WOMEN are being taken less seriously than men when they seek funding for new businesses, it is feared.

Women are half as likely as men to start their own enterprises, the government says.

It believes women face unfair obstacles when starting businesses, and has commissioned a review from senior RBS boss Alison Rose.

Helena Hudson, founder of the Real Eating Company – which has two cafes in Bournemouth – said: “Based on my experience over the last 14 years, there is a lot of casual sexism by banks and finance companies towards women-owned businesses with ambition and aspiration.

“It’s a bit depressing in 2018 that this still happens and I think it’s endemic. It would be a good start to have better female representation at a senior level in the financial industry.”

Gill Donnell, founder of the Successful Women in Business Network and chair of the Dorset branch of the Institute of Directors, said: “Whilst the research still tells us that men are more likely to start down the entrepreneurial journey, the numbers of women now setting up their businesses has increased significantly in the last 10 years.

“My experience, particularly with members of our network, is that more and more women are leaving corporate life to start their own businesses, as this has the potential to give them much greater flexibility to balance the demands of work and family responsibilities.

“A significant issue is still that many female business owners say that they are not taken as seriously by investors and banks when attempting to secure funding for start-ups as their male counterparts might be.”

Helen Jamieson, founder of Ringwood HR consultancy Jaluch, said unconscious sexism was “damaging female-owned businesses and no doubt stopping a fair number of women wanting to go into business at all”. Her business does almost half its spending with female-owned businesses.

“We all have a lot to learn about this topic and how to overcome some of our own biases,” she said.

Bournemouth’s Erin Thomas-Wong, who runs the online community Making Mumpreneurs, said UK now has 594,000 “mumpreneurs” – women who set up businesses after having a baby.

“I think maybe women who have had children, and have been in the situation where they can’t return to their previous careers because of inflexible working hours and the costs of child care, have this extra motivation to start working for themselves.”

Ms Thomas-Wong, who has 8,000 followers and almost 100 subscribers to a membership “cocoon”, said she had not heard complaints of discrimination.

“I guess the situation in my community is that they are often lean start-ups, working on a shoestring budget and building up their businesses slowly, so they aren’t necessarily looking for outside investment,” she added.

Natalia DaCosta, Dorset-based regional director of the Athena Network – a club for female executives and entrepreneurs – had not seen women being put off starting businesses, but had seen “sub-conscious discrimination”.

“I run a business centred towards women in business and am ridiculed – sometimes nicely, sometimes not – by both male and females as to why,” she said.

“But we set up so that we can support and inspire each other, in a world where we have to adapt, fit in, work harder, play harder etc. And what is even more crazy is that as the mother of two young girls, who are not “typical” from a marketing point of view, we battle the reinforcement of stereotypes in everyday simple tasks.”

Erin Thomas-Wong hosts a Mumpreneurs Momentum Day

in London on November 16. Details: makingmumpreneurs.com