Tackling gender disparity for entrepreneurs

Written by Richard Everitt


The odds are stacked against female entrepreneurs. Especially in post-Soviet nations, despite the abundance of creativity. Venture capital investment teams and their networks are male dominated and the vast majority of investments go to male entrepreneur teams – 83 per cent in 2018! Therefore, gender disparity in enterprise was highlighted last year as a priority by the UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss.

Creative Spark, our Higher Education Enterprise Programme, addresses the issue head on – increasing diversity to unlock this creative potential. The aim is to develop entrepreneurship skills for students to start their own business. In two years, 920 new small business ideas have been created by 1,520 teams. 60% of which are women in 7 countries in East Europe/Central Asia with support from UK University Enterprise or Entrepreneur Departments.

For example, Tamara Ustenko from Ukraine, whose start up idea to transform textile waste into new designer clothes is now an award winning business. Tamara is a student at Kyiv National University for Technology and Design which partners with University of Southampton as part of Creative Spark. She reflected ‘Thanks to this programme I understood that social impact projects could be turned into business.’

Today, 50 UK institutions are involved in the programme across seven countries and 760,000 young people have taken part. Over half of these were women and 40% of all the activities took place outside main cities. To ensure sustainable impact, 65 new courses and modules have been created through working with UK universities, and 15 new university business incubation centres have been established, to develop and grow new commercial ideas. To provide equity of access, with London Met. we run the British Council’s largest digital video pitch competition – the ‘Big Idea Challenge’, and each year 80,000 people vote for their favorite business idea.

In addition, to ensure sustained changes that support inclusion and diversification of the workforce, we have worked with policy makers and governmental advisors. For example, in the design of the new national ‘Entrepreneurial Education Alliance’ recently launched with the Georgian Ministry of Culture.

As a result of our inclusive approach in Creative Spark, the programme has won UNESCO funding, secured the UN agency ‘World Intellectual Property Organisation’ as a partner and is contributing to the United Nations 2021 year of Creative Economy.

Driving inclusion from the programme design stage and delivery has allowed diversity and enabled innovation. This has been achieved through multiple methods:

  • The programme’s ‘Theory of Change’ specifically referenced the long-term impact of ‘improved life prospects for the youth, including women and disadvantaged individuals’
  • Grant proposals and a reporting mechanism to identify activities, interventions and steps that facilitated greater participation for women and disadvantaged groups
  • Courses delivered online to facilitate access for women and other disadvantaged groups
  • Female project managers as role models and ensuring gender-sensitive language is used during trainings
  • Gender equality as mandatory agenda item at national “Road Map” policy meetings.
  • Highlighting entrepreneurship throughout a facebook live series, with 65% of speakers featured successful women role models sharing their journey.

As programme director, it’s incredibly rewarding to see first-hand the impact we can make by releasing and supporting the creative potential of thousands of individuals, through taking gender sensitive approaches.

For more information visit our Creative Spark website.

Richard Everitt Regional Director Education, Wider Europe

British Council