Jane Austen is now emblazoned on Britain's £10 note. Back in Austen's day, women were entirely reliant on their fathers, brothers and husbands. Luckily, times have moved on and it would appear that women have shaken off the patriarchal shackles of the 19th century. But we still hear of the gender pay gap issues and sexism in the workplace.

So how would a 21st century Jane Austen deal with these problems? Perhaps she'd set up her own business--potentially a publishing house. That's what actual 21st century women are doing to escape male-dominated environments.

The proportion of working-age women that went into business rose by 45 percent in the three-year period between 2013 and 2016, compared with 2003 to 2006. And 85 percent mentioned flexible working conditions as a reason for setting up their own business.

But is flexibility the only pull for women?

Freedom of choice

Dana Denis-Smith, ex-Linklaters lawyer who founded Obelisk Support, thinks there's more to female entrepreneurship than flexibility. Obelisk Support is a company that connects a pool of legal talent (largely female) to clients who need additional capacity and flexible resources.

"Yes, flexible working is important, but I think it's more about choice," Denis-Smith says. "The choice to create a female-friendly culture, the liberty to become your own person and not a cookie-cutter type that corporates seem to cultivate. I saw a problem in the legal industry and decided to fix it."

So what is a female-friendly culture? "A culture that is built on collaboration -- on a sense of 'tribe' and joint purpose," Denis-Smith says. "A culture that is competitive but for a bigger purpose not just for individual wins. Once you understand that people prefer to work together rather than compete against each other, you find a really culture develops.

"Another important ingredient I think is trust," she adds. "If the culture is built on trust, then a lot of working practices help women work in a way that suits their family circumstances."

Drive

Amanda Campbell is a 25-year-old co-founder of Comp-a-Tent, which is exactly what it sounds like: a compostable tent. She tells a similar story of challenging the status quo.

"I stayed behind, working, after a festival and saw several thousands of tents just abandoned," Campbell says. "It was about half the tents. I love festivals, but the mountain of waste completely overshadows the one weekend of fun."

Comp-A-Tent received a U.K. grant to solve this problem--and the new tents are reportedly on schedule to be available at selected festivals next summer.

Research suggests women, in general, are more emotional than men. This is normally translated into why women are harder to work with or why we don't see women in as many leadership roles, but I think this can translate into drive.

Think Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind. She's entirely overcome by emotion, for Rhett, the War etc. but she turns this emotion into drive to get back to her home, Tara--and succeeds.

Similarly, Campbell says that to keep her going on a day when everything seems to be going wrong, she pictures the tents and how it enraged her, takes a deep breath, and carries on.

Passion

This yearning for change shown by Denis-Smith and Campbell has been deemed a particularly female quality: A study of great Wimbledon champions shows that women are more likely to defy convention and portray more passion than men.

Denis-Smith adds:

"Entrepreneurship it's not really just a woman thing--without the passion to create and build no entrepreneur would last. But there is a tendency for women to be more caring and less transactional--they look for impact and revenue, not revenue only. Women are more empathetic and so that can sometimes be, wrongly, described as emotional. It is a deliberate misunderstanding of how ambitious women really can be."

Perhaps female entrepreneurship is the vessel that will bring women's liberation into full fruition: the result of the concoction of rejection and defiance of consensus intertwined with fervent passion, voyaging out of the misogynistic abyss and into open water. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf: It's clear that no bolt can be set upon the freedom of women's minds.

Published on: Sep 21, 2017