Female Entrepreneurship – Why run your own businesses? Surely, it’s because of the perks!

Network for Enterprising women

Thanks to Aideen@think6 for this perspective on Female Entrepreneurship.  Certainly, food for thought.  

There was a very interesting question recently posed at one of the ‘Network of Enterprising Women’ monthly meet ups. One which was wasn’t answered, and probably never will be answered completely. What country offers the best support to their female entrepreneurs? Or what country/countries can we learn from as we try to improve standards for our female entrepreneurs?  

First Thoughts:  

Now, when the question was posed. I grant you the first country that came to my mind as a no way for me, was America.  This was mainly due to their maternity pay/leave or, lack thereof.  

Sweden was a country named as a likely choice amongst the group. Given their generally advanced, forward-thinking attitude this was most likely a very educated guess. I had also thought New Zealand, with no real reason as to why, except the recent president and her forward-thinking mindset.  

The question continued to niggle in my mind and so I thought it was worth a little additional research. It would be great to know those stand out countries which support, encourage and facilitate the beginnings of female entrepreneurship, the growth and the development also.  

Some Research: 

To my surprise the United States of America, ranked number one in the world based on the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs in 2021. With New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Switzerland coming in at 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th place respectfully. In every other article I read the statistics were the same.  

The USA has the highest level of female entrepreneurs and the best set up in place for them. When this is looked into a little deeper the rankings are based heavily on ‘women’s advancement outcomes, knowledge assets, financial access, and entrepreneurial supporting conditions.’ 

In fact, the only mention of maternity and support through maternity leave was during Switzerland’s paragraph in the article by Rhian Allen. The focus remains on the support and advice when starting up, the financial, education and mentoring as a female entrepreneur and the culture/belief system of the country.  

‘Common factors and conditions that support and drive the share of women business owners in these economies are a high rate of women’s enrolment in tertiary education; easy and fair access to finance; strong government small business programs; high representation of women in leadership roles, and positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship in general.’  

The 2021 Mastercard Index Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) uses 12 indicators and 27 sub-indicators to create three “Components”: women’s advancement outcomes; knowledge assets and financial access; entrepreneurial supporting conditions. These allow us to track factors and conditions that support and drive the female share of business owners across 65 economies, representing 82.4% of the world’s female labor force.’ 

In third place, Canadian women outperform most of their global peers in many aspects. Not only is the number of “women professionals” (rank 3, 58.7% of total) expanding, “women’s business ownership” (as a percentage of all owners) increased from 28.0% to 29.8% (rank 11) in MIWE 2021, a remarkable achievement given the immense challenges caused by the pandemic. 

*MC Index of WE in 2021.  

Maternity Leave: 

When you take a deeper dive into the maternity pay structure of some of these countries who rank the highest in this particular study, America offer 0 weeks maternity leave, Canada offer 6.3 weeks, Australia offer 5.2 weeks full pay, and Switzerland offer 7.6. In the UK = 11.5 equivalent full weeks which is beaten by New Zealand 12.7 equivalent weeks.  

Germany have made the greatest strides notching up 7 places and offer 14 weeks. So perhaps, there is something in better maternity. Sweden = 10 weeks full equivalent – 1.5 weeks less than us ladies! A little surprising, by all accounts.  

If you take a look at some of the countries who offer huge maternity leave paid in full weeks, eg Greece, Norway, Hungary, Colombia. None of them are in the top 20, and some don’t even feature on the list at all. Perhaps it is not a coincidence. Perhaps, it is actually a great way of showing us that maternity pay isn’t the be all, and end all. I am still feel miffed that the USA rank top, all things considered. But perhaps their mentality is worth much more! 

I then thought to myself, so we have a better maternity pay system in the UK – better than 6 out of the top ten best ranking countries for female entrepreneurship. But, this doesn’t factor in the pressure for self-employed business owners to get back to work after maternity. After all, if you are a sole person, or even a small business employer, it is unlikely that there is anyone there to take your place and continue running the business when you’re gone. Many mothers therefore go back to work before the statutory maternity leave is up. 

The Childcare Problem: 

So, in my quest to know how hard it is for female entrepreneurs to go back to work, given that maternity pay isn’t an overriding factor, it would appear. The next thing to look at is childcare costs. This is where the light bulb turned on. The UK has the most expensive childcare costs in that top 10. With a whopping 23.82% of earnings spent on childcare (2 parents) and 47.65% (1 parent). Compared with 13% USA, 11.31% Canada, 9.19% New Zealand, 12.49% Germany, 5.24% Sweden.  

In short the level of childcare costs in the UK, make me question how we even make it into the top ten. With Ireland not much better! A little light bulb moment with Sweden – they have the lowest childcare costs. All this begs the question, for me, as to how female entrepreneurship is even as highly ranked as high it is in the UK and Ireland. It is a testament to the strength of character. But is that enough? NO! 


The Network of Enterprising Women is a group based in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and we are a support network of women entrepreneurs (self-employed) who meet on the last Thursday of each month to discuss business life, the ups and downs, learn from each other and to share experiences. If you are self employed, running own business and interested in talking to like minded women, then get in touch.  We’d love to hear from you.  

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