Challenges Facing Women Entrepreneurs
United States of America
This past summer, I was privileged to participate in founder development programme The Next 36, working on a tech startup called AccessNow, a mobile and web platform that crowdsources accessibility information for people with disabilities. The Next 36 is Canadian-based and combines classes taught by professors at Wharton, MIT Sloan, Rotman and Harvard Business School, with access to capital and CEO-level mentorship. Students and recent graduates, selected from around 1,000 applicants, were invited to form teams and choose their co-founders. Of the 51 participants in the programme, only 12 were women and only two of those 12 were engineers. We had various women's nights, in which we discussed the challenges and opportunities of being women in the tech industry. Here are a few of the obstacles facing women entrepreneurs:
Women are often negatively perceived when they demonstrate “founder” qualities: competitiveness, confidence, a willingness to take risks, and aggression. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In initiative states, "When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a 'leader.' Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded 'bossy.'"
These negative cultural perceptions of women owning their own business can carry over, making it more difficult for women to gain social acceptance and participate in male-dominated events. Many of my peers also commented that they wanted to be recognized for their accomplishments as "entrepreneurs," not constantly labelled as a “women entrepreneurs.” Additionally, a survey co-authored by venture capitalist Trae Vassallo found that 60 % of women in Silicon Valley experience harassment.
Access to capital
It is a challenge for women to acquire significant amounts of capital in order to build billion-dollar businesses. A Babson College report in 2014 found that only 3 % of venture capital-funded companies were led by women. This gender disparity translates into the venture capital industry, where only 6 % of partners are women. The venture capital industry involves a lot of networking, which makes it harder for women to enter if they do not have pre-existing connections. Since venture capital firms usually make follow-on investments, it is difficult to get subsequent funding without initial seed funding.
Lack of women role models
These obstacles perpetuate the cycle of aspiring entrepreneurs not having women mentors and role models who can guide their decision-making and who have overcome the barriers they are encountering. Inc magazine found that 48 % of women said the lack of women advisers was a hindrance in building a company.
How might one surmount these obstacles as a woman in business? A few suggestions include attending women networking events, reaching out to women founders to solicit their advice, and engaging incubators, accelerators and funds in dialogue on women’s empowerment. As a society, there is also a need for greater women representation in leadership positions in tech and finance in order to make the tumultuous career path of entrepreneurship more accessible to talented and ambitious women.