The UK economy could be given a £250bn boost if women entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to develop new businesses on the same scale as men, a government-commissioned report said.
It estimates there are 1.1 million “missing” female-run firms and sets out eight ways of boosting the number of female entrepreneurs.
One of the ideas is a code for investors to report gender funding.
Alison Rose, head of the review, said the shortfall was hurting the economy.
Ms Rose, the head of Royal Bank of Scotland’s corporate, commercial and private banking business, said: “I firmly believe that the disparity that exists between female and male entrepreneurs is unacceptable and holding the UK back.”
“The unrealised potential for the UK economy is enormous,” said Ms Rose, who is also deputy chief executive of NatWest.
Ms Rose was commissioned in September by Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, to examine whether there were unfair obstacles preventing women setting up businesses.
Mr Jenrick said: “Today’s striving businesswomen are too often facing barriers to setting up and growing their own enterprise. These barriers don’t just hold back women, they hold back every single one of us.”
Prime Minister Theresa May said the government would encourage more companies to look at the gender split of the companies they invested in.
NatWest, owned by RBS, is to be the first signatory to the code, which commits financial investors to setting out gender funding, while the Treasury will establish a new “investing in female entrepreneurs code” to show a gender split of the investments they make annually.
Released on International Women’s Day, the report said that 6% of UK women run their own businesses compared with 15% in Canada, almost 11% in the US and more than 9% in Australia and the Netherlands.
It calculates that even if the UK achieved the same average share of women entrepreneurs as other countries, some £200bn could be added to the value of the economy.
That rises to £250bn – the equivalent of four years’ economic growth – if women were backed to the same extent as men.
According to the report, in the UK, for every 10 male entrepreneurs there are fewer than five female entrepreneurs.
The report said only one in three UK entrepreneurs is female, which it describes as “a gender gap equivalent of 1.1 million missing businesses”.