More women are running small businesses, but equality still eludes us

More women than ever are owning and operating businesses in Aotearoa – but there’s still a ways to go to achieve equality.

The latest MYOB Women in Business Survey shows that women now make up 44 percent of small to medium business owners. The number is up from 30 percent in 2012.

MYOB head of SME, Ingrid Cronin-Knight, thinks that’s pretty good news. “It is really positive to see so many great women-owned businesses doing such great things in our economy,” she says. “The number of women in business is really starting to climb. We’re seeing a lot more women bringing dynamic and innovative new products and services to market.”

The data goes much further than simply asking how many businesses are owned by women, too. When asked what the main reasons were for starting their business, 34 percent said it was ‘to control their own destiny,’ and 33 percent said they started their own business because of a passion for what they do. Thirty percent cited flexibility as a reason for starting their own business, 18 percent said lifestyle change, 16 percent said it was an investment strategy, and 12 percent said it was a hobby.

Cronin-Knight says the economic confidence of women is a crucial measure of improvement. “It has become apparent over the five years of the survey, that the projections we get from women, both in terms of revenue growth and the overall economy, have tracked more closely to the actual results we can expect to see,” she explains. “So, based on the bellwether judgment of local women in business, we can be confident that SMEs will see solid growth in the next 12 months.”

The numbers back her up. When asked about the performance of their business, the women owning their own businesses reported significant gains in revenue in the past year, with 38 per cent reporting an increase in revenue. In addition, 40 percent of the women in the survey said they expected the domestic economy to improve within the 12 months.

Christchurch-based businesses led the way when it came to revenue performance, with 39 percent of women owning businesses in the Garden City reporting an increase in revenue, compared to 37 percent in Auckland and 34 percent in Wellington. It’s far ahead of last year’s numbers, when only 21 percent of women-led businesses reported an increase in revenue.

Cronin-Knight has some theories behind this. “This is such a contrast from our last report, but likely due to the sustained effect of the Canterbury rebuild,” she explains. “Things are really looking up in Christchurch with 40 percent of businesses predicting revenue will increase yet again over the next 12 months. The same can also be said for Auckland and Wellington, with well over a third (44 percent and 39 percent respectively) optimistic about the year ahead. It’s great to see women achieving so much for the New Zealand economy and it’s exciting that they’re positioning themselves in such a way that they can take advantage of future opportunities and growth in the local market.”

But all is not rosy. Aside from the pressures of hiring new staff and the need to increase cash flow, the cost of introducing new technology (24 percent of respondents) and not having enough time (18 percent) were cited as two of the biggest barriers to growing business and innovating. To boot, 23 percent of all businesses surveyed felt that innovation was not necessary at present.

Recruitment solutions company Talent Propeller’s founding director, Sharon Davies, says that’s not a good idea. She argues innovation is something all business owners should be thinking about right now. “Innovation is important for many reasons, but above all it’s imperative in order to evolve,” she explains. “You must be adapting and evolving your business, whether it’s innovating processes or thinking about what product offerings you can take to market.”

Then there’s the age-old concern of work/life balance. But finding a healthy work/life balance while running a business appears to be improving, and more women than men (72 percent versus 71 percent) in the survey said they were satisfied.

Cronin-Knight also thinks that’s positive news. “Women do have added pressures including managing their personal, family and work priorities which can be stressful,” she says. “However, women are clearly taking the initiative to create a positive work/life balance, which is heartening to see. The percentage of female business owners satisfied with the balance between their personal and professional life has increased 8 percent in the past 12 months, from 64 percent in November 2015 to 72 per cent today.”

Overall, Cronin-Knight believes there’s good momentum for equality in terms of the gender balance of who owns businesses – but of course there’s still work to be done. “Based on this data, we’re seeing an increased level of participation from women in business ownership,” she explains. “Not only is this great news for the economy, it’s also something that New Zealand should be proud of. We can only hope these numbers continue to increase over years to come and to do so we need to ensure women feel supported by the Government and the business sector.”

The findings of the MYOB report were released to mark the Women of Influence Forum and Awards, which celebrate the successes of women in Aotearoa.