04/06/12 | Uncategorized

Why Women Continue to Lag Behind Men In The Startup Community – And What We Can Do About It

Interviews reveal five common themes contributing to the fewer number of women starting up.
By Beverly Tam (Student, University of California San Diego)

Over the past few decades, women have overcome tremendous obstacles and have made a lot of progress in the area of gender equality in America.

We now make up 46% of the workforce and over 50% of college graduates, yet when we look at the number of women pursuing high-growth startups, there still exists a very apparent gap in numbers.

According to an article published by the Kauffman Foundation earlier last year, women only make up 35% of startup business owners.

The percentage of women starting technology startups is even lower, estimated to be about 5%. So what is causing the significant gap that continues to exist between the number of male and female startup founders?

Determined to dive deeper into this matter, I began my research about three months ago while I was interning with the Startup America Partnership. I interviewed 12 (male and female) startup founders to gather some personal anecdotes and to gain a better understanding of the issue.

Analyzing the feedback revealed five common themes that contribute to the fewer number of women in the startup industry:

1. Family & Values

“When you’re starting a company, you think it’s all going to be glamorous and you’re going to be traveling everywhere. …It’s always so much harder than you think it’s going to be.”
Krista Paul (Founder, UsingMiles)

Starting a company, particularly the kind that you envision to impact the lives of billions of people, is not for the faint of heart. Considering the level of dedication and the amount of stress involved in starting a high-growth company, many women choose not to pursue this industry due to lifestyle choices and other priorities.

2. Natural Biases

“If you’re the only woman, you’re not necessarily ‘part of the gang’… [and that] can potentially play against you.” – Gioia Messinger (Founder, Avaak)

The natural biases that continue to exist in the startup community can be disadvantageous for women, especially while networking and obtaining funding. Considering the small percentage of women in venture capitalism, these biases sometimes create more of an obstacle for female entrepreneurs.

3. Cultural Reasons
Kathryn Minshew, Founder of The Daily Muse, pointed out that “the descriptions and adjectives [used to describe what a successful entrepreneur would look like] are still very distinctly masculine ones.” The pattern of treating boys and girls differently begins at a young age, and studies have shown that this can have a large impact on what career individuals decide to pursue.

4. Lack of Role Models

“When I was growing up, I was like, oh my god, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates… [then] I thought — why am I trying to be like them?” – Shaherose Charania (Co-Founder & CEO, Women 2.0)

The lack of successful female role models in the startup industry can make it difficult for young women to view entrepreneurship as a viable career option. Acknowledging successful female entrepreneurs would help encourage a new generation of young women to pursue this field.

5. Aspiration Gap

As Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg states, “until women are as ambitious as men, they’re not going to achieve as much as men”. Regardless of the natural biases, cultural expectations, and other obstacles that may exist in the startup industry, women need to be able to push past these challenges in order to pursue their career goals.

The fact that women now make up 35% of the overall entrepreneurial activity in America is an incredible improvement from the previous decades, but we can still proactively take actions to accelerate this process. We can start by recognizing more successful female entrepreneurs, and by continuing to encourage women to pursue not only entrepreneurship, but venture capitalism as well.

To read the complete paper, Exploring the Gap Between Male and Female Startup Founders, click here.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Beverly Tam is a senior at the University of California, San Diego pursuing a B.S. in Management Science with a minor in Psychology. During her time in college, she spent a semester studying abroad in Córdoba, Spain, worked for a summer at Deloitte Consulting, and most recently completed an internship with the Startup America Partnership in Washington, DC. When she has free time, she enjoys working on her amateur baking blog, traveling, and doing yoga. Follow her on twitter at @beverlytam.



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