The Final Multiplier Event of the ifempower project was held online, on 12 July 2021, attracting 64 participants from 17 countries. The event gathered HE institutions, students, representatives of businesses, enterprises and business support organizations wishing to support the empowerment of females, as well as national & EU decision makers. The meeting had three main goals: to spread information about European Commission initiatives aiming to support women entrepreneurs, to raise awareness about the ifempower project and its outputs and to formulate policy recommendations as well as action steps in order to make entrepreneurship more equal.
What does the European Commission do to support women entrepreneurs?
In her keynote speech, Dana Adriana Puia Morel, PhD, from DG GROW emphasized that the Commission provides support in multiple ways to those female entrepreneurs and would-be-entrepreneurs whose potential have not been fulfilled yet: via the networking tool WEgate – The European Gateway for Women’s entrepreneurship, Entrecomp focusing on entrepreneurship education, the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) helping businesses grow at an international scale, Gender-smart financing promoting investment in companies where female managers or founders are on board, the improvement of digital competences of girls and women via the currently open tender “Enhancing Digital and Entrepreneurial Competences in Girls and Women”, and finally, DigComp – the European Digital Competence Framework helping women to be more proficient in their digital competences. A strong learning component is prevalent in most of these initiatives since learning opportunities can bring out the best of women entrepreneurs, according to Dana Morel.
What has the ifempower project achieved?
Virág Zsár, Senior Grant Advisor at HÉTFA Research Institute and coordinator of the ifempower project, presented the main goals and outputs achieved over the last 3 years. Initially, a research study was carried out in the seven partner countries providing empirical data and a sociological understanding regarding women entrepreneurs, followed by an innovative international curriculum and the corresponding teaching material based on it. The curriculum consists of several courses that can be accomplished besides any major academic studies. A Training methodology for the ifempower Summer and Winter School was also developed. The Online Educational Platform offers a free e-toolkit in various languages to ensure the broadest outreach. A Mentorship Programme was elaborated empowering female students to pursue their business ideas and Female Entrepreneurship Support Points were installed to provide personalized advice.
Attila Bartha, PhD, Associate Professor at Corvinus University of Budapest, presented the outline of the final study and summarized the conclusions of the ifempower study programs piloted at Corvinus and the other three partner universities. Trust building has been a key in working with female students in the mentorship program, since students are not likely to share their business ideas with an unknown person. The COVID situation made personnel encounter impossible, a challenge instructors and mentors had to overcome. The following recommendations were made by prof. Bartha to ensure the sustainability of the ifempower programmes in higher education:
- Provide a gender-sensitive education and empowering programs for female students corresponding with the educational profile of the university;
- Provide gender-sensitive training for university lecturers to better support and encourage female students by ensuring a safe environment;
- More focus should be laid on developing students’ social competencies;
- Mentoring needs to be adapted into the university environment and offered within the framework of a course or project week;
- The involvement of for-profit sector into mentoring (i.e., multinational firms) is to be considered;
- Establish networks with professionally relevant NGOs, i.e., women’s associations; provide information to students about their programmes and events;
- Encourage female students to start a business as a team, as it provides more potential to grow in business and more opportunity to generate employment;
- Support female students to start new ventures and not stop at the stage of writing business plans – support the concrete steps to launch and follow-up a business idea.
How to channel the project results into policy making at the national and at EU level?
In the second part of the meeting an inspiring roundtable discussion took place, moderated by Eva Merloni, PhD, President and Chief Project Officer of Area Europa and Project manager of WEgate on behalf of ESBA – European Small Business Alliance. Three renowned European experts have been invited for the discussions:
Sanja Popović-Pantić, PhD, Chair of the EEN Women’s Entrepreneurship Sector Group, also representing the Association of Business Women and the Institute Mihajlo Pupin in Serbia, pointed out the main challenges women entrepreneurs are facing: access to finances, access to markets, access to innovation, need for tools to ensure sustainability in the time of crisis and better education related to digitalisation.
Anna Clark, PhD, President of Women@EIT, encouraged networking and following positive role models. Women are still underrepresented in entrepreneurship and in the tech sector, especially in leadership positions. She emphasized that education should be redefined: women should be more involved in formal education within STEM areas, and more funding should be dedicated to support them. The benefits of diversity should be promoted in order to achieve more equality in bigger organisational structures.
Amélie Leclercq, European Women’s Lobby Board member representing BPW (Business & Professional Women) Europe in Belgium and Director of Presechni Tochki eood, stressed that women need to lobby both at individual and at system levels to have more space in the economy. Policy makers’ language needs to be used – key words such as innovation, modernization, digitalization, inclusiveness referring to common priorities – in order to integrate equality objectives into their mission and vision.
The invited experts formulated the following recommendations to boost female entrepreneurship:
- Access to markets: large companies are required to pay increased attention to sustainability, including the objective to build a society of equal opportunities (SDG5). The SME sector shall not be developed in parallel but in synergy with this process. NGOs and academia, as intermediators, can enhance such synergies in the private sector.
- Regarding corporate tenders the tax policy is a strong tool that can encourage big companies to involve entrepreneurs from vulnerable groups – incl. women entrepreneurs – in their supply chains.
- Access to finances shall be improved, especially ensuring support to innovation at the early stage of business development. Existing business incubator and accelerator programs shall be reconsidered in a way to have more diversity in these areas so far dominated by men.
- Gender budgeting should be applied by authorities managing public funding, as well as by trade unions and chambers of commerce, aiming to achieve equality between women and men. This method has been successfully implemented in some EU countries and should be extended to more countries.
- More gender-related topics should appear in public tenders.
- More women evaluators should be involved in assessing public tenders. Tangible data shall be gathered and analysed to advocate women in the overall process, registering the gender of the offeror at the beginning of the tender and of those who finally make the contracts.
- Evidence based information shall be brought to the attention of decision makers allowing them to make fair and equal policies. First, the key decision makers and decision making processes need to be identified. Second, data collection shall be systematic to monitor the expenditures of public resources.
- The involvement of men is needed in the discussions about how to make things equal for everyone. Due to the overbalance of men in policy making, more attention should be paid to understand their priorities and to link equality objectives to their agendas, using their own statements to push for change. Using the same language is necessary to achieve the target.
- One of the best ways to reduce the leadership gap, pay gap, investment gap and pension gap is to involve men more in childcare.
- Female role models shall promote their story at local, national and international level. Successful women entrepreneurs should be asked to share about the difficulties and stereotypes they faced on their way to success.
- Keep empowering more women, increasing their confidence to pursue their professional endeavours.
At the end of the meeting a World Café discussion took place where the highlights of ifempower outputs were presented and testimonials from project participants were given.
Virág Zsár closed the meeting by thanking the consortium for their valuable contribution to the project that received so far positive feedback from the target groups. Summing up the discussions of the event, she highlighted that cooperation and co-creation are essential in the process of making entrepreneurship more equal. Actions should take place at various levels: at individual level self-confidence and the improvement of competences are to be addressed, while an the system level joint action is needed. If more equality is reached at system level, the necessary finances will be available as well.