Welcome to the seventh episode of season 2 of the Glorieuses economic newsletter. Each month, we talk to you about economy, gender and race with an international perspective, and with the support of researchers. This month we talk about entrepreneurship and the setbacks of the « freedom to be your own boss » …
Vous pouvez lire la version française, #Economie, ici.
April, 18st, 2021 – reading time: 8 minutes
Female entrepreneurship is life! (Really?)
by Fiona Schmidt, follow her on Instagram here.
If we were to believe the Willy Wonkas of the start-up nation, setting up a business would be a universally empowering El Dorado moment for women, which would solve every problem of discrimination in the labour market. Whatever your line of business, all you would need to do to have the career you want is to become self-employed. Moreover, according to the study « Women and Business in Europe » co-carried out in 2019 by the Caisse d’Epargne and Crédoc, creating a business is a considered career choice for 8 out of 10 French women, while in Italy, nearly 4 out of 10 self-employed women are self-employed by default. So: Liberty, Equality, but definitely not salaried?
The reality of female entrepreneurship in France is much more nuanced– surprise! (or not…) First, while the proportion of forced entrepreneurship does indeed tend to decrease with the level of development of the country in question, gender inequalities remain significant. According to the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, the proportion of women who become entrepreneurs “out of necessity” stands at 23.9% in France, against 9.7% in the Netherlands, but it also remains higher than that of men in the same case, who are at 21.1% in France and 8.6% in the Netherlands. In addition, nearly 7 in 10 women say that the creation of their businesses aims to ensure their own employment, against a little more than 1 in 2 men. This is in spite of the fact that self-employed business creators are significantly more qualified: 68% of women
among them have a higher education qualification, compared to 53% of their male counterparts. Finally, while the incentives for women are not generally different from those for men, since– according to the 2018 entrepreneurial index of BPI France– both want to be their own boss and realize a dream, distinctive traits are nonetheless noticeable – and significant. Female entrepreneurs place more importance on work-life balance, and more often than men have to create their own job because they cannot enter the labour market; according to an ACPE survey, 32% of business creators were job seekers and 14% of them had no professional activity before setting up their business… against 7% of men.
This data coincides with the observations of Insaff El Hassini,
lawyer by trade, financing jurist and founder of Lean In France: “For a woman to be employable in France, she has to tick all the boxes. She must be « sufficiently » young, « sufficiently » qualified, « sufficiently » skilled and competent, and not too demanding in terms of professional and salary development.
If she does not fulfil this model employee bingo then she is marginalized in the workforce, and often finds herself forced to become her own employer, whether she is entrepreneurial or not. « Forced entrepreneurship therefore concerns radically opposed profiles: highly qualified women, or on the contrary, women who have no qualifications at all. As part of the training courses she provides through her association @majustevaleur,
Insaff El Hassini regularly meets « overqualified women aged 50 and above, who are sometimes pushed aside within their companies and cannot find work elsewhere because they ask for a salary that commensurates with their skills and are victims of ageism– which also affects men, but to a lesser extent and later on in their careers. Women who work in traditionally male-dominated sectors such as finance, digital or tech – which are the most promising and profitable– are also sometimes forced to create their own businesses to bypass the glass ceiling and to avoid having to endure the chauvinistic and sexist behavior of their colleagues who nevertheless brag about being progressive… In this regard, it should be noted that only 5.8% of French start-ups created since 2008 have been created by one or more woman/women, that a start-up created by a woman raises on average
half the funds than a start-up created by a man, and that these figures have been stagnating for ten years …
But Insaff El Hassini also observes that entrepreneurship is often the only stepping-stone towards professional integration in the event of resuming employment after a prolonged period of inactivity following parental leave, for example, or when the interested parties are not qualified and / or have a poor command of French. “Discriminated against on the basis of their gender, but also their social background and / or their ethnic origin, these women are over-represented in sectors such as childcare, assistance to the elderly and maintenance. They are all the more vulnerable since there is no union defending their rights, and the fact that a sector is stereotyped as « female » contributes to its devaluing, both socially and economically. »
While these women who experience forced entrepreneurship are obviously not equal in terms of networks, access to facilities and services, business creation support and remuneration, they do have several things in common. Taking maternity leave is particularly difficult, regardless of their field of activity, especially when they work alone, which is the case for most women entrepreneurs by necessity. And it is even more of a struggle due to that fact that they earn on average two thirds of what self-employed men earn, while generally working much more than salaried employees – 43.9 hours per week, against 39.3 hours for employees. They do this while still shouldering the majority of their domestic and parental duties, except when they have the financial means to delegate these
tasks to someone else – usually a woman from a racial minority and often financially unstable. They also face feelings of guilt, the ramifications of which are as deep as they are numerous, according to Insaff El Hassini: “A double feeling of failure is added to the guilt already linked to juggling both roles of entrepreneur and mother: that of not finding a ‘traditional’ job and that of not succeeding in developing a business, and / or not thriving in a field presented as fulfilling. But first of all, entrepreneurship is not fulfilling for everyone, and above all, it is not innate. It’s something that must be learned, but because of gender bias and their educational and professional careers, women are less informed and less trained than men in starting a business. In fact, the glass ceiling does not disappear with entrepreneurship, on the contrary: it grows
According to our expert, what hinders women entrepreneurs, and particularly those who are not entrepreneurs by choice, are the following factors: educational and sectoral orientation, gender-based relations to money and risk-taking and difficulty in terms of work-life balance. To remedy this, « it is necessary and urgent to train female students in entrepreneurship and in negotiating pay, whether they choose to work in the public sector, private sector or entrepreneurship,” explains Insaff El Hassini. “Most female entrepreneurs base their pricing policies on their self-confidence rather than their skill level – and those who ask to be paid their fair value often encounter sexist stereotypes that stigmatize women who are interested in money.
Within companies, managers and HR must be made aware of gender bias in terms of wages, to finally denormalize the underpayment of female labour.” The initiatives of the public authorities– too often subcontracted to associations whose financial resources are limited– and volunteer work must be reinforced, and no longer be limited to communicative actions aimed at women which, while helping position them as the authors of their own destinies, also makes them primarily responsible for the gap in the rate of success at hand. Policy makers must also ensure that family, social and fiscal policies are no longer discriminatory by facilitating access to social assistance for women entrepreneurs, allocating them the same maternity leave (and paternity leave and childcare!) as that given to salaried employees, and making this maternity leave longer and compulsory. This is
therefore a fundamental step for the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem and one that is in favour of equality on several fronts– which is essential in today’s world.
The next Club des Glorieuses will take place on Thursday, April 22, 2021 from 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m CET. This will be an online conference with Lucile Peytavin, historian, specialist in women’s work in crafts and commerce. The Cost of virility (Anne Carrière editions) is her first essay. To register, go here.
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