Business Advice

Older women are the new face of entrepreneurship

Fi Bendall /

There’s a new force emerging in the business world that not many people are talking about yet, but I think will be on the radar pretty soon: women who have paid their dues in the corporate world and at the age of about 35 decide to strike out on their own and start a business.

This is a cohort of educated, motivated, and very business savvy people who have seen many of their ambitions dashed by banging their heads on the corporate glass ceiling long enough. Instead, they have grasped the opportunity to become entrepreneurs, defying some of the more common stereotypes we see in the media about what an entrepreneur should look like.

It is becoming a far more common story because women have become sick of waiting for the corporate world to change and are taking matters into their own hands instead.

The Australian Government’s Office for Women released a comprehensive report into the state of play for women in business in 2015 called “A Profile of Australian Women in Business”. The report takes its statistics from ABS data and many of the findings indicate this shift to older women moving into entrepreneurial activities:

• Women made up just over a third of all Australian business operators (34% or 668,670 women);
• There’s been a 46% increase in the number of women business operators over the past two decades;
• More than two in five women business operators were aged 40-54 (44%);
• Forty-two percent of women business operators had a diploma or degree;
• Women business operators had high levels of life satisfaction (57% were pleased or delighted with the quality of their lives); and
• Just over a quarter (28%) of women business operators were aged 55 years or more.

Interestingly, a significant number of these older female entrepreneurs are in the 55 and over age group. These women, along with men in the same age bracket, have been identified as ‘encore entrepreneurs’, a term that refers to the fact they have left their previous careers to start a business at a later stage in their lives.

This BBC report on encore entrepreneurs identifies a number of factors that have led to the rise of this group, including the downsizing that happened after the GFC, forcing many people to reconsider their work and career options, as well as the ageing baby boomer population.

The report also highlights another factor not often talked about: age discrimination.

“Every day we see somebody in this age bracket who goes out and thinks they’re going to get a job because of their rank or experience,” entrepreneur Anne Bahr Thompson says in the report.

“But employers are only hiring people in their 30s [or younger] because they’re cheaper. No-one is really talking about this.”

This combination of factors is leading to higher numbers of older women starting their own businesses. It’s something that governments and the corporate world needs to be aware of, as these women will start to shape and influence how we see entrepreneurialism and business ownership.

Australia’s female business leaders and entrepreneurs will have the chance to discuss such issues when the Global Summit of Women comes to Sydney next year. The summit will be held between April 26 and 28.

The summit has been held since 1991 and is a who’s who of women in business from around the world. It will provide a valuable forum in which female entrepreneurs can get together and talk about their experiences and aspirations.

You can be sure that the rise of older female entrepreneurs will be high on the list of talking points for those attending the summit, as this is a global phenomenon. Hopefully it will kickstart the conversation about how we can better support and harness the potential of these women.

*Fi Bendall is a member of the committee for the 2018 Global Summit Women. 

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Fi Bendall

Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Female Social Network and a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, who was described by CEO Magazine as 'The CEO's Secret Weapon'. An expert and pioneer in digital strategy, she has over 23 years’ experience in the digital and tech sectors.

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