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Entrepreneurship Policies through a Gender Lens


business woman working at office holding glasses

Barbara J. Orser

by Barbara J. Orser Website ›

Full Professor, Deloitte Professor in the Management of Growth Enterprises

Originally published on LinkedIn on May 14, 2021

We are delighted to announce the release of the report, Entrepreneurship Policies through a Gender Lens by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD). This timely report contains a collection of 27 policy insight notes on long-running policy issues in women’s entrepreneurship support. OECD data and editorial insights reinforce the policy note findings. This report will be of interest to women entrepreneurs, policymakers, women’s enterprise advocates, and academics at a time when evidence-based sights are needed to drive post-pandemic recovery measures.


This report is a collaboration between the OECD and the Global Women’s Entrepreneurship Policy Research Project (Global WEP), which is a network of established researchers from over 34 countries. The project was led by Jonathan Potter (Head of the Entrepreneurship Policy and Analysis Unit) of the OECD and Dr. Colette Henry, Chair of Global WEP - (Dundalk Institute of Technology, Ireland; Chair, Global WEP), Dr. Susan Coleman (University of Hartford, United States) and Dr. Barbara Orser (University of Ottawa, Canada). Excerpts from the Executive Summary follow.

What will you learn from this report?

Women’s enterprise issues have become even more relevant as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to set women’s entrepreneurship back 20 years. The notes contained in this report cover a range of policy challenges – including in relation to formal and informal institutions, access to finance, access to skills and policy design – and policy instruments that can be used to address them. The notes underline core principles and good practices to follow in designing and implementing policies.

This report also offers an overview of the state of women’s entrepreneurship in OECD countries and beyond, using gender-disaggregated indicators on business creation, self-employment and barriers to business start-up, sustainability and growth. These indicators illustrate gender gaps in entrepreneurship, not only in activity rates but also in the proportion of entrepreneurs who create jobs for others. Persistent gender gaps call on public policy to continue to address gender inequalities in entrepreneurship.

Overall, this report provides an important source of new insights to assist policy makers and advocates seeking to strengthen holistic interventions in support of women’s entrepreneurship, and to encourage and facilitate peer learning across countries.

Report highlights

The policy insight notes in this report argue that mainstream entrepreneurship policies and programmes are not gender neutral. Explicit approaches are needed to address barriers to entrepreneurship that are experienced differentially by men and women, and to ensure that women have equal access to policy support aimed at entrepreneurs.

To an extent, this reality is recognised by the wide range of dedicated policy interventions for women’s entrepreneurship that have been put in place internationally across many contexts. The interventions address barriers in the areas of entrepreneurship culture, entrepreneurship skills, access to finance, entrepreneurship networks and ecosystems, and regulatory institutions, as well as approaches to designing and delivering policies to achieve gender equality. These approaches illustrate the dynamic nature of women’s entrepreneurship policy, as well as the gains that are being made as policy makers recognise the needs and contributions of women entrepreneurs.

However, women’s enterprise policy initiatives are often fragile – time-limited, small-scale, sparse, symptom-oriented – and not sufficiently underpinned by a genuine vision and framework for women’s entrepreneurship. To address these limitations, there is a need to increase awareness and knowledge about policies that engage and support women entrepreneurs within entrepreneurial ecosystems. Adherence to gender-blind entrepreneurship policies will be ineffective in achieving the benefits to be had from truly stimulating equal opportunities in entrepreneurship.

There are three main priorities for further policy development:

Overarching policy frameworks for women’s entrepreneurship need to be introduced

In some countries, policy frameworks for women’s entrepreneurship are well-developed and women’s entrepreneurship programmes work effectively towards the global objectives and priorities set out in these frameworks. However, in other countries, women’s entrepreneurship policies are incomplete or ineffective, often because the programmes are not consistent with global policy objectives. Governments should do more to strengthen policy frameworks for women’s entrepreneurship. They also need to dedicate greater resources to ensure that programmes are informed by frameworks and are sustainable in the long-term.

Women’s entrepreneurship policy interventions must reflect context

Governments need to ensure that policy interventions are appropriate for the institutional, cultural and social contexts. The policy insight notes describe vastly different contexts, ranging from developed economies where gender inequalities persist but are relatively subtle to developing economies with strong patriarchal systems. Women’s entrepreneurship policy can be effective in any context, but the objectives, instruments and delivery mechanisms must be selected accordingly.

More evaluation evidence is needed as a foundation for scaling policy initiatives

A wide variety of policy instruments and delivery approaches have been put in place in many countries. A key challenge is to assess the effectiveness of these approaches in different situations and different combinations and to scale and transfer the most effective approaches. More evidence is needed on the effectiveness of women’s entrepreneurship supports in different contexts. This includes, for example, the impacts of measures for training and mentoring, financing, and the role of measures that influence underlying institutional conditions. Information is also needed on the extent to which measures need to be applied as packages. The lack of evaluation evidence represents a lost opportunity to learn from high impact policy interventions and may lend to the vulnerability of women’s enterprise programme funding.

Download the Entrepreneurship Policies through a Gender Lens report