Over a quarter of a million female SME business leaders believe their application for finance was denied because of their gender

POSTED: 13th February 2019
IN: Newsroom
  • More than one in ten (15%) female SME business owners say they struggle to be taken seriously because of their gender
  • Almost a quarter (24%) struggle with their work life balance, with just less than a fifth admitting to pushing themselves too hard because of their gender

The latest Aldermore Future Attitudes study has revealed that one in six (17%) female bosses at UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), or 307,900* firms with fewer than 250 employees, believe they have had an application for finance denied because of their gender.

The report, which surveyed more than a thousand business decision-makers across the UK, found that a further 18% of female business leaders felt their applications had been denied because of personal opinion. One in six (15%) felt they struggled to be taken seriously, with 18% saying they had pushed themselves too hard because of their gender.             

Overall, almost half of female business leaders (46%) admitted to experiencing some form of discrimination, compared to 30% of their male counterparts. While men were most likely to face discrimination due to age (12% versus 10%), women were more likely than men to face discrimination due to mental health, sexual orientation, and parental leave and five times as likely to suffer sexual harassment.

The impacts of discrimination can spread into personal lives, with over half (56%) of female SME leaders feeling pressure to work over the holiday periods, compared to less than half of men (48%). More broadly, a range of challenges present themselves for both men and women:

Top five challenges faced by business leaders:

Business issues

% of SME leaders

Balancing family and business life


Pushing yourself too hard


Struggling to be taken seriously


Confidence / coping with a fear of failure


Being treated equally / equal opportunities


Carl D’Ammassa, Group Managing Director, Business Finance at Aldermore, said:
“SMEs play an absolutely critical role in the UK economy, and by not creating an environment where businesses have equal opportunities to succeed, we are robbing ourselves of their potential. The finance industry should be empowering people to innovate and generate wealth and discrimination of any form is detrimental to this. SMEs employ 60% of the UK economy and provide 52% of the UK’s private sector turnover**.

“When choosing companies we want to support and work with, we look at what’s important to us. Does the founder have a vision we believe in? Does the business share our values? It’s about getting to know a business and judging their case on merit. At Aldermore we take pride in getting to know our customers and supporting the ambitions of SMEs across the country.”


For further information, journalists can contact:

Carmel McCarthy, Aldermore
Phone:            020 3553 4216
Mobile:            07464 644754
Email:             carmel.mccarthy@aldermore.co.uk

Twitter:             @aldermorenews

Notes to Editors:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, conducted by Opinium Research between 10 and 16 July 2018 with a nationally representative sample size of 1,002 senior decision makers in UK SMEs.

* SMEs figure – calculated using UK government statistics that say the UK has 5.66m SMEs (2018 figures). Analysis by Moore Stephens of annual filings on Companies House; based on those directors identifiable by gender shows that 32% of directors at UK SMEs are female, the Aldermore Future Attitudes research showed that 17% of female led SMEs believe they have had an application for finance denied because of their gender:

  • 32% of 5.66m = 1.81m
  • 17% of 1.81m = 307,904

** Business statistics taken from the House of Commons briefing paper, number 06152, 12 December 2018: https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06152/SN06152.pdf

For further information about Aldermore, please review our Notes to Editors page.