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Entrepreneurship is merely a pipe dream for women in Switzerland

16 Feb 2023

Professor Rico Baldegger, head of the European section of the Women's Entrepreneurship Report, reviews the findings of the International Report and analyzes entrepreneurial activity in Switzerland.

Start a business in Switzerland? Nothing could be easier! While this may be true from an administrative point of view, in practice, it's a different story. For a great idea to become a business project, several conditions are necessary. A supportive environment is first, at which point the gender difference becomes clear. This was revealed by the Women's Entrepreneurship Report, an international study on women's entrepreneurship, based on the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2021/2022. The University of Applied Sciences Fribourg (HEG-FR) led the section on Europe.

The report's first finding is that "Europe shows the lowest rates of entrepreneurial intentions and participation among women".  The rate ranges from 3.1% in Poland to 23.4% in Belarus.  Switzerland is at 12.1% for women (14.9% for men). This figure does not surprise Rico Baldegger, director of the project: "In Switzerland, the labor market situation encourages neither women nor men to start a business when they cannot find a job. We do not recognize necessity entrepreneurship, but rather opportunity entrepreneurship. At the global level, intention is inversely proportional to average income.

A less attractive career choice

Among the explanations for the low rate of entrepreneurial intentions, Rico Baldegger cites a typically Swiss factor: starting a business is just not attractive. Only 37.9 percent of Swiss women (43 percent of Swiss men) regard starting a business a good career choice. At the European level, the figures are 62.6 % (60.7 % for men), while the global proportions rise to 70.8 % for women (71.1 % for men). Professor Baldegger adds that in Switzerland, the perception seems to be more positive in the French- and Italian-speaking parts of the country than in the German-speaking part.

Is this hesitancy to become independent due to a fear of failure? Not really. On average, 57.6 %  of Swiss women are undeterred by fear of failure (world average 49.7 %), while Swiss men are 65.9 % will (world average 54.3 %).

New opportunities are emerging with the trendy themes of social innovation and sustainability.

Rico Baldegger

For those women who, in spite of everything, do start their own business, financing is often a stumbling block. "The median investment size was about one-third smaller for women than for their male counterparts," the report states. The reason?  "We have observed that IT and high-tech companies receive funding more easily than those in the health or ethics fields. Women are less represented in the former sectors than in the latter," notes Rico Baldegger. "However, new opportunities are emerging with the trendy themes of social innovation and sustainability, which are also popular with women.”

The system is the problem

“But there's another obstacle that complicates business creation,” the HEG-FR director continues. There are professional networks with a strong male tradition and it is difficult for a woman to access them. However, relying on this type of network can open doors. In addition to the unequal access to financing that depends on the field of activity, on negotiation with investors and networks, "the problem comes from a whole system," laments Rico Baldegger.

This system highlights the lack of support for families. While entrepreneurs receive encouragement from family members, it is difficult to reconcile work and private life. "In particular, there is a lack of childcare places," says Rico Baldegger.

In order to encourage women to create companies, it is also essential that they have "role models", i.e. female entrepreneurs, to identify with. According to the director of the HEG-FR, it is up to the media and society to put them forward.