Pathways: A new approach for women in entrepreneurship
An independent review into women in entrepreneurship in Scotland, authored by Ana Stewart and Mark Logan. Based on thorough data analysis and stakeholder engagement the report's recommendations seek to address the root causes of female under-participation in entrepreneurship.
07. Entrepreneurship education is largely missing from the education system
In this chapter, we explore the following proximate cause of female under-participation in entrepreneurship:
General education and normalisation of entrepreneurship as a valid career path is largely not present in the education system.
This point naturally affects all demographics, but its impact is greater for women in the presence of the other proximate causes. Put more positively, improvements in this area benefit all demographics, and especially women.
This proximate cause follows directly from our root causes discussed earlier, but through a different expression of them. Although every job that exists today, whether public or private sector, exists because someone at some time started something, our society remains suspicious of entrepreneurship as a career path. The education system reflects that suspicion, preferring to prepare young people for apparently more stable careers.
As a result, we do not, in a scaled way, develop our children's entrepreneurial awareness and technique. Even as late as the university-stage of education, under-graduates studying technical or design degrees have, in general, very limited exposure to these concepts. 73% of respondents in our Entrepreneurial Voice Survey felt that their education had not helped their path into entrepreneurship. Data from the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor sees Scotland significantly underperforming in entrepreneurial education.
"Major concerns surround adequate teaching about market economic principles, attention to entrepreneurship... as well as the general encouragement of creativity, self-sufficiency, and personal initiative at school." - Scotland GEM Report 2022
This situation acts to remove a large percentage of the population from entrepreneurial involvement. But it also means that those who do pursue an entrepreneurial path are less likely to be successful, especially in the context of international competition.
We can summarise the existing cause-and-effect relationships between these various mechanisms as follows (reading from bottom to top):
Addressing the Causes
In Scotland, it's common to hear people talk about a "lost culture" of entrepreneurialism, or that Scotland is "no longer an entrepreneurial nation." Such lamentations lead to a belief that it isn't possible to dramatically improve upon the current entrepreneurial performance of the nation.
But successful entrepreneurialism largely stems from a combination of mindset, technique and luck. Mindset – the appropriate mix of ambition, tenacity and belief – develops from a nation having many successful exemplars. The more we normalise entrepreneurship as a career option, and the more we arm our budding entrepreneurs with the right technique, the more exemplars we'll produce. As for luck, the greater the level of our technique, the luckier we will be. So, building entrepreneurial technique within our population is the place to start.
The obvious answer here, then, is to integrate courses and programmes that expose young people to entrepreneurial experiences and techniques into the school and further education system. It's important to the success of initiatives in this area that more emphasis is generally placed on experiential learning achievements rather than simply grade-attainment, with greater credit accorded to extra-curricular and vocational than is currently the case.
"What is good for everyone is a stronger entrepreneurial workforce and education plays a critical role in achieving this." - Chris van der Kuyl, Entrepreneur
Young Enterprise Scotland (YES) is already active in some of Scotland's schools, providing pupils with exposure to entrepreneurial ideas through various programmes. Scotland should build on this foundation, expanding programmes such as these to all secondary schools in Scotland.
However, by Secondary 3, such activities feel the squeeze from pressure for pupils to acquire formal qualifications such as National 5 and Scottish Higher awards. Therefore, we also recommend that the syllabuses of most subjects are adjusted to place greater emphasis on entrepreneurial technique than is currently the case and that this is manifest through experiential, project-based work. These changes should then be reflected in the attainment qualifications of school leavers and subsequently recognised by employers and further education organisations. For example, this change programme could start with Business Studies initially, for learning and feedback purposes, then proceeding through science and engineering subjects, etc.
"The gender gap in tech has widened, not narrowed, since I started my business many years ago. We must support and equip women and girls with the digital skillsets to encourage them to consider tech as a genuine career option." - Ann Budge, Tech Entrepreneur
There are certainly challenges to achieving this goal within Scotland's education governance model as currently configured. For a small country we have in place an extraordinarily complex arrangement of agencies and bodies that, together, have collective responsibility for education strategy.
"There must be a ladder of enterprise throughout education and beyond, which ensures girls are encouraged, nurtured and supported in a tech and entrepreneurship career path." - Dr Olga Kozlova, Director Innovation & Industry Engagement, University of Strathclyde
Education Scotland, the Learning Directorate, the SFC, SQA, SDS, local authorities, unions and head teachers must be in broad agreement that an initiative should be implemented in order to make progress toward achieving the above aspirations within education. This is a somewhat inertial arrangement.
We nevertheless believe that integrating entrepreneurial thinking widely across syllabuses is a desirable and necessary end-state, with considerable benefits for the future Scottish economy. Recognising that the National Discussion on Education and the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment are currently underway, we recommend that this proposal for a more integrated approach to entrepreneurial education should be actively taken up for consideration by these initiatives.
Further developing the experiential learning approach, we recommend that a Scottish Start-up Summer School be instigated, providing the opportunity for senior school students to gain exposure to the start-up experience. This programme would be modelled along similar lines to those run in some universities. The summer schools would be hosted either by universities or by Start-up Scaler sites around the country in partnership with high quality programmes such as YES, Founders4Schools and Social Enterprise Academy. Each participating pupil start-up team would receive a small bursary to support their idea, with the best start-up ideas, and/or execution of those ideas, being publicly recognised at the end of the programme.
"There is a digital skills gap for budding female entrepreneurs which, when closed, will open up new business opportunities fuelled by software and data." - Paramjit Uppal, Founder & CEO, AND Digital
We emphasise the need for the summer school to be genuinely inclusive, and available to all pupils, regardless of race, gender, family financial situation, or location. One consequence of this goal is that consideration must be given to ensuring that support is provided such that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are able, in practice, to participate.
Beyond school level, the Entrepreneurial Campus accreditation, as described in STER and NSET should be fully implemented without further delay. This ensures that university-level and college-level students are systematically exposed to entrepreneurial ideas and experiences.
In regard to the above discussion, a highly important, related area concerns STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics) subjects. Many start-ups, especially those with high-growth potential, are dependent on STEM skills. The existing extreme gender imbalance in participation rates for STEM subjects in our schools and universities therefore heavily influences later entrepreneurial gender imbalances. This is in addition to the general economic impact of a large section of our population not participating from industries built upon these foundational subjects.
It is beyond the scope of the present report to fully diagnose and address the issue of the STEM gender imbalance in education. However, such a diagnosis - and subsequent action - is required, if we are to fully maximise the effectiveness of recommendations in the present report. We therefore recommend that an action-oriented report of equivalent scope and depth to the present report is commissioned on the issue of STEM gender imbalance within education.
The above proposals are presented as specific recommendations in Chapter 10: Consolidated Recommendations.
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