Going into business: female innovators

The statistics leave little to be desired: only 1 in 4 high-growth companies are led by female founders. What’s more, investments into female-led businesses are declining – receiving just 1.5% of UK investment. At the same time, the gender gap continues to close, with a record-breaking 72.4% of British women in employment in 2019 (vs 78.4% male employment).

This scenario is the same across Europe. Female financial literacy was one of the hot topics presented by Prometeia at Forum Women ONboarding, a UniCredit initiative as part of the UniCredit4Women journey designed to value talent and female growth in the world of banking.

According to Francesco Giordano, Co-CEO Commercial Banking Western Europe at UniCredit, there’s still a huge gap when it comes to female digital entrepreneurship and financial skills. To support women in this area, UniCredit has launched two new initiatives: a female mentoring journey (Women ONboarding) and four Banking Academy financial education journeys. The initiative is part of a wider strategy within the group to protect all forms of diversity and favour inclusion.

Female founders can change the track

Lifeed CEO Riccarda Zezza was part of the panel. The event offered an opportunity to understand how female founders can make all the difference in our post-covid world. In particular, a new generation of entrepreneurs can teach their children to see their finances in a different way. “Women are inherently innovative, offering something different to the status quo on the market, where most businesses are male”, explained Riccarda Zezza.

“Female founders can bring something specific to the table. They can build new paths without having to radically adapt their thoughts or language. It’s important for women to go into business because the world needs a different point of view and new solutions. It’s not about allowing women to run on the same track as the men. Instead, it’s about changing the track to make it more suitable, welcoming the potential of all involved”.

The importance of STEM subjects

To express their potential, women need to be financially independent. Today, education really makes the difference. But few girls choose to study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), as Ersilia Vaudo Scarpetta, astrophysicist and Chief Diversity Officer at the European Space Agency highlighted. “STEM subjects have a great potential to empower women and raise employment figures. They give the highest pay rises and reach gender equality in a shorter time frame”.

According to the World Economic Forum, it will take at least two centuries to bridge the gap between men and women. Italy is way down the Osce gender gap list when it comes to financial knowledge. There are still too few female-led businesses. The ones that do exist are noted for their innovation and social focus.

Scarpetta also emphasised the importance of mentorship for young women. It’s about making space for them to share their experiences and find solutions through their network. It starts with following positive and inclusive leaders. Antonella Mansi, President of the Florentine Centre for Italian Fashion, believes STEM education “is crucial, together with family and scholastic education, ensuring women are ready for the world of business”.

Financial education begins at school and at home

Educating our children on financial independence is incredibly important.  Irene Facheris, expert and trainer in gender studies, remembers how her parents taught her to manage her pocket money on an Excel file when she was a child. “Families (and in particular, women) require more financial education”. That’s not all. “School plays its part too, because the pay gap problem starts before we even reach the world of work. We also need to consider that financial violence happens in the family context when managing financial resources”.

The idea of sustainable entrepreneurship, from a human point of view, was highlighted by Lavinia Biagiotti, president and CEO of the Biagiotti Group, who believes “we’re here to leave a legacy for both the environment and people”.

Finally Magda Bianco, Director of the department for client protection and financial education at the Bank of Italy, highlighted the correlation between the level of financial and mathematical competencies. “Schools need to focus on finance, which society often sees as a negative thing. We also need to look at maths in a less competitive and more engaging way. If we can avoid creating stereotypes, we’ll give women more confidence in their own abilities”.