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More women striking out on their own to start businesses, and here’s why

When she was 25 years old, Roshni Mahtani Cheung founded theAsianparent. Fast forward a decade, theAsianparent has become Southeast Asia's largest parenting content and community platform, reaching 35 million monthly active users, with its own direct-to-consumer brand, Mama’s Choice, which offers safe, natural, and Halal-certified mama and baby products.

There are many benefits to running her own business, and one of them is greater flexibility to balance her personal and professional pursuits. “I am results-driven. The time spent working, or the location where one works from does not matter to me as much as accomplishing what needs to be done. I can be productive in the office, at home or in a coffee shop. That’s what’s awesome about running my own business — I can manage my time better, and I can help shape the way my team manages theirs too, and encourage them to achieve that balance between work and personal time.”

Roshni also founded the Female Founders Network, hoping to help other women like herself achieve success as entrepreneurs. Today, it comprises over 2,000 members – women who have started their own businesses because "they are ambitious, they have dreams, and they want to make a difference”.

Like Roshni, and the members of her network, we know more women are striking out on their own today. New LinkedIn data shows that this was especially the case during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. While some women were pursuing their passions or seeking out greater flexibility, many women became ‘necessity entrepreneurs’, because of a need for income due to economic headwinds from the pandemic.

Our data also shows that more women might be stepping out on their own due to a lack of leadership opportunities in the world of work, when compared to men.

In fact, we’re seeing that the growth rate of women in entrepreneurship far outweighs the growth rate of their male counterparts, especially in Australia and India, which have a lower representation of women in leadership roles (32% and 18% respectively).

On the other hand, Singapore’s female leadership representation is higher (39%) than the global average (31%), but the growth rate of female entrepreneurship has not been expanding as fast. In fact, it was only in 2021 that the growth of female founders in Singapore surpassed the growth of male founders for the first time.

We also know that in the workforce, women aren’t getting promoted into these positions as frequently as men. In Australia, men are 18% more likely to be promoted into leadership positions than women, followed by New Zealand (20%), the Philippines (26%), Singapore and India – both at a staggering 42%.

We’re seeing this underrepresentation even in sectors where there are more women than men. For example, in Australia, women represent a larger proportion of some sectors like Wellness & Fitness (65%) and Healthcare (64%), but their representation in leadership roles is lower at 48% and 44% respectively. Similarly in India, while there are more women in the sectors of Education (39%) and Corporate Services (34%), their representation in leadership stands much lower at 30% and 23% respectively.

It’s not surprising, then, that more women are striking out on their own to start businesses, and seek out leadership opportunities.

Aside from supporting female-grown businesses, it’s important that we lead the charge towards gender parity in the world of work. For example, at LinkedIn, I’ve led our EmpowerIn programme since 2017, which seeks to support and guide women at work through their leadership journeys. Coaching young female talent has been a cause that’s particularly close to my heart.

Specifically, we should be thinking about driving equality for women in the world of work in the following ways:

  • Inclusive hiring practices go a long way towards creating equality in the workplace. This may involve hiring for skills, instead of any other factor including past experience or educational qualifications; removing any bias from job descriptions; ensuring that female candidates are equally represented in the shortlist for open roles; and  forming a gender-equal panel when assessing candidates for open roles.
  • Ensuring internal mobility involves helping women grow with the organisation. It’s important to invest in ongoing learning and development opportunities to help women grow in their careers, as well as internal programmes to guide women in assessing and developing their own careers.
  • Offering flexible work options is another very important factor to consider when it comes to retaining female talent. Our data shows that in Singapore, 62% of women said that they have either left a job or considered leaving one because they don’t offer flexible working policies. At LinkedIn, we look at flexibility through the lens of trust – we allow our employees to choose between full-time remote work or a hybrid option. This is something I truly appreciate, being a mother of three myself, and having to juggle both my professional and personal life.
  •  It’s also important that we provide support to businesses owned by female entrepreneurs. For example, we can do this by being more mindful in engaging their services as a company, or supporting them on a more personal level.

And finally, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of male allyship when it comes to achieving workforce parity. I myself have been incredibly fortunate to have had both male and female allies, who have offered advice and support as I have grown in my career. In fact, these allies showed me the value of speaking up as a woman at work – doing so enables the exchange of ideas and learning. It encourages diversity of thought, towards better business outcomes.

To support female entrepreneurs and help women grow in their careers, LinkedIn will unlock these courses for free until 24 August 2022:

You can also follow our LinkedIn Top Voices in Australia, India and Singapore, who post insightful content and shaping conversations around gender equity, both in and outside of the workplace.

More of LinkedIn’s recent gender insights are also available here.