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How to close the gender gap in entrepreneurship

Founder and venture capitalist Brit Morin speaks to the unique challenges women face and how to overcome them

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The pandemic has laid bare many inequalities, and its outsized impact on women-owned businesses has been among them. We don’t yet know exactly what’s behind the trend, but whether they struggle to access credit, face outsized childcare obligations, or work in the industries suffering most, female entrepreneurs have taken a few steps back. Determining how best to empower them must be a priority as we strategize our economic recovery.

Even before the pandemic, women starting companies faced an uphill battle. The world of venture capital remains male-dominated, with just 12% of investment decision-making roles filled by women. Male VCs are less likely to fund female founders than female VCs, and so these inequities trickle down, making it harder for women to raise the capital they need to make their ideas become realities. In the five-year period after 2008—despite both creating more jobs and generating 10% more revenue than their male peers—female founders received only 2% of all capital. It’s clear the VC space has work to do if we hope to close this gap.

But closing the gender gap in entrepreneurship is not something that VCs can do alone.

“I think the trend is both top down and bottom up,” says Brit Morin, a founder, VC, and business educator focused on female entrepreneurs. “As a VC, I can attest that I’m not just shoveling dollars to women because they are women. I’m shoveling dollars to people who can sell me a rocket ship, and I want them to come to me with confidence that my rocket fuel will get them to the moon and back.”

The challenge then becomes empowering women to approach VCs with that level of confidence.

“Dreaming big and having the confidence that you can make those dreams real is still a trait that far too few female entrepreneurs have,” Morin continues. Cultivating female entrepreneurs begins long before the process of pitching to VCs, and Morin believes we have to start at the beginning: by helping women access their creative spark and develop a powerful faith in their own abilities to execute.

Morin’s first company, Brit + Co, is a DIY lifestyle and media company. She started it in her mid-twenties, and nearly ten years later, has hustled to 65 million in revenue, 1.2 billion page views, dozens of retail products, a best-selling book, a chart-topping podcast, national TV segments and an education business of over 120 classes. Now, as she turns her attention to pulling other women up with her, she sees many parallels between nurturing DIY creativity and nurturing entrepreneurship.

“The courage to do anything creative is equivalent to starting a business. I see the same fear on the face of women when they pick up a paintbrush as when they’re creating their new product website,” she says. “I want them to bulldoze their fear.”

But she knows it’s never easy. Starting a business is nerve-wracking for anyone, but in Morin’s experience, women tend to face three unique challenges.

  1. Perfectionist tendencies. “Many women want to have everything ‘perfect’ before anything launches publicly. This might mean that they won’t start until they have the right idea, or they won’t launch until their product meets expectations. I try to teach them that in reality, their customers will tell them what is perfect and what is not—they will ask for changes even if you think your idea is perfect. You must put something on the wall for people to look at before you finish the painting.” 
  2. Cultural barriers. “Culturally, it’s much more difficult to start a business as a woman. It’s harder to assert yourself when men are still often the decision makers when it comes to things like funding and major deals and partnerships. It’s also harder to keep going when the public is still more critical of female CEOs than male CEOs. You may have to get 1000 ‘no’s’ for every ‘yes’ and that is how the game is played. The best entrepreneurs are the ones who keep going when most people may have quit.”
  3. Self-doubt. “Many women get stuck on the idea that they aren’t experienced enough, good enough or worthy enough to start a company. These theories get wrapped up in our heads from the time we are little girls. We are told we are pretty and cute and not smart or brave. Most women (people?) like to live inside of their comfort zone rather than taking a leap into the unknown. I started my first company at the age of 25 after only managing 3 total people in my career prior. I try to help show these women that you can be any age and any experience level, and still learn to be a successful entrepreneur.”

Helping women surmount these hurdles has become Morin’s life work. On Monday, October 5, she’ll be launching a 10-week virtual startup school called Selfmade, to guide women in developing an idea, making it bigger, creating a pitch deck, and learning how to sell the pitch with confidence. The program will also bring in more than 12 of the world’s best female founders and CEOs to share their stories.

Around her, other successful female entrepreneurs are doing the same. Marie Forleo’s B school, Sophia Amoroso’s Commune class, and Denise Duffeild-Thomas’ “Lucky Bitch” bootcamp all strive to help women quickly and affordably gain the tools they need to launch their own initiatives and get investors to believe in them. By not only imparting general business skills, but tailoring their curricula to particular challenges female entrepreneurs tend to face, these programs seek to close the gap from the bottom up. Paired with rigorous efforts in the VC space to give more women seats at the table and welcome diverse leadership styles, these courses work to chip away at these persistent inequalities.

As we settle into Q4 with no sense of when normalcy will resume, this work is needed now more than ever. Data collected during the Great Recession showed that last time around, female entrepreneurs were the foundation of the economic recovery—and that more broadly, “women-owned businesses in a post-recession environment have been shown to create more jobs.” As many women find themselves in between gigs and considering taking the leap to become their own bosses, it’s worth pursuing a deeper understanding of why the entrepreneurship gender gap persists and how it might be mitigated. While this gap has been widely studied, this unprecedented moment may be a unique opportunity to rebuild an economy that not only includes but esteems people of all genders.

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