The Blog

Breaking Barriers for Women’s Economic Participation

Feb 19, 2024 | Corporates


Financial inclusion is critical for empowering women, enabling them to make informed decisions about their finances, increase their economic opportunities, and contribute more significantly to their families and communities. Yet, data reveals a persistent gap: according to the World Bank, globally, 65% of women have a bank account compared to 72% of men, a gap that has remained stubbornly consistent over recent years. In the UK, despite being one of the world’s leading financial centres, women are disproportionately represented among the financially excluded, with factors such as lower income, part-time work, and career breaks for childcare contributing to this divide.

The importance of addressing this gap cannot be overstated. Financially inclusive societies tend to be more equitable and prosperous, with women’s economic participation being a key driver of growth. As such, this article will explore the multifaceted nature of the gender gap in financial inclusion within the UK context.

Economic Disparities

One of the primary barriers is rooted in the persistent economic disparities between genders. Women in the UK typically earn less than men, with the gender pay gap standing at 15.4% in 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This wage disparity is compounded by a higher propensity for part-time work, often due to caregiving responsibilities, which further reduces their income and savings potential. Lower earnings translate into reduced access to financial products and services, as women may not meet the minimum income requirements set by financial institutions or may perceive such services as unaffordable.

Access to Credit and Investment Opportunities

Access to credit is another significant hurdle. Traditional lending models and risk assessments often do not account for the non-linear career paths more commonly experienced by women, such as breaks taken for childcare or eldercare. This can result in a lack of credit history or lower credit scores, making it challenging for women to secure loans for personal or business purposes. Furthermore, women’s lower participation rates in the investment market exacerbate their financial exclusion. A report by the Investing and Saving Alliance (TISA) highlights that only 10% of UK women hold an investment product compared to 17% of men, limiting their ability to grow their wealth over time.

Societal and Cultural Norms

Societal and cultural norms play a crucial role in shaping women’s financial inclusion. Traditional views on gender roles often influence financial decision-making within households, sometimes relegating women to a secondary position in managing finances. This is compounded by a lack of targeted financial education for women, which contributes to lower financial confidence and literacy. A survey by YouGov found that only 23% of women in the UK feel confident in choosing the right financial products, compared to 40% of men.

Case Study: Nationwide Building Society’s Female Entrepreneur Fund

Recognising these barriers, initiatives like the Nationwide Building Society’s Female Entrepreneur Fund aim to address the gap in access to credit for women. Launched as a part of its wider commitment to financial inclusion, the fund provides dedicated financial support and resources to women-led businesses across the UK. This initiative not only offers much-needed capital but also provides mentorship and networking opportunities, acknowledging the multifaceted nature of the barriers women face.

By examining these barriers and the efforts to overcome them, it becomes evident that achieving financial inclusion for women requires a holistic approach. Addressing economic disparities, ensuring equal access to credit and investment opportunities, and challenging societal norms are all critical steps towards empowering women financially. The next sections will delve into innovative solutions and the broader impact of enhancing financial inclusion for women.

Case Study: NatWest’s Back Her Business

A standout example of targeted support for women’s financial inclusion is NatWest’s Back Her Business program. This initiative was designed to support female entrepreneurs in the UK through crowdfunding partnerships, grant funding, and tailored business support. Recognising the unique challenges women face in securing funding, Back Her Business provides not just financial resources but also mentorship and networking opportunities to help women build successful businesses.

These innovative solutions highlight the dynamic approaches being undertaken to promote financial inclusion among women. By addressing the specific needs and barriers faced by women, these initiatives pave the way for greater economic participation and independence. 

Case Study: The Impact of Women in Leadership on Financial Inclusion

Research demonstrates that organisations with women in leadership positions are more likely to innovate in products and services, including those that promote financial inclusion. A notable UK-based example is Anne Boden, CEO of Starling Bank, who has been instrumental in driving the bank’s focus on accessible and inclusive financial services. Under her leadership, Starling Bank has introduced features designed to cater to underserved segments, including women, showcasing how female leadership can influence organisational priorities towards greater financial inclusion.

The enhancement of women’s financial inclusion stands as a testament to the transformative power of targeted efforts to dismantle barriers and foster inclusion. Not only does it pave the way for individual women to achieve financial independence and security, but it also contributes to the creation of a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous society. 


The journey towards enhancing women’s financial inclusion is both a challenge and an opportunity to reshape the economic landscape into one that is more inclusive, resilient, and equitable.

The significance of financial inclusion extends beyond the individual level, promising wider economic growth, reduced poverty and inequality, and the fostering of social and cultural transformation. The case studies of Nationwide Building Society’s Female Entrepreneur Fund and NatWest’s Back Her Business, among others, exemplify the tangible impacts of such initiatives, demonstrating how strategic support can unlock the potential of women entrepreneurs and contribute to a more dynamic and inclusive economy.

As we look to the future, the goal should be to not only close the gender gap in financial inclusion but to also create an environment where women are equally represented, valued, and empowered in the financial ecosystem. This includes leadership roles within financial institutions, where women can influence the design and delivery of financial services to ensure they cater to the diverse needs of all women.

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