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Election 2019: What’s in it for female entrepreneurs?

Published: Friday, May 10, 2019

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Words by Fi Bendall

Unfortunately, there has not been a lot during this election campaign from either of the big parties addressing the main problems facing female entrepreneurs. However, on the bright side, there are positive signs that issues like better and more affordable childcare and tax breaks for small businesses are on the agenda at this federal election. If you take the time to look at the policies, there’s worthwhile offerings from both sides.

But is there much for women in business?

Having combed through the policies published by both the major parties on their websites, the only reference I could readily find to female entrepreneurs or women in business was in the Liberals’ Small Business pledge: “The Morrison Government is determined to increase the number of female business leaders.” 

Somewhat ironically, the party itself seems to have trouble increasing its number of female political leaders.

The policy continues concerning the LNP government’s ongoing commitment to “supporting 55,000 young women to become entrepreneurs through the Future Female Entrepreneurs Program” and the Boosting Female Founders fund, which “provides access to early stage capital and entrepreneurial support to launch businesses of high-growth potential.”

The Coalition government has done a poor job of selling itself to female voters. While a number of the women in the LNP cabinet have worked diligently and productively in their respective portfolios, they’ve been badly let down by people in the party who are having trouble dragging their knuckles into the 21st century.

The Liberals’ ‘women problem’ (should really be considered a man problem…) has badly tainted its brand in the eyes of female voters. Losing both Julie Bishop and Kelly O’Dwyer, among other female MPs, has led to even more scrutiny about the Morrison government’s commitment to women within its ranks, as well as its engagement and understanding of women out in the electorate. 

That’s not a good sign considering the basic fact that a little more than half of the voters are women. Obviously, that’s not the only consideration women will take into the ballot box, but it will sway more than a few, and if the result is close, that could make all the difference.

Labor has certainly made itself a far more attractive option for many women, sheerly because as an organisation it has received and read the memo that women want to see more women in leadership positions.

At a time when women are flexing their muscles and demanding a fairer deal, that will put the ALP in a very strong position. Even women with a preference for the Coalition government’s economic policies and track record might well be thinking that maybe a few years in opposition would force the LNP to rethink its approach to attracting women to the party and keeping them. 

I could find no mention of women in the ALP’s small business policy, though it did feature a photo of a woman as its main image, which is better than nothing I guess.

To Labor’s credit, they have a strong policy directed at closing the gender pay gap. Among the raft of actions they plan to undertake is to “enforce gender-equitable government procurement processes.”

There is no more detail on this aspect of the policy, but it is an area that has received a fair amount of attention in the past few years from public policy wonks and women’s business advocates. Opening further access to government contracts for women-owned businesses would be a big win for women, but of course, the devil is in the details, which we don’t get at this stage.

(For an in-depth dive into ‘gender smart’ procurement policies relating to the Australian context, have a look at ‘Australia Case Study: Can Smart Design of Government Procurement ‘Buy’ Increased Women’s Workforce Participation?’ by Australian trade diplomat Louise McSorley in the ‘Gender-smart Procurement Policies for Driving Change’ paper published by Chatham House.)

The ALP also has an extensive list of promises attached to its National Strategy for Gender Equality. Again, the policy rhetoric hammers at the Achilles’ heel of the Liberals, which has been their failure to elevate and nurture female leaders: “Women’s representation and equality just isn’t a priority for the Liberals. After six years in power, the Liberals have taken no serious action on gender equity and they never will.”

This is a pity for the LNP government because it contains men and women who have done good work in advancing the cause especially of women in business. In truth, I think the LNP has missed a real opportunity at this election to double down on its work in developing initiatives to help Australia’s female entrepreneurs and business owners.

The recent Rose Review into female entrepreneurship in the UK highlighted several excellent policies and initiatives carried out by Australian governments in advancing women’s businesses. The review also showed that the UK is starting to take women in business seriously, with the UK government exploring ways it can create a better environment for female entrepreneurship. 

So many Australian women are now starting or running businesses. Some are doing it so they can have better work/life balance and flexibility, others because corporate Australia does not recognise their talents and skills, and still others because they want to create a better life for themselves and those around them. They all have the dream of running a successful business. This should have been manna from heaven for the Liberals, a home run in the making.

As it is, instead of bolstering the good work they have done with an even more comprehensive package directed at the more than half a million women business owners (504,838 according to the 2016 census data), they’re struggling to make their message heard because of a party culture that mostly excludes and alienates women.

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