Female packing boxes for her business

Supporting women-owned businesses

Strategies to foster growth and level the playing field

6 minute read
Female packing boxes for her business

Women-owned businesses are, quite simply, a better bet, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

Yet despite this, the business playing field is far from level.

“In Australia, two-thirds of small businesses which started in the decade to 2019 were led by women, with 38 per cent of small businesses now owned by women, according to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman,” Advancing Women in Business & Sport Founder and Owner Michelle Redfern said.

“However, women worldwide access only one per cent of the $11 trillion global procurement market and received just 1.9 per cent of venture capital funding last year – down from 2.4 per cent in 2021.”

For Woppaburra woman and Bunbara Group Director Nikky Barney-Irvine and Warrikal Chief Executive Officer Amanda Healy, who is a Wonnarua woman, the major challenges facing women entrepreneurs include gender stereotypes that undermine their capabilities.

“I find that we are not treated with respect; men doing the same jobs are regarded as knowledgeable and worth listening to while we struggle to get the ear of important people because they do not believe we know as much as the men,” Ms Healy said.

“Additionally access to working capital is difficult because women often do not have homes of their own, so they can’t guarantee business loans.

“Not to mention we often have family to look after, so our work day can be disrupted by family demands.”

Furthermore, women often encounter crippling limiting beliefs when rolling the dice on entrepreneur life, according to Elsa Mitchell Consulting Founder Elsa Mitchell.

“It’s not that men don’t but it’s just more prominent in women,” she said.

“Aside from a long history of cultural processes deeply ingrained into our genetic makeup, we’re built hormonally different and society traditionally does not cater to that.”

So, given all these obstacles and more, what are the best ways to support women-owned businesses?

Strategies for supporting women-owned businesses

Ms Redfern said it was past time for those who were in decision-making roles – whether it be investing or spending – to do the right thing.

“The right thing to do is to enable women business owners to thrive economically,” she said.

“It’s also the right thing to do to enable women to contribute to positive economic and social impacts.”

Ms Redfern said women needed better access to funding and capital, starting with the establishment of more accessible capital-raising programs designed for women-owned businesses.

“Much more work needs to be done to increase awareness of these resources among potential applicants,” she said.

“It is also necessary to have greater diversity at the investment decision-making tables, and powerful investors must continue to drive for gender equitable outcomes.”

Ms Redfern also called for better strategic mentorship and networking opportunities, improved education and training programs, as well as greater procurement spend on women-owned businesses.

“Establishing or fast-tracking resources designed for women-owned businesses, designing incubators for women business owners, and providing women with specific training on what investors are seeking, how to pitch and the processes involved in capital raising and tendering can help level the playing field,” she said.

“Meanwhile, governments must establish and harmonise policies and targets for procurement from women-owned businesses, have greater diversity at the procurement decision-making tables, and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency must start measuring procurement spend from reporting organisations on women-owned businesses.”

Ms Mitchell said women not only needed sustainable tools to navigate through creating solid foundations for a successful business but they also needed self-confidence.

“Mindset and emotional support must go hand in hand with educating practical and necessary strategies to female entrepreneurs.” 

“When you provide a program that offers accountability, support, vast and in-depth mindset training alongside the education of practical tools, that’s when you make an impact," she said. 

“You encourage the masses when you inspire and empower one female entrepreneur to make a change because strong women support strong women and, in a complicated world, we need an army of them.”

Putting the spotlight on Indigenous women-led businesses

While being considered as an equal was a universal challenge faced by many women in business, Ms Barney-Irvine said it was even more difficult for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women.

“It is these additional hurdles that you need to overcome to prove that you possess the requisite technical knowledge and expertise in an industry,” she said.

“Although this can be a tiresome challenge, it always forces you to adapt, learn and build resilience, which are attributes that will put anyone in good stead to succeed.”

Ms Barney-Irvine said there were simple strategies that could be implemented to support Indigenous women-led businesses.

“For example, when registering a business, the government could provide some links with your business registration package that would direct you to safe yarning spaces to network with other Indigenous women and business leaders,” she said.

“I have found that attending networking events, such as Black Coffee, has been integral to developing professional working relationships and networks of support.

“Here, I find like-minded people to have a yarn with, bounce around ideas and feel inspired by a number of incredible businesswomen.”

Ms Healy said training and skills development was still relatively new but becoming more readily available to Indigenous women.

She said financial support was starting to be recognised as important but more focus on working capital was needed.

“There is a lot of support for startups but not for growth beyond that point,” Ms Healy said.

“There are a number of points that an injection of cash can make a huge difference to the long-term life of the business.”

Ms Healy also called for more real-world opportunities.

“I would love to see more programs where the Andrew Forrests, Mike Henrys and Simon Trotts of the world open their doors to Indigenous women to help them understand how big business works, how best to engage with them, and how to make sure the work we do for them is sustainable and long-term income producing,” she said.

“Our women would also benefit from access to board training, so they can see the more strategic level of business.

“Our people are trying so hard to improve the future for our kids but there are still so many barriers to success for many of our people that it is often difficult to gain any traction for new businesses.”

The benefits of a level playing field

When there is a level playing field for women-owned businesses, investors and businesses who procure from women will reap many benefits, according to Ms Redfern.

“They will enjoy better performance, less risk and more sustainable businesses, as well as equitable access to capital, equitable access to procurement spends, and better economic and social returns,” she said.

Speaking from personal experience, Ms Mitchell said being a business owner gave her an identity she loved.

“With it came confidence, an elevated feeling of self-worth, and an ability to support my family and create a legacy,” she said.

“In turn, I found the courage to walk away from an abusive marriage, make a better life for my children, and have a career supporting other female entrepreneurs to do the same.

“That is why I advocate for increasing our numbers.”

Top tips for women entrepreneurs starting out

Ms Barney-Irvine: “Be your own biggest supporter and back yourself even when you hear voices in your head telling you otherwise. If you support yourself and trust that you can get the job done, it is a lot easier to convince others of the same.”

Ms Healey: “Make friends with your accountant, and make sure you understand where it is best to spend your energy.”

Ms Mitchell: “Let go of fear and be willing to do all the things consistently and ongoing. Success is not linear and it’s never a sprint – it’s a marathon.”

Ms Redfern: “Know the business of your business. Build and demonstrate your business, strategic and financial acumen. Your clients, investors and employees expect it, and far too many business owners still don’t adhere to the principle of ‘cash is queen’.”