How women can build the future of business in Australia

Gender balance is not only a women’s issue, it’s also a business issue. A recent study from the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that women in Asia Pacific, if given equal opportunities at work, would create additional GDP, equivalent to an economy the combined size of Germany and Austria each year. But looking beyond economic gains, when women lead, they are also active role models of change and progress for their communities.

As we recently celebrated women and their achievements on the occasion of International Women’s Day, we also have a duty to recognise the hurdles women still face and find the pathway to a more gender-balanced world.

To gain a deeper understanding of the differences between male and female business owners, their experiences, and their needs, we mined the Future of Business Report – a collaboration between Facebook, the World Bank and the OECD to survey the 90+ million small businesses on Facebook around the world. It is one of the widest, most global survey of SMEs ever conducted.

The latest report shows that in Australia business owners on Facebook still face significant funding challenges, with over four in 10 stating that they started their business with personal savings. Less than one in four said that they currently have a bank loan or a line of credit. We know this is consistent with the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs across the region. Apart from finding it difficult to raise external funding, they often need to work twice as hard to balance professional and familial demands and they are more likely than men to run businesses out of their homes – which can deprive them of the networks needed to grow and scale. Women’s leadership potential can also be stymied by the lack of role models and support systems in which they can receive mentoring and guidance.

Yet there are many reasons to be optimistic. The flexibility offered by digital technologies is leveling out the playing field. It has enabled a new generation of women entrepreneurs and even one-woman businesses that can go global by tapping into the power of community and conversation to grow their businesses. Around the world, a substantial proportion of small businesses on Facebook are owned and led by women. In the 95 countries surveyed, we found that nearly four in 10 (39 per cent) of people identifying as owners or managers of small businesses on Facebook are women. The report also shows that female business owners on Facebook report the helpfulness of social media to their business at a rate that is statistically higher than their male counterparts.

In Australia over eight in 10 female business owners saying that social media is helpful to their business. Australian women business owners on Facebook said also they benefited from the role of community and mentorship, with nearly 6 in 10 saying that they have a role model, of which nearly three in four say that their role model is a woman.

Connection and mentorship can often make the difference between having a dream and realising it. This is why we continue to invest in #shemeansbusiness – a global initiative designed to help women take the next step in their business ventures. The program provides financial support, advice, training and a supportive community of mentors and peers. As of this year, we have trained over 130,000 women in digital skills across Asia Pacific.

It is exciting to see this vibrant community of women-led businesses on our platform and be part of their growth story. When women entrepreneurs can access the funding, technology and skills needed to succeed, it also enables them to share knowledge and build the future of business together.

Kaylie Smith, Director for SMB Facebook and Instagram ANZ, Facebook

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