Why We Have Too Few Women Entrepreneurs?

why we have less women entrepreneurs

Writing this while watching the India-Pakistan (women) ICC World T20 cricket match, I find that the lack of women, if in any field, is because of lack of opportunities early on in their lives, lack of funding and lack of support from near ones, which is all aplenty for their male counterparts. Sample this: men are twice as likely to start-up as compared to women, and investors are four times more likely to invest in an all-male start-up as compared to one in which there is at least one woman. Also (as long as we’re doling out facts), according to a 2015 study, a whopping 92% of investing teams are all-male and only 4.2% of venture capitalists’ funds go to women-led start-ups.

Babson College’s study also found that only 3% of VC-backed companies had female CEOs. Even in the corporate world, there isn’t anything to boast about – just 4% of S&P 500 companies have women CEOs. All this, while women comprise more than half the population, have more activity on social networks and graduate at a higher rate than men.

Biases Faced:

Once women do startup, they’re faced with absurd and inappropriate questions from investors and VCs, like when do they plan on getting pregnant, how will they manage work-life balance, and whether they’re dating or single (?!).

Reading about experiences of Jeevika Tyagi and Kanika Khosla, founders of Stappu, in the Economic Times, who say that one of them had to wear a scarf around the neck just to hide her neckline during pitches and they’ve heard comments like they will be more successful in the fashion industry than in running an e-commerce startup, and those of Shabnam Agarwal, founder of KleverKid, who was asked to dress conservatively according to the investor’s choice and has been hit on many times on the pretext of ‘coffee and business conversations’ only makes us cringe and wonder if we’ll ever improve as a race. There are more (worse examples) where these came from. 

Yes, women have a different body cycle than men, and the labourious process of giving birth does take a toll on our bodies for a few months, but rather than allowing us to decide when and how to come back with full force to work on our dreams, society relishes in subjecting us to questionable remarks and doubting our ‘priorities’, and restricting us to motherhood, childcare and household chores.

Is the bias that women face inherent?

Extremely. Sarah Thebaud, assistant professor of sociology at University of California, conducted a study and found that women entrepreneurs are at a disadvantage because people are prone to doubt that they possess the kinds of traits and skills that are stereotypically associated with entrepreneurship, like independence, aggressiveness and risk-taking ability. This prejudice is deeply rooted in us, since time immemorable. As Vanessa Hurst said, “I started and I’m the CEO of a company called Girl Develop It (an international non-profit that is focused on promoting code education among girls) and CodeMontage, and I still get people who wonder who does the coding.” “I still get doubted…Maybe I’ve got a male co-founder somewhere who did all the coding.” 

So, are we doomed? Do we stop trying?

Not really. According to NASSCOM, there’s a 50% rise in the number of women entrepreneurs, as compared to last year. According to Babson’s report, 58% of VC firms with female partners invest in women-led businesses. We just need more women in venture-capital, which brings us to:

Why aren’t there more women in venture capital?

Babson’s study says that there were just 6% women in venture capital in the US in 2014.

It’s not all bad, though.

“The current start-up environment provides an equal opportunity to all entrepreneurs. The cliches are limited to being a woman in a male dominated industry. It gets sorted, the moment you have a strong team with you and can showcase results,” says Sakshi Vij, founder and CEO of Myles, India’s first car sharing and self driving service aimed at helping in decongestion of cities, who started her business with 14 cars in 2013 and now manages a fleet of over 1000 cars across India.

There are also VC firms who focus on women founders and their start-ups – like YSF Magazine and Golden Seeds, and crowndfunding sites like Indiegogo, Plum Alley, Kickstarter and CircleUp. We have seen VC funds focused exclusively on women entrepreneurs and angel investors at conferences accepting questions exclusively from women, says Rashi Menda of Zapyle, an online marketplace for pre-owned luxury.

Source: Economic Times

How can governmental policies help?

According to Sairee Chahal, founder and CEO of Sheroes, a portal that helps women find jobs, she faced a lot of gender stereotyping in the initial days of her business. She says there is a need for policies tailor made for women entrepreneurs. “Exquisite support for women entrepreneurs would help more women to start their businesses and help create more job opportunities and contribute to the overall growth,” she adds. “When I started, people thought it was an NGO, probably because of the nature of business we were trying to create or probably because a woman was heading it,” says Chahal.

Great! So how do we startup and stay up?

Facts state that women entrepreneurs prefer to remain invisible, quietly doing their stuff. Women generally need to be more self-promoting, highlighting their qualifications and unique abilities they bring to the table, like men do. As some investors themselves said when asked about the lack of women entrepreneurs, women don’t ask for the money, women undersell themselves and that men dream big and propose businesses in the largest markets; women think much smaller. 

Investors also need to be more consistent with their standards of evaluation, and promote gender-bias awareness within their firms, that would lead to conscious mitigation of rejection of ideas purely on the basis of which gender pitched them.

Here is a TED Talk where Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talks about why we have too few women leaders and shares her advice for women to excel in their professions.

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