Across the EU, women represent a majority of students and university graduates. Yet, evidence suggests that there are significantly fewer female than male owned businesses, and that women face a number of obstacles when setting up a business. This is in spite of the fact that women entrepreneurs are innovative, equally successful as their male counterparts and that the control they can have over working hours and so on often suits them.

Further research, such as the World Economic Forum’s Corporate Gender Gap Report 2010 shows that there are not yet enough women represented at higher levels in larger businesses either, in spite of a significant body of evidence which shows that the representation of women at all organisational levels reduces excessive risk-taking, improving performance and profitability.

In addition, an EU Eurobarometer survey shows that 82% of Europeans think that urgent action should be taken to tackle the gender pay gap. This will therefore be one of the European Commission’s main priorities. It has already taken an encouraging step in publishing a Women’s Charter in March, setting out key areas for action and committing the Commission to including a gender perspective into all its policies for the next five years. The Charter will be followed by a new strategy for gender equality up to 2015.

This is a complex area where still many issues need to be addressed. ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) therefore believes that the following ideas might be a good place to start:

1. Encouraging female entrepreneurship. Lack of confidence and fear of failure can make some women reticent to set up in business. The fact that a greater proportion of women than men take advantage of flexible working arrangements can influence on their ability to reach higher-level positions. However, both issues will incur a considerable waste of talent if left unaddressed.

2. Strategic planning. Alongside the Women Entrepreneurship Portal, the EU needs a long-term strategy for female entrepreneurship, akin to the US ten-year ‘Strategic Roadmap’ to be launched in June. This should be developed in line with other countries to ease EU businesses’ entry into the global market

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