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The number of SMEs equally led by males and females has fallen since 2006 reveals Lem-uhn’s research

Updated: Apr 29

A lot has changed in almost twenty years. Back in 2006, Tony Blair was still the Prime Minister, Leona Lewis had just won The X Factor and Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars and The Devil Wears Prada were brand new. 17 years later, we’ve managed to have a whole fashion cycle with low-rise jeans back in fashion, but progress for wom*n in business has been non-existent.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, we investigated whether progress has been made for wom*n in business. Analysing ONS data back to 2006 on women-led small and medium-sized businesses, we found that little has changed.

Incredibly, there has been a 2% fall in equally-led companies over 15 years. In 2006/7, 26% of SMEs were equally led, while in 2021 it was only 24%. Similarly, there has only been a 5% increase in women-led SMEs since 2006. In 2006/7 14% of SMEs were female-led and in 2021 the number was 19%. The number of women in the minority in the management team has increased by 3%, from 7% to 10%. Furthermore, entirely male-led companies have decreased from 52% to 44% - an 8% change.

How the number of women-led businesses has changed over two decades

Business Leadership

2006/07 %



Majority-led by women










Women in a minority





Entirely male-led





Women-led businesses continue to remain smaller than other businesses. In 2007/8 nine out of 10 (90%) women-led SME employers were micro-businesses, compared to 83% of those not led by women. Similarly, in 2021, there were fewer medium-sized businesses (14%), compared with small (20%) and micro (19%) businesses.

Diversity and inclusion have been increasing goals for established companies with efforts to hire more female leads. However, as less than one in five SMEs are women-led with little change this century it suggests more efforts are needed to support women to start and run businesses.

Many barriers remain that prevent women from starting and running businesses long-term. Women remain the main caregivers meaning they are time-poor. Furthermore, the lack of state support for early-age children leads women to choose between high-priced care options and not being able to work. Research also suggests girls are taught from a young age to be nice and prioritise the needs of others over their own. While established companies have introduced diversity and inclusion quotas to drive equality due to consumer demand and new essential reporting for larger companies such as gender pay gaps, SMEs have had less pressure.

Our analysis is a reminder of why International Women’s Day is still necessary. It highlights the progress still needed and shines a light on the changes in policy and societal behaviours required for equality for women in business. We need to support women and non-binary individuals who are in the minority of business owners. At Lem-uhn we’re passionate about helping people with positive ethics to drive much-deserved attention towards their companies. So many female-led companies are short-lived and we hope to support more of them to continue and thrive.

You can download a free guide to getting started at PR here.

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