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Perceptions of Female Business Ownership in Australia [Study]

by OCAdmin

Perceptions of Female Business Ownership in Australia [Study]

How many women do you think own and manage businesses in Australia? What percentage of business owners do you think are women?

So, what did you guess? Were you ever the egalitarian dreaming of a nice round 50 per cent? Or playing the pessimist and guessing 20 per cent?

It is a question that makes you stop and think. Well, it definitely made us stop and think. And that’s why we decided to ask the Australian public their best guess.

We surveyed over one thousand Australians from all around Australia, aged 18 to 65+, asking them the very same question.

What percentage of business owners do you think are women?

Before diving into the survey results, let’s set the record straight with the official numbers. What is the actual percentage of female business owner-managers? According to the ABS Labour Force Data from July 2019, almost 35% of full-time business owners were women.

Survey findings

In our survey, we asked Australians what percentage of business owners they thought were women. As stated above, approximately 35% of business owners in Australia are women, so what did our respondents think?

55% of respondents thought that women represented less than 35% of business owners.

Isolating the results by gender showed that number jumps up to 59% of men thinking that represented less than 35% of business owners, and jumps down to 50% women thinking the same.

So we can see that men have a more pessimistic view of the number of women owning businesses. Male respondents were also twice as likely to think that women represent less than 10% of business owners, at 12% opposed to only 6% of women who thought the same.

5% of people surveyed were in the know and answered correctly with 35%.

7% of women were aware of the statistic, which is twice as many as the 3.5% of men who answered with 35%. The most aware age group was the 45 – 54 year-olds.

Older generations were more likely to think that women represented more than 35% of business owners

Often slated as ‘less woke’, our results showed that the older generations were more likely to be optimistic and think that more than 35% of business owners are women. 63% of the youngest generation surveyed (18 – 24 year-olds) believed that women represented less than 35% of business owners in Australia, while only 43% of those aged 65+ believed the same.

This result was particularly surprising, particularly as the number of female business owners has been trending upwards since the late 1990s, and the improvements made in social awareness and general progressiveness. Further research needs to be done with this age group to delve further into their reasonings. If one could assume it was just a basis of less life experience than other age groups, would the result not have been more around the mid-way point?

However, the likelihood of an Australian woman being a business owner does increase with age, so perhaps older generations are more aware of women of their own age that they know running businesses.

We asked Marie Mortimer, Managing Director of what she thought about these statistics

“This doesn’t surprise me at all because women are naturally more humble about their achievements and are hesitant to tell people about all the amazing things they are doing. I even now play down my achievements with and get nervous talking about myself and what I’ve done in my career. I think as I get older I’m more aware that my achievements are something to celebrate, and by talking more about my journey as a female in finance and technology, I start a conversation and encourage other women to speak up. If we all speak up more, as a group we make a difference, paving the way for more women to excel in the future.”

We also asked Karen Edbrooke, owner of Big Girls Don’t Cry Anymore

On the other hand, Karen Edbrooke, owner of the online and in-store Bra shop, did find our results surprising, saying “I am surprised by this, many of our competitors, suppliers, and supporters are women business owners.  We love the support of all businesses however we definitely love it even more when it’s a business owned by a female.”

What do you think are some of the issues holding women back from starting their own businesses?

Karen Edbrooke

“I think that for anyone, male or female, it is a lack of knowledge, money and support.  I was lucky to have the support of my late husband when I launched the company over 28 years ago.  Since then continually learning and developing the business, always staying ahead of the curve, a staff that is devoted and passionate about the product and company, and of course having little money to continue to build, improve and expand the business.“

Online bra sales at Big Girls Don’t Cry Anymore have increased 50% during COVID-19 in 2020, what put BGDCA in a good position to push through these volatile times?

Before Covid and lockdowns, at BG in 2017, we developed Virtual Bra Fitting appointments. We wanted to be able to help more women all over Australia and New Zealand find the perfect fitting bra. Being able to see someone face to face via Skype or FaceTime was the next step of our fitting service. This has been instrumental to us during this time. Continually helping women all over the country and NZ has been incredibly rewarding.”

Growth over time

The number of female-owned and run businesses has increased by only 3% over the past twenty years [4]. What are some of the reasons why this number is not increasing at a faster rate?

Obstacles to starting a business

What are some of the obstacles women face when trying to start their own business?

Gender investment gap

In 2016, Fortune magazine found that women were the recipients of only 4.94% of all venture capital deals in the US to secure funding for new businesses [3]. In Australia, the stats look a lot better, at 26% of venture capital investments having female co-founders [5]. However, we can still contrast this number to the proportion of female-owned businesses (35%).

Unpaid work

One thing you really need when starting a business is time. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) Survey from 2016 highlights that women spend on average 7.1 hours more than men on unpaid work [2], which includes housework, childcare, and care of disabled or elderly relatives. 

Results from the HILDA survey also show that even in female breadwinner and ‘approximately-even earning’ relationships, women are still doing more of the unpaid work.

Advice from Australian business founder

Marie Mortimer, Managing Director of,

“A lot has been written in recent years about how women need to start taking more risks. We are perfectionists through and through, and while that makes us good business leaders, it can also hold us back from trying something new and following our dreams. No matter where you are in your career journey, sometimes it’s worth taking the risk and making a radical move – stop trying to be a perfectionist, have the confidence in yourself to follow your dreams.”

Let’s get down to business

Do you have a great idea for a new business but don’t know where and how to start? At Open Colleges, we have a range of Business and Leadership courses available online for you to start today! Contrary to intuition, unpredictable times present great opportunities for entrepreneurs to break through with new ideas and new solutions. Our online business courses are a great way to start your business career, no matter your gender or age.

Survey Methodology

Survey results included responses from over 1,000 people Australians aged 18 and over. The facilitators of this study incentivised two groups of respondents to participate in this study:

  • Internet users across a range of programs who are rewarded for their opinion in exchange for access to free content
  • Smartphone users who opt in to participate in opinion polls in exchange for rewards determined by the research company  

Internet users’ locations are determined using their IP and their demographic data is based on the target user profile of the website. Smartphone users who opt-in provide this information upon signing up to the rewards program.

The facilitators of this study ensure a balanced opinion poll by ensuring the sample of the study reflects the demographics of the target audience. For example, internet users over the age of 18. Such demographics include age, gender and geographic location. In Australia, we rely on data from Government sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics and other sources of data provided by web partners such as Google.

The facilitators of this study maintain the integrity of the research data by using the following 2 steps:

  1. Stratified sampling by filtering demographic data to align with the intended audience, and
  2. Post-stratification weighting to ensure consistency between intended and actual audience population data.








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