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Women-led businesses: what is the data telling us?

The Gender Index is the world's first national gender disaggregated database. What can we learn from the most recent Gender Index report about women-led businesses in the UK?

Note – all figures are taken from the 2023 Gender Index report, which uses data up to February 2023. References to the previous year (21/22) mean data to February 2022.

National headlines

England, Scotland and Wales all saw percentage increases in newly incorporated female-led companies from 21/22 – 22/23. Northern Ireland has the smallest percentage of incorporated female-led companies, yet this still fell from 18.5% to 17% in 22/23.

England not only has the highest percentage of newly incorporated female-led companies, but this rose from 21.1% to 21.4% in 22/23. This is roughly one third of the percentage of incorporated male-led companies (58.8%).

Overall, the percentage of active female-led companies in the UK rose by 0.5 percentage points, up from 16.8% in 21/22 to 17.3% in 22/23. This increase is set to continue, if the trend in newly-incorporated companies is maintained.

Company leadership in the four nations of the UK

Accessing capital

Accessing external capital can pose particular challenges for female-led companies. Of all the active UK female- led companies, less than a quarter (23.4%) accessed all forms of external capital across the UK in 2022/23. This is a key challenge being addressed by the Rose Review.

Of the four nations, England (23.2%) had the lowest proportion of female-led companies accessing all forms of external capital. Scotland (23.8%) and Wales (24.8%) were also lower than Northern Ireland (27.6%).

Across the UK, the proportion of female-led companies accessing all forms of external capital is higher in the younger age groups (Generation Z and Millennials).

Fast growth companies

Fast growth companies are those achieving a growth rate of 20% or more for three consecutive years. The proportion of fast growth companies in any given group is an indicator of the capacity of that group to achieve meaningful scale.

Fast growth companies are relatively rare. Across the UK, 0.4% of all companies are classed as ‘fast growth’ and this falls to 0.2% for female-led companies.

However, looking at turnover growth overall, female-led companies on average grow faster than their male-led counterparts. It is only at the levels that qualify a company as ‘fast growth’ that this trend reverses.

Average turnover growth for female-led companies versus male-led companies, across the regions and nations of the UK
NOTE – this is nominal turnover, i.e. not adjusted for inflation (which was running at over 10% during this period)

Fast growth active female-led companies declined in 22/23 by 0.1% from 9.2% to 9.1% of all fast growth companies. We can also see that fast growth active female-led companies in the UK have much lower percentages of women in leadership roles than newly incorporated female-led companies and active female-led companies overall.

Scotland and Wales continue to stand out over England and Northern Ireland as having a larger percentage of fast growth active female-led companies. For every nation, the change between years is small and ranges from -0.2% to 0.2%. Wales was the only nation to see growth, Northern Ireland stayed constant whilst England and Scotland declined.

The proportion of all fast growth companies that are female-led, across the regions and nations of the UK
NOTE – Scotland is highlighted because this chart is taken from the Scotland section of the Gender Index report 2023

Generational insights

The data shows a clear positive correlation between younger generations and active female-led companies in the UK. Each generation sees a steady increase in the percentage of active female-led companies which has risen on average by 2.1% per generation. The largest percentage increase was between Generation X and Millennials at 3.35%.

Overall, the trend is a steady increase in female representation over generations. This is a positive sign for further future female representation in leadership roles in active companies in the UK.

More about this author:

John Cushing

John is a double exit entrepreneur (PPR Solutions > ByBox in 2013 and Opun > John Lewis in 2018) with 20 years’ experience within fast growth early-stage companies.

He worked with the Corporate Venture Capital team at John Lewis, has mentored for TechStars and is an active member of Silicon Valley Bank’s advisory growth stage panel.