Three of the North East's key business centres have been praised for backing women in business.

Newcastle is ranked the second-best city to be a female entrepreneur in England, with Darlington and Sunderland close behind.

New research by iwoca, one of Europe’s largest small business lenders, used ONS data on female representation among the self-employed workforce, childcare costs, gender pay gap, and small business growth.

Wolverhampton came out top, with Newcastle in second place, scoring highly for having high levels of self-employed women alongside high levels of small business growth. Half (49%) of the self-employed in the area are women and Newcastle’s number of small businesses grew by 9% between 2018-2023.

Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, said: “Female founders and small businesses already make a fantastic contribution to our city’s economy and closing the gender gap in business start-ups and investment would drive growth in our region. I look forward to seeing more and more women entrepreneurs calling Newcastle home.”

Darlington and Sunderland come in third and fourth place, respectively, thanks to low childcare costs and a small gender pay gap. Darlington parents pay an average £4.75 per hour, 10 pence more than their Sunderland counterparts, who pay £4.65.

However, Darlington boasts a smaller pay gap, with women earning an average of 17% less than men per week, while in Sunderland this figure jumps to 20% less. 

Darlington MP Peter Gibson said: "It’s fantastic to learn that Darlington is number three in the country as the best place to a be a female entrepreneur. I’ve met many of our fantastic female business leaders here and they are an inspiration.

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"Darlington is going places, with our leading science, engineering and logistic businesses together with the Darlington Economic Campus there is a wealth of opportunities in our town and I hope that this news inspires even more women to get started in business".

Seema Desai, Chief Operating Officer at iwoca added: “Small businesses contribute so much to the growth of our economy, and it’s vital that any barriers preventing more women from starting and scaling their own companies are broken down.

"We are proud to have a completely gender-blind loan application process where our decision-making is based solely on business performance. Making sure the UK’s female entrepreneurs have the right environment to thrive is key to developing the next generation of amazing British companies.”