9 minute read 5 Mar 2021
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How the UK’s female entrepreneurs can impact gender equality


Multidisciplinary professional services organisation

9 minute read 5 Mar 2021

As part of International Women’s Day, we asked a group of UK entrepreneurs to share their thoughts on the future of gender equality. 

In brief:

  • How can today’s reality drive gender equality further, faster? 
  • When will we stop seeing gender equality as the issue and make it the answer? 
  • How can gender equality be the answer to creating value for future generations?

At EY, we ask thought-provoking questions about some of the world’s toughest challenges. Through global initiatives like Women. Fast Forward, we also create an inclusive culture that enables women’s potential to truly transform society and build a better working world. And for over 30 years, we’ve been working with the UK entrepreneur community, drawing on our experience, industry capabilities and the EY 7 Drivers of Growth framework to support entrepreneurial, high growth companies. 

We invited some of the UK’s most ambitious entrepreneurs to consider better questions on gender equality today. Working women around the world have been disproportionately impacted by the demands of both work and family responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Entrepreneurial Winning Women™: Kim Rihal, Co-founder and Partnerships Director at Equal Education, Amanda Thomson, Founder and CEO of Thomson and Scott, Breanna Yen, Co-Founder and CDO of Curvestone; and our Entrepreneur Of The Year™ UK Alumni: Darina Garland, Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer of Ooni Pizza Ovens (One To Watch winner in our Entrepreneur Of the Year™ UK 2020 Awards), Jennifer Sundberg and Pippa Begg, Co-Founders of Board Intelligence (Entrepreneur Of The Year™ UK 2020 finalists) share their views on how gender equality might create and preserve value for future generations, despite current challenges.

How can today’s reality drive gender equality, further, faster? 

Kim: We are in a digital age, where we can offer flexibility to women who in truth have two jobs, one as a caregiver, as well as their paid job. The global pandemic has been a prime example of how we can be more flexible to accommodate this.

Amanda: COVID-19 has shown us that science could be our partial gender equality saviour. Many of those involved in the pathway to our freedom from a pandemic have been women such as Hamilton Bennet (Moderna), Katrin Jensen (Pfizer-BioNTech) and Sarah Gilbert who co-developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Advances in other fields such as Crispr’s Nobel prize-winning creators Jennifer Douda and Emmanuelle Charpentier show that today’s women have incredible talents to offer. These are incredible role models who need to be in the spotlight in front of today’s young women.

Darina: It’s clear that this last year has changed our ways of working forever. Gender equality has regressed as women have disproportionately been affected by the pandemic both in terms of having to pick up much more family care and by the impact on industries and roles that are generally dominated by female workers. In order to accelerate gender equality leaders are going to have to proactively improve opportunities for women.

Breanna: Regardless of gender, one thing we can all be is an ally. Allies are those that may not identify as a part of a group but that take action, support and advocate for them. In any role, and especially for those in leadership, we can all think of ways to use our platform and seat at the table to represent the under-represented.

Pippa:  Saying goodbye to office presenteeism and having to attend late night corporate events to be successful in business: balancing family and work, without the compromise.

When will we stop seeing gender equality as the issue and make it the answer?

Darina: Gender equality should be a given. Those in power have to recognise that power and use it to ensure we eliminate obstacles that stop women and trans people having the same rights as their male counterparts.

Kim: When we realise the value women bring to the workforce. Women make great leaders. They’re hard-working, motivated, effective communicators, and have incredibly high standards. We should be supporting talented women and speaking up if we see unconscious bias or microaggressions.

Jennifer: An example here for me where I feel we’ll have progressed is when men and woman begin taking equal parental leave: the law has changed, behaviour hasn’t. That’s the next frontier to fight for.

Breanna: We can all play a part in keeping gender equality a priority and empower the women around us, by seeking to amplify women’s voices, support professional development and provide networking opportunities. 

As a leader or founder, think about how you may unconsciously be limiting women. For example, we recently reworked our job specs to attract more women by excluding off-putting masculine terms in tech such as, "ninja" or "rockstar", and really considered and scaled back our "must-haves" (to name a few examples).

Amanda: Business leaders must recognise the value of having women at the table. It makes commercial sense! Perhaps the message is not getting through to the next generation of young women strongly enough that they can lead business. It’s not about fighting for the deal and being the loudest voice in the room. It’s about skill, knowledge and the ability to make the bottom line work most profitably. London-listed companies are more profitable when women make up more than one in three executive roles, according to research from Pipeline1

How can gender equality be the answer to creating value for future generations?

Amanda: Young men who recognise the power and ability of women as equal to their own are vital in making sure that, when it comes to business, there will be no doubt that a woman will be able to do the same job for the same pay as men. The increase in gender fluidity, engagement with mental health and the greater expression of personal feelings amongst young boys is perhaps a turning point in the concerns around gender stereotyping. 

Kim: These small steps will impact generational equality; teaching girls their worth, challenging what it means to “be a man” and calling out sexism and harassment.

Breanna: With my background in digital product design and daily interactions with various ‘user groups’, I've learned to understand the value in capturing 'perspective'. There is so much that goes into how an individual perceives the world. I have to remember that what's important to me may not be important to them, that my solution may not be the best, so their insight is invaluable when it comes to building innovative digital products.

I see gender equality adding this same value to better our world. Gender equality gives us diversity in perspective, leading to more questions being asked, better decisions being made, and a more innovative future.

Darina: Gender equality is a human right. It’s vital that future generations see inspiring leaders that they can identify with. We must create heroes that are truly diverse and representative, leaders in all fields that demonstrate a clear message to young people that they too can achieve success.

Hearing how these successful entrepreneurs have considered these difficult questions, shows that there is still much more to be done to proactively create growth opportunities for women in business.

Changes to our working lives post-COVID-19 have meant that those who build, lead, invest in and work in businesses have all had to swiftly adopt more flexible working practices, and many more business leaders now recognise that this change will help women to operate more effectively in the workforce and strengthen a more gender-inclusive business economy.   

At EY, by taking every opportunity to share the experiences of successful female entrepreneurs, recognising the value of their contribution through our Entrepreneur Of The Year UK programme, and celebrating the achievements of all of those who show unstoppable ambition, we commit to continuing to champion inclusivity and gender equality.

Another such programme is Entrepreneurial Winning Women™, which identifies ambitious women entrepreneurs, providing them with resources and access to unlock their full potential. Nominations for the 2021 programme will open mid-April.


Working women around the world have been disproportionately impacted by the demands of both work and family responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We invited some of the UK’s most ambitious entrepreneurs to consider better questions on gender equality today.

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