Educating future women entrepreneurs?

Written by Dr Inge Hill

Dr Inge Hill, Royal Agricultural University & Director of Enterprise Educators UK

When I graduated with my PhD, I was invited to take part in an assessment centre for future entrepreneurs and received a psychological profile with all my results showcasing an entrepreneurial personality – at least according to the construct underlying this test. I remember well the emotions I felt when I dragged myself to the letter box in London to post some paper work – the voice in my head telling me that I do not have what it takes, and that I would embarrass myself. At this time, my postdoc research grant had come to an end and I needed to find ways to earn a living to remain in the UK.

I am sharing these thoughts and emotions as they are not untypical for what some women feel when they consider engaging in starting a business. And remember, at that time I had the test result of fully meeting all aspects of an entrepreneurial personality with particular strengths in determination and resilience.

As an educator, even when not directly teaching entrepreneurship, I engage in building female students’ confidence and resilience. And so many things I do today are based on the learning from many programmes and initiatives that existed then but not today.

I was working with a team at the then Department of Trade and Industry to organise the first researcher roundtable on women’s entrepreneurship in 2001 in Downing Street and was one of its speakers. And I trained to be a women’s business adviser and still have the toolkit produced by the then women’s business development agency in Coventry.

Where would I go today and what information and training would I engage with?

I tried my luck, and was surprised how little actionable information I could find with a quick google search. Inspiring I found EEUK member King’s College offering a network King’s College women entrepreneurship network for staff and students.

Here are my tips on what educators and enterprise advisers in HE could do every day:

  • Share the data we have to alert male and female students and colleagues. Most recently, the Gender Index was published with regional insights. Also alert them about the ongoing gender paygap. We need more women role models from diverse backgrounds showcasing the challenges they faced and how they overcame them. The Gender Index only offers ‘more-than’ middle-aged white women as cases. Where are the young ones and those of ethnic minority origin?
  • Create a space for reflection and a rational way to analyse the potential in business situations and how the future female entrepreneur can seize this potential.
  • Counteract women’s lack of confidence and self-efficacy when you find it. Have conversations with women and seek to identify the root causes of limiting beliefs and share tools to address them. This case study I found inspiring as it showcases how one woman entrepreneur overcame hers and how to create a reflective space.

Let’s keep the conversation going – get in touch to discuss what tools we can develop and what we can do next.