Reflections on our gender stereotypes panel discussion

Our Senior Advocacy Officer Izyan Hay reflects on a fascinating panel discussion for the Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business Summit: Tearing Down the Gender Stereotypes in Entrepreneurship.

Last November, as part of the Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business Summit, we held a panel session called “Tearing down the gender stereotypes in entrepreneurship”. The discussion provided a wide-ranging look at how gender stereotypes function as a barrier to women’s journeys towards entrepreneurship— and an insight into what can be done to end this.

We were delighted to hear from high-level speakers across differing sectors, including Helen McEachern, the Foundation’s CEO, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Executive Director of UN Women, Ngozi Oyewole, Founder and Managing Director, Noxie Ltd and Cherie Blair Foundation for Women alumna, and Amy Stursberg, Executive Director of Blackstone Charitable Foundation. The panel was moderated by broadcaster, author and writer Barkha Dutt.

Phumzile started off the session by explaining that in her experience, the collaborations forged with other organisations were key to trying to counter issues such as gender stereotypes. However, there is always room for further progress – particularly when it comes to inclusivity. Attitudes to women across many cultures intersect with other factors, such as perceptions of race; with Black women often being charged with harmful stereotypes such as being ‘angry’. These damaging representations are perpetuated by the media. Phumzile believes that we should challenge such depictions, as “these issues shouldn’t be accepted as fait accompli.”

These issues shouldn't be accepted as fait accompli.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Executive Director of UN Women

On the subject of inclusive partnerships, Amy noted that one of the biggest barriers to entry for aspiring women entrepreneurs is a lack of supportive community. She highlighted that women entrepreneurs spend significantly less time on their start-ups than men due to domestic commitments. Public and company policies, such as those regarding paternity leave, could address this unequal division of labour. Barkha concurred, noting that “until there’s equality in the home, there cannot be equality at work”.

Until there's equality in the home, there cannot be equality at work.

Barkha Dutt, broadcaster, author and writer

As a woman entrepreneur herself, Ngozi emphasised the far-reaching nature of gender stereotypes, noting powerfully that “the impacts of gender stereotyping on women are evident, irrespective of the level of the woman within an organisation… The only way to kill ignorance is not by fire but with knowledge.” Ngozi stressed that tackling gender stereotypes is a shared problem – one that requires a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem, and a community – such as the Road to Growth programme, which Ngozi states is the major factor that supported her to overcome gender stereotypes she was facing in her work.


Gender stereotypes are a root cause of gender inequality and discrimination against women. I think it is therefore crucial that the panellists shared key insights into this issue, which the Foundation also published research about in November.

Helen strongly summarised these sentiments, by adding that while women entrepreneurs face stereotypes on an individual, day-to-day basis; this issue is systemic. I agree with Helen that in order to help overcome these gender stereotypes, “we need to have conversations with people that challenge us. Standing up against power is uncomfortable. Sometimes you need to take a break to build yourself up again – but you can’t give up.”

While the Summit is now over, a wealth of thoughts and ideas emerged from the rich programme of events – and now it is time to put this work into action. Our inaugural research report on ‘Gender Stereotypes and Their Impact on Women Entrepreneurs’ put forth key recommendations, advocating actions for stakeholders to begin the process of breaking down gender stereotypes within the sector. We hope that you too put in the work to educate, participate, advocate or donate to end the stereotypes that hold back women entrepreneurs and bring us closer to a world that will realise economic equality for women.

Gender Stereotypes and Their Impact on Women Entrepreneurs

Read our survey report, which highlights and suggests ways to tackle the gender stereotypes that shape women’s journeys to and through entrepreneurship.

Read now
Gender stereotypes