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INTERVIEW | 5 questions to Elisabeth Thand Ringqvist on gender inequality in entrepreneurship

Elisabeth Thand Ringqvist by the sea.
Elisabeth Thand Ringqvist calls for a list of ten factors that influence whether or not women choose to start a business. And an estimate of how much it would cost to do something about it. Photo: Frida Berglund.

The government recently commissioned the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship. But what else can policy do to reduce gender inequality in entrepreneurship? We ask two opposition parties – first up is Elisabeth Thand Ringqvist of the Center Party, Vice Chair of the Committee on Industry and Trade.

What is equal entrepreneurship for you?

– I differentiate between running a business and entrepreneurship, with the latter being a skill one possesses that can be developed. Equal opportunities in business occur when both women and men have the same chances to advance their business endeavors. And we haven’t quite gotten there yet.

– If we consider that the ability to run a business is evenly distributed across genders, then it’s not beneficial for Sweden’s growth if this potential isn’t utilized. I am particularly thinking about businesses run by women that want to expand in welfare sectors, which are now threatened by various types of legislative changes. Entrepreneurs who want to rapidly grow their companies need to be able to focus entirely on that. My experience tells me that the first three years are absolutely crucial. However, unfortunately, it’s not the norm for women to be passionate entrepreneurs; they are expected to manage other daily tasks as well – regardless of how old their children are.

What are your reflections on the Expert Panel’s answers to the questions on unequal entrepreneurship?

– Honestly, I am a bit disappointed. They are researchers in economics and entrepreneurship, but they explain the inequality by pointing to norms and values about equality in society as the driving factors. Then they criticize the lack of action. However, I can’t see that they themselves offer any concrete suggestions on how to address the issue.

What do you think needs to be done to make entrepreneurship more equal? And what concrete proposals does the Center Party have?

– I believe the parental insurance should be more flexible. I participated in a government inquiry that proposed a three-part parental insurance. This means parents could transfer a third of their insurance to a relative or an external person. This would really make things easier for entrepreneurs! However, my party isn’t as radical.

– The Center Party mainly pushes for two things to facilitate women in starting and running businesses. First, it must be ensured that women seeking venture capital, for instance, from Almi or the Swedish Industrial Development Fund, truly have the right conditions to present their business. By systematically reaching out to ecosystems where women are often found, the inflow of business ideas from women will increase. Almi aims to increase the proportion of companies founded and led by women.

– The second part is to investigate whether there’s a higher rate of rejection for women seeking capital. If so, the government’s capital institutions need to figure out whether something in their screening process disadvantages their business models, or if biases are at play. The women who seek this type of capital are a small fraction of all women entrepreneurs. However, they’re a crucial group, because successful growth companies can be sold, leading to the entrepreneurs investing in other businesses. Women who have gone through this process seem to invest in significantly more companies with female founders than men with similar experiences do.

– It’s also important, just like the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth does, to monitor women’s entrepreneurship and develop methods to compile statistics on women’s ownership of companies.

What would you politicians need to know more about from research in order to make decisions that contribute to more equal entrepreneurship – in other words, what areas do you think there is a lack of research on?

– Two things. We would greatly benefit from a list of, say, ten factors that influence whether women choose to start businesses or not, and whether they decide to grow their businesses or not. We also need an estimate of how much it would cost to address these issues.

– Secondly, we need a list of the top ten examples from other comparable countries that show how implementing reform X led to an increase in women’s entrepreneurship in general. Additionally, a list of reforms that have led to an increase in fast-growing companies owned by women.

Several researchers and other experts believe that the measures implemented in recent decades to increase gender equality in entrepreneurship have had little or no lasting effects over time. What is your comment on that?

– It seems like a misplaced conclusion to say nothing has changed. When Maud Olofsson was addressing this issue, almost no women were business angels or had built companies. The 17-network (women who founded companies with > 50 MSEK in annual turnover) didn’t exist. Conditions for women to run businesses have improved. The 3:12 rules have made it more profitable to start a business since you can take out more dividends that are taxed less. TEven the tax system has improved. These changes mean there’s more capital available today than in 2006. Back then, it was challenging to even get a business tax certificate (F-skattsedel) for a company. That’s not the case today, says Elisabeth Thand Ringqvist.

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