10 July 2017 | Report

Voices of women in entrepreneurship


The report provides an overview of small to medium enterprises (SMEs), and of women’s SMEs (WSMEs) in particular, which are defined by the International Finance Corporation as a business that is either majority owned by one or more women, or is at least 20% owned by women with women also holding key leadership positions such as CEO or board directors.

The report explores the ways in which cultural and social differences influence characteristics of women entrepreneurs, with gender roles and expectations affecting both women’s motivations for engaging in entrepreneurial activity as well as the decisions women entrepreneurs make about the growth and management of their businesses The ways in which the ecosystem of women’s SMEs are different to those of men’s SMEs is also considered in the report, as well as the ways in which gender-based experiences can hold women entrepreneurs back from growing their businesses.


The report finds that there are between 36 and 44 million SMEs globally, of which up to 70% are located in developing countries. As many as 11.7 million of these SMEs in developing countries are estimated to be majority owned or run by women. However, a lack of available data means there is limited knowledge on WMSEs around the world and in developing countries in particular.

The gender-based experiences of women entrepreneurs have an impact on the way women run their businesses, with women feeling less confidence in their abilities compared to thier male counterparts and having less relevant practical work experience particularly in operational areas like HR and financial management.

Women entrepreneurs are also found to have different motivations for running businesses than male entrepreneurs, with many women starting businesses out of necessity rather than being driven to pursue a market opportunity or a novel business idea. Running a business can be more flexible than other forms of employment for women, as they are generally also expected to be primary carers for children and to be responsible for managing the home. Women can also be pressured to engage in business in order to increase household income. As a result, family and community feature much more prominently as important stakeholders in the ecosystem of women’s SMEs than they do in men’s SMEs.

Women’s entrepreneurship is also found to have positive flow-on effects to families and communities, as women heavily reinvest income in their children, improving children’s health, education and nutrition. However, deeply entrenched gender biases continue to restrict opportunities for women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, such as difficulties accessing finance, negotiating suppliers or finding mentors.




  • Small and medium-sized enterprises
  • Who is the woman entrepreneur?
    • Education and work background affects skills and confidence
    • A different set of motivations
  • The ecosystem of women’s SMEs
  • The voices of women – what is holding them back?

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