Media release: WES international conference lays out path to economic equality

Conference group shot 2

AN international conference held in Edinburgh this week is laying out a clear path to rebuilding the economy following the pandemic, with gender equality at the heart of the process.

Hosted by Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) – the community interest company which works to close the gender gap in enterprise –  and held at The Royal Bank of Scotland Conference Centre at Gogarburn, the conference has gathered together over 300 policy makers, researchers, business leaders and academics with a shared interest in progressing women’s participation in the global economy.

The conference is framed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal n.5; to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The core themes of the conference – finance, leadership, wellbeing, culture, net zero and technology – have been identified by WES as the path to economic equality and the outputs from the conference will focus on these core areas.

Carolyn Currie, CEO of Women’s Enterprise Scotland, commented: “The Covid-19 pandemic has reversed years of progress on gender equality and our economy continues to leave billions of pounds on the table due to the barriers women face in enterprise participation.

“Enabling the economic empowerment of women is vital as we seek to rebuild national and global economies. Through sharing international knowledge and good practice, we can accelerate the actions which will create vibrant, dynamic business ecosystems, with gender equality at the heart of the process.”

Criona Courtney, director, Commercial Banking, The Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “At Royal Bank of Scotland, we are seeing more women than ever starting businesses here in Scotland and we’ve been working to create the right climate to help them thrive.

“The Rose Review, an independent paper developed by our CEO Alison Rose, already shows the impact of helping female entrepreneurs – the untapped potential that women-led businesses could lead to another 1m businesses being created and £250bn of additional value for the UK economy.

“That’s why it is so important that banks work with organisations such as Women’s Enterprise Scotland to create an environment where barriers such as mentorship and access to finance are overcome.”

Conference speaker, Yvette Hopkins, former executive vice-president at the Shetland Space Centre, said: “Leadership is the linchpin to success in order to advance the world we envision for girls and women. We are the Change.”

Women-owned businesses in Scotland is estimated to be now just 14 per cent of SME employer businesses [1], down from 20.6 per cent in 2017 [2].

The conference focuses attention on the gender gap in enterprise in the run up to the imminent publication of the report from the Advisory Council for Economic Transformation, which will outline proposals for transforming the Scottish economy.

Women have fundamentally different experiences to men in business, including access to finance, disproportionate caring responsibilities, access to networks, mentoring and role models. [3]

The COVID-19 pandemic also served to heighten these barriers, with women far more likely to be juggling business and domestic responsibilities and more likely to work and be business owners in the sectors put in jeopardy by the crisis. They are under considerable pressure as they rebuild and emerge from the challenges of the past two years.

In a bid to provide support for women at the pre start-up and start up stages of their business journey, Women’s Enterprise Scotland launched the digital Women’s Business Centre in June 2020.

The first freely accessible digital platform of its kind,, has had over 10,000 visitors since its launch and is growing daily.


For further information about Women’s Enterprise Scotland, please contact Gaynor Simpson at and on 07790104073.

Notes for editors:

  • Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) was established in 2012 as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) working to close the gender gap in enterprise participation. The WES vision is for Scotland to be world leading in its approach to supporting women business owners, enabling equal access to resources and opportunities as they develop successful and sustainable businesses.
  • Women owned businesses contribute £8.8bn Gross Value Add into the Scottish economy and have created over 230,000 jobs. (FSB 2018) As a sector, women-owned businesses contribute more GVA than Sustainable Tourism (£4.1bn), Food & Drink (£5.6bn) and Creative Industries (£4.6bn)​. (Growth Sector Statistics, Scottish Government, Sept 2021) Doubling women-owned businesses to 40 per cent of SME’s would add another £8.8bn to the Scottish economy every year.
  • The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship (2019), commissioned by the UK Treasury, revealed that female entrepreneurs typically have to start businesses with only half as much capital as men. [4]  The freview also identified that up to £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men.
  • Covid-19 has presented enormous challenges for women-owned businesses. As small businesses with limited resources, these businesses are especially vulnerable to the disruption caused by the pandemic (WES Covid19 Policy Brief 2, 2020). Of the women business owners surveyed in December 2020, three-quarters found managing their businesses stressful during the pandemic, compared to just over half their male peers (Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship Update, 2021)
  • All-female management teams received just 1.5 per cent (£7.1m) of the UK Futures Fund £469m capital to help scaling start-up businesses during Covid-19. All-male founder teams received 16.3 per cent (£76.5m), ten times more than women (Future Fund Diversity Report, British Business Bank 2020).

[1] Small Business Survey Scotland 2017

[2] ONS 2015

[3] Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship 2019

[4] Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship 2019

Phil Wilkinson Photography

L-R: Mark Sterritt, director, UK Network (Northern Ireland, Scotland & Wales), British Business Bank

Professor Lynne Cadenhead, chair, Women’s Enterprise Scotland

Criona Courtney, director, Commercial Banking, The Royal Bank of Scotland

Carolyn Currie, CEO, Women’s Enterprise Scotland

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