Australia is the second best place in the world to be a female entrepreneur, according to international rankings released this week.
The Gender-Global Entrepreneur and Development Index, which was released at the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network conference in the US this week, places Australia just behind the US as countries which encourage and foster female entrepreneurship, and ahead of Germany, France, Mexico and the UK.
The rankings are calculated based on three factors: the entrepreneurial environment in a country; the entrepreneurial ecosystem; and entrepreneurial aspirations.
Emma Isaacs, chief executive of Business Chicks, told SmartCompany the rankings don’t surprise her at all.
“The corporate landscape in Australia is forcing women out in droves [and] this is creating a really strong community of women who are starting their own businesses, simply because they want to create work that works for their situation,” says Isaacs.
“There is a really exciting startup culture in Australia at the moment,” says Isaacs. “Women have access to great networks and great role models who have already paved the way, and the strong economy is of course also helpful – for any startup to be successful there needs to be strong financial support.”
Orsi Parkanyi, director and founder of Women as Entrepreneurs, also told SmartCompany she is not surprised by the rankings as she has seen similar research ranking Australia among the top countries for female entrepreneurship.
“But if we are so good and there are such favourable conditions, why is the number of female entrepreneurs in Australia so low?” asked Parkanyi.
Parkanyi says previous research has found that just 5% of technology entrepreneurs in Australia are female, although in her experience there are plenty of women starting their own companies but they “are not putting their hands up”.
She says there are many factors contributing to the apparent low numbers of female entrepreneurs across the country, including cultural factors such as women not being involved in business for as long as men.
There is also a lack of access to funding and investment for female entrepreneurs, says Parkanyi, and an absence of female role models.
Isaacs says “unconscious bias works against women in all aspects of work” and although “we might be seeing more women than ever starting businesses… a really small percentage are growing them into medium and big businesses”.
“Many women start businesses with the goal to run a small business, but I wish more was done to encourage and facilitate women to want to create fast-growing businesses that create employment opportunities for others and great lifestyle for them,” says Isaacs.
But Parkanyi says “things are changing”, and the high number of applicants she receives for Women as Entrepreneurs pitching events suggests female entrepreneurs “will put their hand up” when they feel invited to and involved in networking events.
Isaacs also believes sharing more stories of successful female entrepreneurs will go a long way to encourage others.
“And I think importantly, we need to do something about creating shared responsibility between women and men in the home,” says Isaacs. “Each of us can contribute to that by stopping the dialogue about women managing the hom – we need to stop asking women ‘how they manage it all’ and open that question to men too.”
Parkanyi believes the business community in Australia has a “high level of responsibility” when it comes to encouraging female entrepreneurship.
“We live in a country with a high level of freedom,” says Parkanyi. “If we can’t close this gap, how are we going to inspire women in countries such as India to start their own companies?”