepreneurial women for their resilience and contribution in creating jobs that support the economy. It’s great to see that most female entrepreneurs are brushing off these negative stereotypical labels.
“We at Forward Ladies are all about creating positive dialogue about women and their role in business and showcasing the fantastic work that these so called feisty women are doing.
“This country needs more feisty women.”
Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Rachel Hannan said: “It doesn’t come as a great surprise to me that women in the North of England seem less concerned about being labelled ‘feisty’ or ‘opinionated’.
“I’m sure there are many of us who have at times also perhaps been labelled ‘chippy northerners’ whether we are men or women, and not felt the need to act differently because of that description.
“Often the way people are described can say more about the person using the label and how they are feeling, than the person it’s being applied to.
“Personally, whether people describe me as an entrepreneur or just someone in business, I’m more concerned with people being able to see what I can achieve, whether that’s business growth or creating jobs and opportunities, rather than getting hung up on the words they use to describe my character or personality.
“Most entrepreneurs, of whatever gender or background, probably share a number of characteristics, such as being driven, resourceful, focused and having a certain level of self-belief, given these are all necessary for starting and growing a business.
“Perhaps the character traits of female entrepreneurs are scrutinised and ‘judged’ more than those of our male counterparts just because there are still less of us and we’re still something of novelty. But that has already and will continue to change, rapidly.”
The survey was carried out by YouGov with a total sample size of 1,000 female entrepreneurs.