To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, we explored what means to be a female entrepreneur in a new business environment of ever-booming startup ventures. Despite the perception that gender gap is closing faster than ever – reality, supported by a number of studies, is quite different. There are still hurdles based on gender imparity which businesswomen need to overcome. Studies claim this transition will take over two centuries! Therefore, if we want to see positive changes during our lifetime; we need to act now. This year’s International Women’s Day’s Campaign is launched under a slogan #PressforProgress. Now, more than ever, as they state, there is a strong call-to-action fueled by global activism, to press forward and progress gender parity. That’s why we delved into the reasoning behind, often criticized, fight for gender equality and tried to offer women’s perspective on their business reality.
As women transformed themselves from home-makers to bread-winners, society as a whole slowly followed and has come a long way. Gender parity is still a hot topic, though, and not only because feminism became a buzzword thrown into any Internet discussion whether or not it even tangentially touches women issues. In return, anyone arguing the importance of gender equality, often gets called out: why women issues yet again? It’s often used as a counterargument by those who don’t deem activism for the gender equality as a valid cause (usually stemming from lack of personal experience with the issue). There, however, are the facts and numbers to back up the validity of this debate. But more importantly, this is not only a debate. It’s working women’s everyday reality.
The general consensus is that gender parity is an important achievement which has a strong influence on economies and societies advance. According to World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, however, the gender gap is widening and it’s estimated that gender parity across the world will take another 217 years to close at the pace it’s happening now. While women worldwide are closing the gap in critical areas such as health and education, significant gender inequality persists in the workforce, especially tech industry and in politics.
It would be overly simplified to claim that disproportionate statistics is the biggest issue when it comes to gender parity. Working women – no matter what their occupational particularities are – entrepreneurs, employees and freelancers are facing real, tangible everyday issues – which have been articulated quite well, on numerous occasions. And yet, we are moving slowly – but in the right direction.
A new face of entrepreneurship: the rise of the startups
The business world is changing, at an unprecedented pace. Admittedly, that is not gender related issue. But it does have a huge impact on the female workforce.
In the past, technological progress has had a positive impact on our society; increasing labor productivity, wages, and prosperity. Right now, a new technological wave of digitalization and smart automation is fundamentally transforming the way we work. However, the digital transformation is less about technology and more about intuition, innovation, and intelligence. It’s about understanding how to interpret technology for the benefit of the business.
Transformation is led by a new generation of workforce. Millenials have come of age – a generation which grew up with the Internet, heavily influenced by globalization. This new workforce brought new practices and changed the way of working, customer service industry, shopping, and marketing. It’s a generation with strong self-starter mentality who have brought new entrepreneurial spirit. They embraced “work smarter, not harder” mantra: steered away from traditional 9 to 5 jobs, adopted more flexible schedules and working remotely.
In a way, they opened the world of opportunities for underprivileged individuals by creating a possibility to start a business with little to no startup costs – without the need for business permisses and ability to work from anywhere in the world. A new type of entrepreneurship emerged – a booming startup scene. Ladies all over the world are boarding on this train; often leaving their corporate jobs and venturing into the world of self- employment, as business owners and freelancers.
Female founders do business differently
What sets those ladies apart from their male counterparts is their motivation for self-employment. While men start businesses primarily for growth opportunities and profit potential, women most often found businesses in order to meet personal goals: to feel accomplished. They are driven by the desire for flexibility, ownership, financial security, and in some cases, there was never really another option. Financial success is often secondary; perceived as an external confirmation of their ability rather than as a primary goal or motivation to start a business.
The ability to change the world is a mindset that starts from looking into the mirror and saying, ‘I can’.”, as Karol Hindriks, founder of Jobbatical, puts it.
And as a result, female entrepreneurs are creating some extraordinary companies. Authenticity, trust, and transparency are key values in their business ventures. This ideology extends from how they treat others in their organization to how they do business. They are focused on creating social impact: through their business model and practices. These entrepreneurs seek to gain executive experience while creating an organizational environment that reflects their values; creating companies that offer everything they couldn’t find in their old organizations. This includes forming a relatively flat company structure, wage equality, creating an environment of transparency, providing the opportunity for everyone to express their ideas, and ensuring those ideas are considered. These companies also tend to offer more autonomy, which also includes role fluidity to get the job done and more chances to learn new skills. They are changing traditional workplace turning it into more healthy (and successful) environment!
Dire numbers as a reality check
And even though perception is that number of female founders is on the significant rise, dire statistic begs to differ: the startup scene is predominantly male, leaving female founders to stand in the shadows. Allow us to bore you with numbers for a moment. According to study on Statistical data on Women entrepreneurs in Europe, women constitute 52% of the total European population but only 34.4% of the EU self-employed and 30% of start-up entrepreneurs. When it comes to current data regarding startups founded in 2017: in Europe, only 5% of startup founders are female (as stated in a study by Atomico), while globally that number is significantly higher at 17% – with a side note – it has been the same percentage for past five years.
Why are the numbers of female startup founders so low?
From the statistic above one can conclude that it’s the pure matter of insertion when it comes to pace of closing gender gap. And even though women are embracing entrepreneurship, many are discouraged because they often face challenges not typically shared by their male counterparts.
- Defying social expectations – Gender bias and male-dominated environment led to a sense among women that they didn’t fit in – women may feel as though they need to adopt a stereotypically „male“ attitude toward business: competitive, aggressive and sometimes harsh. However, successful female CEOs believe that remaining true to yourself and finding your own voice are the keys to rising above preconceived expectations.Female entrepreneurs in a male-dominated industry often struggle with earning respect of their colleagues. Many feel like they lack support because of lack of female role-models and mentors in their everyday surroundings. What helps is joining women – focused entrepreneur groups, who provide them mentors and help them grow. Those groups also work as a networking hub, because philosophy that ‚It’s not what one knows; it’s who one knows,‘ is still very much alive and well in the business world.
- Limited access to funding – Lack of networks, knowledge, and links to high-value markets further constrain female entrepreneurship. It’s notable that female entrepreneurs depend on loans substantially less than men: both for starting-up their enterprises and for financing their activities. In 2017 only 2% of venture capital funding went to female founders. In part, it is due to the fact that many financial institutions have yet to develop a sustainable strategy to address this significant market gap. To address this issue, women looking for business investors should build confidence through a great team and business plan. Another way to overcome this issue is by working to get more female investors involved in supporting one another – through female angel investor groups.
- Owning accomplishments – women often downplay their own worth. And while humbleness is a virtue, lack of confidence in a business world can be crippling. Women should recognize the value of their own creative ideas and work to build up the confidence to execute them. Many women naturally have extraordinary common sense, a sharp intuitive sense and a great focus on people. These are extremely valuable in business and can help to set women apart as leaders.
- Balancing business and family life – Work-life balance is a goal of many business people regardless of their gender, but mothers who start businesses have to simultaneously run their families and their companies. And in this area, traditional gender expectations often still prevail. However, successful women advise not to take shortcomings on either front too seriously and to not beat themselves up over the little things. Finding ways to devote time to both, family and business, is key to truly achieving that elusive work-life balance.
- Coping with a fear of failure – According to Babson College’s 2012 Global Entrepreneur Monitor, the fear of failure is a top concern of women who launch startups. Women need to work hard at ignoring that inner voice that discourages them from taking action.
What needs to be done to press for progress?
The question remains, how can we empower ladies audacious enough to follow their passion and venture into their own businesses?
Awareness is the first step to making progress. Quite simply, the visibility of females is crucial to support, encourage and inspire women entrepreneurs. It takes a plan to change the dynamics at play that have kept women entrepreneurs from breaking through. The solution is to ensure a level of female representation right across the board: from women in the management team and diversity of people in the physical space to the role models at panel discussion events and the featured profiles on social media. Women need to see women who are successful.
The second step is to make sure there is an access to information, resources, and leadership. All over the world businesswomen are creating and joining angel groups – whose main purpose is to connect women starting up their businesses with potential investors; mentors and support. As a result, they are making an impact by steering at least a portion of venture capital towards female founders.
And lastly – press for changes in policies. By raising awareness, we are letting those in power know what is important to us. The good news is, at least in Europe, those efforts are not falling on a deaf ear. The European Commission has already put in place a number of support programs for female entrepreneurs. And activists are pushing to further and speed up those changes.
Here at 10vorne.it we want to encourage ladies to be brave and follow their passion. To make that journey slightly easier, we compiled a list of resources which can help women pursuing their own business ventures to become more confident, better equipped with support and connections and, as a result, more successful!
Bottom line is, fight for gender equality is not a matter of statistics. Numbers are just indicators. By striving equality, we are making a step towards creating a better, happier and more successful society for all of us. Because diversity leads to prosperity!
Ozana Buljan is a web designer and an occasional writer. She also reads a lot. Books, blogs, news articles, forum threads (with a huge variety of topics from politics, tech articles, pieces of advice to sob – stories). She enjoys the role of an impartial observer, keeping her mind open to new ideas but reserving a healthy dose of distance. And yet, often she finds herself, with tears in her eyes, getting completely sucked into the story. However, that is only the power of writing! More than anything, Ozana appreciates a good story.
Writing is a skill she brushed up on forums – where wit is almost as appreciated as a decent meme. Curiosity, love for well-written word and diligent research is what drives her to dive into any topic given and finds her way through the labyrinth of facts, „fake news“ and opinions.
At the moment Ozana is working on swaying her career towards web development. That is, actually, how this collaboration came to be: through Udacity’s Nanodegree Program – as we both are scholarship recipients. And that is one amazing thing about Udacity – they are indeed fulfilling their parole #betterTogether; connecting people of different backgrounds and giving them an opportunity to expand their influence and utilize talents for mutual benefit.
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