SCOTLAND'S economy could receive a £7.6 billion boost if the number of female entrepreneurs matched the men who have set up their own business, the new Women's Employment Secretary has said.

Angela Constance said that at the moment a "disproportionately low number" of small to medium businesses were headed by women.

She added that females accounted for less than a third of all self-employed people.

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Increasing the number of women setting up their own business could boost the economy by up to 5 per cent, she argued.

Ms Constance spoke out as she gave her first major speech since being promoted from the post of youth employment minister to Secretary for Training, Youth and Women's Employment in the Scottish Cabinet.

She was speaking to an audience at the Women's Business and Enterprise Conference in Edinburgh. "We must not lose sight of the fact that a disproportionately low number of small to medium sized-enterprises are female-led and that less than a third of self-employed people are women.

"Work from the Hunter Centre indicates that if women's participation rates matched men's, it could also boost the economy by as much as 5 per cent - a difference of £7.6 billion."

She added: "Recent labour market figures have shown a real boost for women in employment.

"If we can match those gains in entrepreneurship, both Scotland's economic growth and its equality in employment will take significant strides forward."