The entrepreneurial road to business success is never easy. But one way to make the path to entrepreneurial success even more challenging is simply to be born female. Female entrepreneurs face challenges that their male counterparts have never even considered.
However, in spite of incredible odds against them, females are making amazing headway into the entrepreneurial arena. On this journey, they are being helped by new and creative initiatives designed to connect these businesses with those who can best help them succeed.
Some of the ways women are “getting ahead” in business look like positives on the surface, but in reality are not as great as they sound. For example, the US Department of Education’s finding that college attendance has swung from predominantly male to more than 55% female is great for colleges and their statistics. But what does it really mean?
For many women, especially those who have obtained postgraduate degrees, it could also mean that their degree was obtained not out of a clear need for more information or education, but rather because they knew that extra letters behind their name would provide a much needed leg up on their male competitors.
This is especially true for technical and computer science fields. In these industries, overwhelmingly dominated by men, women are the clear minority. Not only that, the female workforce experiences ridiculously high turnover rates in these fields.
According to a report recently released by Microsoft on workforce diversity, tech giants such as Amazon (40 percent female), Facebook (36 percent female), Apple (32 percent female), and Google (31 percent female) are actually industry leaders in female workforce representation. They are all well ahead of the industry mean, which stands at 28 percent.
For female tech entrepreneurs, things are even more of a struggle. Stephanie Shirley, who 50 years ago started a software company in the UK now known as Xansa, went so far as to take on the traditionally male moniker “Steve” in professional correspondence simply to avoid the need to validate her role as an entrepreneurial tech genius.
This disparity is perhaps most clearly seen in the incredibly small amount of VC funds given to women entrepreneurs. In fact, according to a 2018 Techcrunch study, only 2.2% of all VC funds make their way into the hands of a female entrepreneur.
To this day, despite being the owner of a multi-billion dollar company, Shirley states that gender bias still exists in force. She expresses disappointment in the slow progress of women in tech, particularly in executive roles and startups.
Some Real Progress
However, progress has been made, and continues to be made by and for women entrepreneurs. One step in particular has been very useful in furthering the cause of women startups and business owners. The Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship studied the disproportionate challenges women continue to face: difficulty breaking into male-dominated networks, accessing mentors, and obtaining adequate funding, to name a few.
There are now organizations dedicated to helping women overcome these obstacles. Nonprofits offering networking, technical support, success recognition, funding opportunities, and mentoring exist, all tailored specifically for women. Organizations like the National Association for Female Executives, American Business Women’s Association, Women’s Business Exchange, 37 Angels, and Women’s Business Development Council are just a few of the enterprises dedicated to seeing women survive and thrive.
The great news is, the hard work a few dedicated professionals have put in to mitigating the risks and challenges female business owners has really paid off.
According to a 2017 study conducted by the National Association of Women Business Owners, over 11 million women-owned businesses now exist in the United States alone. The same study states that women owned business generate over $1.7 trillion in annual revenue. They employ 9 million people. This has not been accomplished without great effort.
One such effort was a collaboration between WE Talks and ZURI, called WE Pitch. The event is similar to Techcrunch disrupt but focused on female entrepreneurs. Disrupt has a rough gender track record which, after four years of ‘change’, still has a 2 to 1 ratio of male to female presenters.
On November 27, 2018, WE Pitch congregated both supportive and ambitious female entrepreneurs and distinguished investors for an evening of collaboration, support, and competition. The word-of-mouth advertised event attracted over 300 early stage female startups in the NYC area within weeks of its announcement. The top ten finalists got a chance to showcase their startups in front of seasoned investors (Anu Duggal, Fran Hauser, Tikhon Bernstam, Pat Hedley, Christina Vuleta) and the winner Tzvia Bader received $10,000 which would help her advance her platform TrialJectory that connects cancer patients with right clinical trials.
WE Talks’ founder Lana Pozhidaeva was unsurprised by the quality and quantity of participating startups. Created to fill the need for supporting women-led business innovation, WE Talks facilitates relevant discussions, mentoring and connection opportunities, and educational agendas for its monthly panel-based events. Pozhidaeva hosted the first WE Talks gathering in April when about fifty women attended a panel discussion. Ever since, WE Talks has been growing at a 50% monthly rate becoming one of the fastest growing women’ communities in New York and attracting ambitious women from different industries. Aft
Fran Hauser , a startup investor, long-time media executive and a vocal advocate for women across the globe, expressed her encouragement, saying, “I was very impressed with the quality of the presentations. My vote for TrialJectory came down to the promise of accessibility to life-saving treatments, an inefficient use of financial resources by health care providers and founder/market fit. I loved seeing the camaraderie among the founders and how supportive they were of each other both during the presentations and after the winner was announced. The NYC tech scene at its best!.”
Tikhon Bernstam, Internet entrepreneur, investor, and co-founder of Scribd and Parse, was also affirming regarding the event, saying, “WE Talks and ZURI put together a terrific event. The quality of the presentations was as high as I had seen at YC demo days.”
Endeavors such as WE Pitch are leading and shaping the future for female entrepreneurs. When startups recognize a need, seek to fulfill that need through a great idea, and continue to achieve relevance in their field by constantly evolving to meet changing customer needs, they see success.
This is really what organizations like WE Talks and ZURI are doing. The only difference is, they are doing it for an entire gender. While others are discussing ideas about social justice, WE Talks is facilitating opportunities which move beyond social justice and gender equality goals, by providing experiences for women entrepreneurs that highlight and deeply value their skills and their ideas.
The future success of female entrepreneurs looks like a lot of work. But with support now, there will come a time, not so far from now, where more than five percent of startups are female owned. Women will not hit impenetrable barriers when they have a great dream or a world-changing idea.
The current reality of funding being twice as likely to come through when pitched by a man will be a thing of the past. Ideas will be valued over gender.
Statements like OATH CEO Tim Armstrong’s goal of “creating a position where women can lead” or Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao’s recent and unfortunate use of the word “girl” when referring to Binance women executives on Twitter will not exist. The tech industry will hire within their quotas based on merit rather than archaic notions of what a woman executive is capable of.
In the meantime, this generation’s female entrepreneurs continue to set the stage for what is possible, as they make history, both socially and intellectually.