How SMEs give women more business options

A Microsoft study of SMEs across Europe found that they offer women founders new employment choices in a world where the nature of work is changing. By Aliya Mirza

“I started the business because we needed to,” declares Tina, the get-up-and-go owner of Tica Copenhagen, a Danish furniture brand. “Two travelling careers with two kids, it just doesn’t work. We have made seeing our children a priority,” she announces, from her ‘hygge’ home office, sunlight streaming in through the windows.

Her lifestyle is enviable and her business is successful, with large orders coming through from the U.S. that keep her excited about the future. There have been opportunities for Tina to grow her company much more quickly, but she explains with her trademark brio, “I don’t need to scale like crazy just because the business has to be big. I’m not interested in that. I might be able to grow the business more, but then I wouldn’t be able to go swimming tomorrow at 11 o’clock.” Her daughter’s swimming lesson is a priority. She strives for harmonious parity between work and her personal life, and appears to be achieving it.

We saw the desirability of work-life balance echoed with most other female founders we met, who offered similar testimony to Tina. For example, Teresa Olea, a Spanish footwear designer confesses: “If my business could stay at this level I would be happy because it allows me to be economically independent and solvent; it allows me to enjoy what I do and live well. I mean, my family life is amazing and I also have time with my friends and my weekends are for me”. Teresa’s desire for autonomy, control, and a more unconventional lifestyle that prioritises well-being, echoes the current sentiment in the Ipsos MORI Global Trends Survey 2017, where just over half of women (52%) think it is up to everybody to work out their own set of principles to guide their decisions (GTS, 2017).

In an era where measures of ‘happiness’ are tested alongside GDP to take the temperature of nations, happiness has become part of our popular discourse too; it’s increasingly a factor that frames decision-making. How would you like to work? What would you like your life to look like? What kind of mum do you want to be? These seem to be the underlying, well-being focused questions female founders in Europe are asking themselves when they start their businesses. Indeed, when we asked women to decide whether their country’s economic growth or happiness was more important, just over two fifths agreed that happiness was more important (GTS, 2017). There is a growing tendency to value quality of life over money.

Starting an SME has countless financial risks, but for women with children it can seem like the safe option; enabling them to escape traditional workplace cultures that have sedimented over time, where bosses can struggle to truly recognise the importance of work-life balance and flexible working for the truly ambitious. Tellingly, female business owners are significantly more likely to agree that they want to achieve success personally and professionally (50%), compared to those who don’t own a company (42%) even if they must totally change the way they live (GTS, 2017). Career success and personal happiness don’t need to be mutually exclusive categories. If the gamble pays off, in your own SME you can be a contented ‘supermum’ and be ambitious in a way the conventional world of work doesn’t always recognise.

Aliya Mirzais a Research Manager at Ipsos MORI

Ipsos MORI (2017). The Global Trends Survey. Females from 14 established markets (n=5536).