Pip Wilkins, CEO of the British Franchise Association, has been an inspirational female figure in franchising for many years using her drive, determination and focus to encourage more women into the franchising sector. On International Women’s Day Pip talks about her insights into women in franchising, their journey, and the possible benefits of the franchise business model.
Pip notes, “I have been a passionate advocate for women in business and have supported bringing more women into the franchise sector for many years. It’s why, ten years ago, the bfa launched an event aimed solely at women. One of the first events of its kind in the sector, it set out to create an environment in which women from the franchising and wider business communities could come together with a common purpose, to make new connections and to share best practice among their peers. The event was well-received and has evolved to become one of our flagship events, Empowering Women in Business (EWIB).
But one thing that struck me back then was the lack of female business owners who we could approach to take centre stage on our agenda. A decade on and the landscape for women in business, along with attitudes towards them, has changed dramatically. I don’t have to look much further than the bfa’s own Board of Directors to see how the dynamic has shifted. When I accepted the role of CEO in 2016, there were 3 women on our board, a rise from just 1 ten years ago. Today, including me, we have 9 female directors representing almost half (45%) of the board. The reason? As a woman in a senior position myself, I have made sure that the bfa actively encourages women to put themselves forward for board director positions, but this has only been possible because there are more females coming into the sector.
The latest bfa NatWest industry survey showed a 20% rise in females choosing to start their business in franchising and that 37% of all UK franchisees today are female. But, despite this uplift, there is still plenty of work to be done. Glassdoor recently found that, even in 2021, women only make up 8.1% of all Fortune 500 CEOs1 demonstrating that a significant gender gap still exists in senior level positions. And it’s not just in the C-suite space that this gap is felt. The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, first published in March 2019, found that only 1 in 3 entrepreneurs are female and that women in the UK are less likely than men to consider starting a business and less likely to scale up their business if they do.
Barriers still exist for women in business
And one of those barriers is confidence and risk appetite. Women typically have a much higher risk-awareness than men, are more cautious about starting or scaling a business and are 55% more likely than men to cite fear of going it alone as a primary reason for not starting a business2. Women are naturally more risk averse, whether it’s because we need to make a tough decision, an investment or a drastic change. We like to have at least 90% of boxes ticked before we take that leap. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that women use the left- and right-hand sides of their brains differently and that, as a result, we are more likely to approach and solve issues and make decisions using logic and intuition3. The truth is that most women who have the passion and drive to start their own business are more than capable and certainly don’t lack ambition, but they may not know where to start or they feel anxious about making the transition to business ownership. The Rose Review backs this up finding that only 39% of women are confident in their capabilities to start a business compared to 55% of men, although it points out that this is a perceived gap in ability rather than an actual gap in skill sets.
And it doesn’t stop at confidence. The Rose Review found that female-led businesses receive less funding than those headed by men at every stage of their journey and that women launch their businesses with 53% less capital on average than men. They are also less aware of funding options and less likely to take on debt. It also found that women are twice as likely as men to mention family responsibilities as a barrier to starting a business, and rates of entrepreneurialism fall sharply for women after the age of 35 compared to men. For female entrepreneurs with children, balancing family demands is the number 1 barrier to success.
There is plenty in the review that resonates with me but do these barriers translate to the franchising industry? Absolutely. Franchised businesses are, after all, no different to any other business. But franchising also presents a fantastic opportunity for women who want to become business owners, especially those with families, who have been made redundant or who want to return to work after a career break. It is bfa’s role to champion franchising as an option for women, which is why we are working closely with Encouraging Women into Franchising (EWiF) to highlight the great opportunities that exist in our sector.
Why franchising is ideal for women
Support and networking
Everyone in business, no matter how big or small the brand, will face the same challenges at some point in their journey. What is exceptional about franchising is the community spirit throughout the industry. A new franchisee coming into the sector will get the support of their franchisor, who has already taken the risks and probably made a few mistakes along the way, as well as the opportunity to share ideas and best practice across the franchise network. But there is also something to be said for the power of togetherness that runs through the veins of our industry. A huge advantage for both franchisors and franchisees is this togetherness but also being able to leverage the experience of larger, more established brands who find themselves in the same challenging situations.
No business comes totally risk-free, and franchising is no exception. However, failure rates for franchised businesses are much lower with 93% of franchisees reporting profitability4. And, when it comes to funding, franchising really does come into its own. With so many options, there are plenty of franchised businesses with relatively low initial investments so start-up costs can be kept low. It is also well known in the franchising sector that banks are often more willing to lend to franchisees because of the proven business model and the reduced risk of failure.
Many people choose to start their own business to create a better work-life balance for themselves. The demands of family and childcare mean that, for women in particular, a return to the full-time 9-5 life of the office does not hold much appeal or is simply not possible. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to re-evaluate their working policies with more now embracing remote or hybrid working. But requesting flexible working remains a challenge and leaves many looking at alternatives. There is certainly no shortage of opportunities within the franchising sector to start and scale a business around a busy family life. From children’s activities to virtual assistants to dog sitting, there really is something to suit everyone, no matter what your passion. The bfa’s recent acquisition of the Approved Franchise Association (AFA) means that we are much better positioned to represent more brands that offer the flexibility that female business owners often need to create something that works around their commitments outside of work.
So, if you are an aspiring business owner but you feel you are being held back by a lack of confidence, risk or not having funding, considering investing in a franchise could bring you a step closer to realising your dreams.”