Less than 20% of new companies are started by women

“Unfair obstacles” may be stopping women from starting and growing their own companies, the government has said.

It said women were half as likely as men to start their own business, and only a fifth of smaller firms were led by females.

It said this was creating a “significant pool” of untapped potential. 

It has asked Alison Rose, head of RBS commercial and private banking, to lead a government review into the issue. 

“Unfortunately, statistics show that women make up only a third of all entrepreneurs in the UK,” Ms Rose said. 

“To better drive the UK’s economy, we need to understand, and tackle, the barriers and reasons as to why this is.”

More than 1,000 businesses are started every day in Britain and SMEs support more than 16 million jobs.

However, last year only 19 per cent of SME employers were majority-led by women – defined as controlled by a single woman or having a management team of which a majority were women.

Meanwhile, women only make up 27 per cent of full-time chief executives and senior officials.

Gender bias

According to a survey of company founders by Unilever, a number of barriers are stopping women becoming entrepreneurs. 

Women it spoke to who had started companies said there were too few female role models in business. 

The research also found men and women were still not being encouraged to enter roles that stereotypically are not associated with their gender.

Finally, it found women who started companies often encountered discrimination – such as investors being less willing to invest in their firms on gender grounds.

Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said: “The fact that Britain is home to so many new, innovative businesses is something to be proud of. But the fact that so few of them are started by women is shocking. This is not because of a lack of talent or appetite.”

The Treasury said its review would consider ways to boost female engagement in entrepreneurship. It will respond to the review after it is published next spring.