I thank Gillian Martin for bringing the debate on global entrepreneurship week to the Parliament and, in particular, for her focus in the motion on the role of women in enterprise, which is correctly identified as part of raising levels of entrepreneurship across the economy as a whole.
First, I will respond to comments made by Bill Bowman. The small business bonus is enabling 100,000 businesses in Scotland to be lifted out of rates altogether, helping many businesses, including women-owned business. Scotland’s council tax—£400 lower than the UK average—makes Scotland the lowest-taxed part of the UK, not the highest. While the Conservatives might want to focus on the top 10 per cent who benefit from the tax cuts given down south, in Scotland this SNP Government focuses on all business, including small business, and all people, at all points on the income spectrum.
It is estimated that women comprise the majority of shareholders in only about 21 per cent of Scotland’s businesses.
That is bad news not just for equality, but for the bottom line. We cannot afford not to fully engage the talents of half of the population. Studies have shown that women-owned businesses are more resilient in recession. We can help to future proof our economy and create more stable prospects by investing in and nurturing women in business. If women started businesses at the same rate as men, it would add another £7 billion to the value of Scotland’s economy.
I take the opportunity to mention Fiona Colbron-Brown, who runs the East End Connections business network in my constituency, a fabulous initiative that is bringing together businesses from all around the east end to share ideas and opportunities. Business start-up requires creativity, seeing opportunity where others do not, and figuring out new ways of meeting demand. Women often bring a different perspective to problems, a different appreciation of market needs and a different understanding of how to meet them.
Women’s Enterprise Scotland, the organisation leading the way on this issue, makes some simple recommendations to support and encourage more women-led business start-ups. In business, gender-balanced panels and role models are important, along with appropriate imagery and language in advertising. We need to set an example for women and girls, and men have to play their part in delivering that. They can do so by challenging gender-stereotypical attitudes that restrict the start-up and growth of women-led businesses. That will deliver benefits not only here but in other areas of the economy where gender imbalance is marked.
The pay gap is one of the most significant imbalances. Although Scotland’s pay gap is significantly below the UK average, the gap is still too high, and much of that inequality is caused by gender stereotypes that help nobody. Many women are still expected to go into the caring professions and men into technical work. Having more women go into science, technology, engineering and maths careers can go a long way towards redressing the balance, as can getting more men into traditionally female-dominated jobs, such as the care and early learning sectors.
The issue of home-work balance, including childcare responsibilities, is a fundamental barrier to equality in employment and in running businesses. Eight per cent of women are economically inactive because they are looking after the house and/or family, compared with only 1 per cent of men. Redressing that balance, and challenging the assumption of women being primary care givers, will also go a long way towards enabling more women to become entrepreneurs. Gabriela Ramos, chief of staff at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, named lack of childcare provision as the single biggest barrier to inclusive growth in developed countries. I am proud that the Scottish Government has recognised those barriers and is actively trying to break them down by doubling childcare provision in Scotland.
The universal basic income can play a role in encouraging entrepreneurship. Although it is often cited as a means of tackling poverty in our country, we should not underestimate the potential of a basic income to support a new wave of entrepreneurs by derisking the decision to start up a business—for both men and women, but particularly for women entrepreneurs—as a consequence of the flexible approach to work that a basic income can enable. I am glad that the Scottish Government has given some focus to understanding how to deploy a basic income, and I look forward to an assessment of what it could do to boost inclusive economic growth.
A gender-balanced economy is a more stable economy, a fairer economy and a more prosperous economy. Inequality hurts us all, and we need to engage the talents of all of our citizens, men and women, to take part in our economy to the fullest extent.