Female Entrepreneurs: Empowering Better Representation

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Sophie Mayanne
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Jacqueline Bourke
Feb 17, 2021
If I asked which images of female entrepreneurs Getty Images and iStock customers downloaded most last year—what would you visualise? A young female café owner wearing a  face mask turning over an open sign on a café door? An online clothes retailer, who happens to be a young woman, packaging up customer orders for delivery? Or a proud young deli owner with folded arms standing in front of her shop?

These visuals are typical of the sort of narrow stereotypical representations of female entrepreneurs that we come in contact with on a seemingly daily basis. What is common is that they are almost always young in age, mid 20s to mid 30s, owning a business within hospitality or retail. And yet, they couldn’t be further from the rich reality of female entrepreneurship today: a multi‑dimensional reality which may be under threat.

Recent research commissioned by NatWest in conjunction with YouGov shows that female entrepreneurs have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic compared with men. They are running businesses in challenging times, while often raising children of all ages or serving as caregivers themselves. Their lives and challenges are multidimensional, in every sense of the word.

That’s why Getty Images has partnered with NatWest to build and launch The Female Focus gallery—a collection of more than 1,200 images which feature NatWest’s own female entrepreneur customers from across the UK—to illustrate the diversity of female‑led businesses.
"Offering representative imagery which portrays the diversity of female entrepreneurs can challenge stereotypes and empower women to create the futures they want for themselves."
We know people’s perceptions of what is possible are often shaped by what we see. Offering representative imagery which portrays the diversity of female entrepreneurs—across age ranges, backgrounds and business sectors—can challenge stereotypes and empower women to create the futures they want for themselves.

By conveying the everyday experiences, business challenges and relationships of female founders, we're committed to telling a multidimensional story of female entrepreneurship, centered around everything from business and technology to caregiving of customers, colleagues and loved ones.

Armed with some of NatWest’s insights, we developed guidelines for our contributing photographers which emphasized the need for imagery highlighting positive ideas like inclusion, empowerment, fulfillment and success, while also factoring in intersecting identity factors such as age, socio‑economic backgrounds, gender, body size, ability, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion, as well as considering types of businesses and regionality across the UK. These are all key facets which have historically not been emphasized enough in commercial imagery of this key business demographic.

At the forefront was a desire to provide authentic imagery which would allow brands and businesses to improve the way they communicate with potential customers in a visual sense, because we know that better visual communications are both needed and possible. Thanks to NatWest’s research, we know that just one in three UK entrepreneurs is female, and only one per cent of venture funding goes to all‑female teams. NatWest's 'Rose Review into Female Entrepreneurship in 2018' with HM Treasury found that a lack of visible and relatable role models is a major barrier for aspiring female start‑ups. Research from the Unilever Foundry also found that women who had launched businesses routinely reported that they have had to defy stereotypes and overcome others’ expectations of them. They cited the lack of female role models in business.

Breaking stereotypes is also critical to enabling female entrepreneurs, as another significant barrier to entry for female entrepreneurs is lack of funding. Boston Consulting Group reports that women are nearly 16% less likely to receive funding, and when they do, they get on average 30% less than male‑founded start‑ups. We know that imagery has a direct impact on building and breaking stereotypes, so if we can broaden the representation of female entrepreneurs and the sectors women found businesses in, we can support a better understanding of the potential of women as founders in diverse sectors.

How are we seeing this reflected in our own data? Demand for content featuring female entrepreneurs has stalled in 2020. There has been no major evolution in the most popular  content of female entrepreneurs in the last decade. This new image gallery presents an opportunity for all brands to break with these limiting stereotypes and create a more visually inclusive environment that inspires females to found new businesses, to secure funding and set themselves up for equal success.

And that's exactly what this new image gallery aims to do. By featuring a wide range of NatWest’s own customers, this gallery authentically depicts women of all ages and backgrounds working across a diverse spectrum of industries including farming, blacksmithing, recycling, sustainable business, technology and wellness, while also reflecting the impact of the pandemic on how certain sectors operate.  
Reimagining Depictions of Women