March 7, 2021

What proportion of ecommerce businesses are led by women?

Dr Peter Mowforth

I didn’t raise this question. It was asked in a conversation with a Scottish MSP, Ash Denham, at last Friday’s Business in the Parliament event at Holyrood in Edinburgh {ref}.The reason why the question was asked is that the Scottish Government sees inclusivity as an important parameter around its ‘engagement with business’ strategy. If our objective is to see ecommerce taken more seriously by the Scottish Government and its agencies then having evidence around the type of people that lead ecommerce businesses will be helpful.With an ecommerce business, potentially, there are lower start-up costs with the ability to reach a huge market with a business that can, initially, be home based. Additionally, ecommerce businesses offer plenty of flexibility for those juggling other commitments such as childcare. Many of the most popular niche market segments include fashion, beauty and health-related. These niche markets are where females are highly active both as buyers as well as sellers {ref}. Together, these facts might suggest that setting up and running an ecommerce business is well suited to women.In the US, the number of women-owned businesses is growing at twice the rate of all UK firms. Women in the US are around twice as likely to be entrepreneurially active compared to their UK equivalents {ref}.The following graphs use data from the US. The left graph shows how, over time, women are playing an ever greater role in the running of business while the graph on the right shows, for a small study in New York, ecommerce dominates the type of business that women setup and run.

The left graph is from 1997-2007 Census Bureau 2014 estimates. American Express OPEN/Womenable. The right graph is from the Female Founders Fund In 2015 in the UK, the majority of small to medium-sized enterprise employers were owned by men, or led by a management team with a majority of men. Only around 20% of Scottish small to medium-sized enterprise employers were majority-led by women in 2015. Around 41% of small to medium-sized enterprise employers had at least 50% female leadership {ref}. One possible reason for this disappointing figure is that it has been claimed that women are more risk averse and less inclined to take on debt when starting out in business {ref}.There is some indication that, in the UK, this position may be starting to change. Between 2008 and 2011 women accounted for around 80% of newly registered self-employed people {ref}. In relation to ecommerce, ComScore claim that, while the split between male and female users of the Internet are around 50:50, women account for over 58% of total online purchasing and are the key decision makers behind 83%-87% of all ecommerce consumer purchases {ref}.The Florida based "Women in Ecommerce" {ref} has done much to promote the leadership and involvement of female entrepreneurs and have grown a strong International network of ambassadors with offices around the world in countries as far afield as Brazil, China, Greece, India, Italy, Cameroon, Austria, Mexico, etc. Unfortunately, the only UK representative is London-based with no representative in Scotland.As we have mentioned before, there are an acute lack of statistics in Scotland around ecommerce. Although we are not yet in a position to establish what proportion of Scottish ecommerce businesses are led by women, it’s clear to anyone working in the area that women have taken lead roles in many of the better-known ecommerce businesses in Scotland. The following are just a few examples of some fantastic local female-led ecommerce businesses that spring to mind:

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