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“There’s an untapped potential” Mairead Harbron, Tax Partner at PwC on why more still needs to be done to encourage female entrepreneurs

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By Megan Burns
16th Jun 2022
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Melanie Mullan

“There’s an untapped potential” Mairead Harbron, Tax Partner at PwC on why more still needs to be done to encourage female entrepreneurs

Mairead Harbron, Tax Partner at PwC, has helped countless entrepreneurs through their business journeys, and she loves that more women are now joining the ranks.

When you imagine the day-to-day workings of a tax advisor, you perhaps picture spreadsheets of endless figures. But Mairead Harbron, a Tax Partner with PwC’s Private Client department, says the best part of her job is working with individuals and building relationships with them.

Many of the people Mairead works with are entrepreneurs, and she enjoys seeing their journeys develop. “Most of my current clients started with me when their businesses were in their infancy, and to see them develop and overcome a lot of adversity, the ups and downs of business and economic cycles, is fantastic. I get a lot of fulfilment from playing a part in their journey and seeing them develop over time.”

She advises clients on everything from personal tax matters to structuring tax for business, but over the last 15 years she has noticed that she’s working with more women now than ever before. “As more and more women are taking the plunge and growing their own businesses, I’m getting the opportunity to work with more businesswomen, which is fantastic. I also meet more and more female entrepreneurs at business events and there’s certainly no shortage of fantastic female Irish entrepreneurs, as we witnessed recently at the IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards.”

While Mairead is positive about the increase in Irish women starting their own business, she believes that there are still barriers to entry. One of these is the issue of funding, which can be harder for women to secure. As Mairead points out, the gender pay gap has a knock-on effect. “Because on average women are earning less than men, it means they have less savings to get a bank loan to go out and start their own business.”

Another issue is women having enough belief in themselves to take the plunge. “A lot of women don’t see themselves fitting into that bracket of being an entrepreneur,” Mairead says. “One of the biggest barriers to female entrepreneurship is self-belief, because it’s such a big risk to take.”

Happily, this is changing. Mairead points to the many amazing role models for Irish businesswomen, and says their importance cannot be understated. “Like any under-represented group, female entrepreneurs are more prone to impostor syndrome, feeling isolated, and lacking confidence.” Mentors and role models are a powerful way to combat this.

“You can have as many motivational posters around as you want, but the most tangible thing for people to have is advice from somebody who’s actually been through the same situation,” Mairead says. “Hearing from another woman who’s faced a lot of the same challenges is really powerful in terms of encouraging women to take the leap into entrepreneurship.”

On the financial front, she points to the supports that are now available for those starting businesses, such as the Local Enterprise Office Women in Business Network, the ACORNS programme, and the Enterprise Ireland Competitive Start Fund. However, Mairead makes the point that providing more financial support for female entrepreneurs would be a win-win situation.

“If you step back and look at the potential for women to contribute to the Irish economy, I think you can easily make the case that extra investment in this area would be worthwhile. Less than 20 per cent of entrepreneurs in Ireland are female, but statistics from the US show that female-owned companies grow at twice the rate of other US firms. Encouraging women into entrepreneurship would therefore have the capacity to help grow the Irish economy, and produce more jobs. There’s an untapped potential in Ireland that we have of women that could really make a difference.”

“Hearing from another woman who’s faced a lot of the same challenges is really powerful in terms of encouraging women to take the leap into entrepreneurship.”

Her advice, then, to any women considering starting their own business, is that once you have your business plan in place and the numbers work, “Then it’s up to you to have faith. Believe in yourself. Get mentors around you, find your network, and really go for it.”

It’s a formula she’s seen bring success to many of her clients over the years, despite pitfalls and difficulties along the way. From putting tax structure into a start-up, or helping a client through a business exit, Mairead really does see the full lifecycle of these companies.

With the recent announcement that she has been made a partner at PwC, Mairead is looking forward to the new opportunities and challenges it will bring alongside her work, continuing to guide clients through their business journey. She hopes, too, that the number of female entrepreneurs will continue to grow.

“I love the fact that I am working with more women who have become successful,” she says. “I feel really lucky to be in the position to work with these interesting people that are on a journey, and need a bit of advice along the way.”

PwC Ireland is dedicated to helping women start, grow and sell their businesses – and manage their wealth thereafter. To find out more about how Mairead and her team can support you, visit: pwc.ie

Photography: Melanie Mullan