Scotland's politicians have been told to make women's enterprise a key priority in the next parliamentary session in the face of a "shameful and accelerating" gap in the number of female-led businesses.

Ahead of International Women's Day on March 8, Women's Enterprise Scotland (WES) has highlighted figures showing that between 2017 and 2019, the proportion of female-led businesses across the country fell from 20.6 per cent to 14%. It is believed the situation has deteriorated further since then, as the pandemic has had a disporportionately adverse impact on the employment prospects and earning power of women.

"Studies continue to highlight challenges faced by women in business and there is a broad evidence base which can inform policy development," WES chief executive Carolyn Currie said.

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"If we are to emerge from the pandemic stronger and smarter – if we are going to ‘build back better’ – then the time for talking is over. We simply must prioritise the key actions which will close the quite frankly shameful and accelerating gender gap in enterprise participation and allow women to fulfil their economic potential.”

WES has launched its 2021 Menifesto for Change, in which it is calling on all parties and cadidates to commit to five key areas for positive change.

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"The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed significant vulnerabilities in our economic and social systems and highlighted what were already existing inequalities in our society," Ms Currie said. "Pre-existing barriers for women in business have been exacerbated and recovery planning absolutely must include policies which address the very specific needs of women in business.”

The five priorities in the manifesto include: enabling greater access to finance; ensuring business support services are more aware of women's needs; championing digital inclusion; better collection of data on female enterprise; and working towards a more gender equal economy.