Over the last few years, I have written extensively about the need for greater support and recognition for female entrepreneurs and women in business. Countless female business leaders, including myself, have bemoaned the male-heavy boardrooms up and down this country and lamented the lack of support for young women in tech.
And then in April the Times Higher Education supplement revealed a new study by the Independent Commission on Fees had found that women are now a third more likely to enter higher education than men. The gender gap has been growing since 2010 and the introduction of higher fees seems to have crystallized this trend.
The stats show not only that women have been offered more university places than men, but actually they are also starting to outperform them academically too. There has also been a sharper decline in university applications (and acceptances) from working-class boys compared to their female counterparts.
Some will applaud this trend, particularly those who have fervently pursued the women vs men in business debate. Arguably, yes, this trend is a boon to industry and as it matures we can probably expect to see more females making their way through the business world and taking senior and board-level places.. However, I also find this news fundamentally worrying. Such an obvious and growing gap between men and women in a very short space of time isn’t indicative of a sustainable trend, or a trend we should necessarily be celebrating
Of course, it is great news that the structural and attitudinal changes that have been hard fought have started to become demonstrable. As with any effort to effect change, it has taken time for the battle won for equal access to education to become evident in admissions numbers and this can only be beneficial for British business. . But this kind of gender gap will not provide a stable future for industry, and has the potential to leave a generation of young men behind in the future.
I spend a lot of time speaking to young women about their future career aspirations and (hopefully!) offering encouragement for those hoping to pursue a career in technology. One of the things I focus on is the need to create and sustain better partnerships; men and women can work together and utilise their complementary skills to produce great results. Getting this message across to men and providing them with good role models is just as important. I am concerned that this just isn’t being communicated well enough to young men today.
Based on my own experience, I’m pleased to say that more women are becoming interested in historically male-dominated industries. But this should not be at the expense of a balanced and mutually beneficial partnership between men and women.
At Moonfruit, where we provide powerful but simple design-led DIY website builders for small businesses, more than 50% of Moonfruit shops are built by women and I can only see this figure rising in the future. It seems to me that women are now gaining the confidence to strike out on their own and really follow their passions in a way that hasn’t happened in the past. Entrepreneurialism isn’t just a man’s world.
My experience of running a business and combining it with family and personal life, is that strength comes from the partnership between men and women. I live this everyday with my co-founders – my husband Joe White and best friend Eirik Pettersen. We certainly all have complementary skills and attributes, and they aren’t necessarily aligned to those which you would define as stereotypically male or female!
I also have a son and a daughter who I want to grow up in a world of equal opportunities. I am hopeful in thinking that we’re entering into in a new era of partnership where women and men can learn from each other, work together and aim towards mutual success.
About Wendy Tan White & Moonfruit
Wendy is co-founder and CEO of Moonfruit, the UK’s leading DIY website and online shop builder for SMBs to publish on web, mobile and social platforms.