As the UK’s capital, with larger inflows of investment than the rest of the country, London might seem like the leading city for nurturing entrepreneurial ambition, yet our research shows that for female entrepreneurs, Leeds is more highly regarded.

A survey we conducted this year revealed 77% of Leeds-based female business owners would recommend the city to their peers, putting it in second place just behind Leicester (78%), ahead of eight other UK cities, while their perspectives on future business success were also markedly more upbeat than elsewhere, with 43% saying they felt optimistic about their firms’ growth prospects over the coming year, ahead of London in second place (40%).

The findings come from a study into the attitudes and opinions of 2,000 small business owners from a range of sectors across 10 of the UK’s largest cities, which compared insights into work-life balance, growth ambitions, innovation, dynamism and diversity.

Reasons for high praise

The recommendation of the city was based on a range of factors female business leaders were questioned on, including their view on the strength of the city’s business community, the availability of partners and suppliers, and its talent pool. Each of these measures ranked highly among the small business cohort.

The sentiments were echoed by Joanna Robinson (pictured), Managing Director of Mansfield Pollard, a Yorkshire Bank-supported business with over 150 years of heritage in the manufacturing sector and an established presence in West Yorkshire.

Speaking about her experience as a female business leader in manufacturing in the region, Joanna commented: “West Yorkshire has long maintained its position as the UK’s leading location for manufacturing pioneers, with an extremely strong local supply chain and wealth of experienced talent. It’s central geographical location and excellent transport links makes it extremely attractive to not only business’ covering the UK, but also multi-nationals.

“The diverse talent pool, as highlighted by the Bank’s survey, is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas to drive innovation and success.”

Given the findings of the latest SME Health Check Index for Virgin Money UK, owner of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, it’s little wonder that the city, alongside the wider Yorkshire and the Humber region, is an increasingly popular home for female business founders.

The quarterly report from the Group found Leeds had the most diverse mix of businesses (sector-wise) out of any of the 25 cities included. The diversity of the economy is a major asset for the region, allowing it to achieve growth in a more sustainable manner with less exposure to sector-specific shocks.

Challenges remain for female leaders

Though the data revealed strong optimism in some areas, it also indicated there are significant challenges for female entrepreneurs at a national level.

Female business leaders in all cities included in the survey reported facing hurdles in obtaining finance for their enterprises, with only 24% surveyed saying they found it ‘easy’ to access funding for growth, compared to around a third (32%) for men.

“The overall results of the survey are encouraging, particularly as female business leaders reported similar levels of tangible growth to their male counterparts nationwide,” said Sue Douthwaite, Small and Medium sized Business Director at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank (pictured).

“As a Bank with a long history of supporting Leeds-based SMEs, it was also encouraging to see Leeds rank so highly in different facets of the research results. We recognise the importance of the city to the economic growth of the wider Yorkshire area and much of this comes from its smaller firms. We will continue to support their growth plans.

“However, clearly a larger proportion of females are finding it difficult to receive the funding they need. This is an area for us all to work on – remedying this issue can lead to greater growth across the UK and encourage a wider variety of perspectives in the business community.”

Regional versus international perspectives

The data also showed women generally remain more focussed on local, rather than national or international growth, compared to their male counterparts, with 60% of female entrepreneurs operating purely on a regional or national scale, vs 54% for men.

Speaking about this finding, Joanna Robinson said: “I would encourage women-led businesses of this size to consider all routes to market, looking further afield than their local and regional markets, paying particular attention to the international and national market opportunities.

“I would also point out the number of SMEs in this region and to look to each other for support and advice when needed.  We have some great companies in the local area, and we should all take advantage of each other’s experience and knowledge for mutual benefit.”

Our support for female entrepreneurship

At Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, we work with a wide range of female business leaders to help them start and scale their companies. We’re proud to be a lead sponsor of the Woman Who awards and Women’s Enterprise Scotland Awards in 2019, both of which recognise womens’ crucial contributions across the UK.

Find out more about the research at secure.ybonline.co.uk/business