Who are the best entrepreneurs? Men or women?

There have been many studies showing women’s disproportionately low participation in entrepreneurship and their poor access to capital and networks, but a report published this week is the first to give a comprehensive picture of the state of female entrepreneurship worldwide.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2010 Women’s Report shows that women are less likely to be entrepreneurs than men, and that when women do take the plunge into entrepreneurship they are more likely to be motivated by necessity than opportunity. The survey is based on interviews with more than 90,000 women in 59 economies around the world.

Donna J. Kelley, co-author of the report and professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Massachusetts, says:

“The informal sector can be 80 per cent or more of the entrepreneurship activity in a country.”

The report found that in 2010, 104m women were engaged in starting new ventures while a further 83m were running sustainable businesses that they had started more than three-and-half years earlier. A total 187m women were found to be economically active in their own businesses.

Kelley says:

“In less-developed economies women have high participation rates compared with men, but the picture really changes in both efficiency-driven and innovation-driven economies.”

In fact the only country to boast more female than male entrepreneurs is Ghana where women comprise 55 per cent of entrepreneurs.

In Latin America, the gender gap is quite small, while in Korea, Japan, Norway and Iran as few as one in five entrepreneurs will be a woman. Kelley says:

“These differences may be cultural or dependent on childcare provision, for example. They are also societal. You need acceptance to work with a woman and to buy from her, if her business is going to flourish.”

Women are much less confident of their abilities to start and run a business than men, the report shows. Only 47.7 per cent of women believe they have the capabilities to run a business while 62.1 per cent of men have confidence in their own business skills.

“This lack of confidence may limit your growth expectations,” says Kelley, who points out that twice as many men as women expect to add 20 or more employees to their companies.

Women are also hampered by a lack of role models and mentors, says Kelley. “Women are less likely to have networks that extend beyond family and less likely to know another entrepreneur. Programmes that train women to develop business skills, enhance their networks, and especially collaborations with other women, making their achievements more visible are all likely to increase women’s participation in entrepreneurship.”

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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

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Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

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Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

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Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

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Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

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Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.