Women And Startups: Don't Skirt The Issue

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Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely experience. But it can be even lonelier if you’re a woman.

The Kauffman Foundation found that women comprise 10 percent of high-growth tech startup founders. According to the Dow Jones VentureSource, as few as 7 percent of startup executives are female.

The absence of women in the startup space is not news to anyone. Nor are the endless — and varied, and even contradictory — alleged roots of the problem. They go like this: women don’t excel in, or are not pushed to pursue, STEM subjects and computer science at school. Women lack entrepreneurial role models and have trouble finding mentors. Women are less ambitious, less confident, or more risk-averse than their male counterparts. Women face the demands of raising a family and balancing commitments at home and work. Women are victims of a system consciously or unconsciously biased against them.

Perhaps all of these hypotheses are true, or none, or some. But what’s most frustrating about the dialogue surrounding women in entrepreneurship is the lack of focus on why having more female founders is a good thing, and how we can collectively, as a society, take concrete steps to make that happen. Pointing fingers and assigning blame for gender inequity is ugly. Agreeing on the value of a balanced, inclusive startup culture shouldn’t be.

History and common sense tell us that all human enterprise benefits from a diversity of perspectives. That’s why including and encouraging women entrepreneurs matters.

When we look at the data on women in entrepreneurship, the implications are quite clear: women help startups succeed. Startups with women in leadership roles may be more likely to succeed in the marketplace, says the Dow Jones report, and successful startups have twice as many women in senior positions as those that fail. New York Entrepreneur Week found that tech startups led by women generate more revenue and fail less than those led by men. Credit Suisse examined companies with women in board-level positions and concluded that they outperformed those with fewer or no women at the top.

History and common sense tell us that all human enterprise benefits from a diversity of perspectives. That’s why including and encouraging women entrepreneurs matters. They help make startups better. They bring unique perspectives, skill sets, and experiences to the table. They chase off the stagnating effects of homogeneity. And the data prove that the profits are tangible.

We agree that more women entrepreneurs are good for society. We agree that the status quo isn’t up to snuff. But how do we get there? How do we fight inertia, complacency, and lethargy, and take actions that will transform our community for the better?

We need to assume three responsibilities to involve more women in the startup world: we must inspire, showcase, and support women in entrepreneurship.

We can inspire women to consider entrepreneurship a viable, attractive career path by exposing girls to the excitement of building businesses, discovering new ideas, and harnessing science and technology at an early age. Organizations like BUILD and Girls Who Code inspire future entrepreneurs by targeting them when they’re still young and learning about the boundless opportunities available to them.

We can showcase the strength and accomplishments of current female leaders and soon-to-be-leaders in the innovation, technology, and early-stage venture space by making a concerted effort to amplify their voices and by connecting them with less experienced men and women as mentors and advisors.

Finally, we can support women seeking to chart their own innovative course by working together to foster a collaborative — rather than cutthroat and competitive — innovation environment.

Inequities are inevitable. But they don’t have to be intractable. We’ve talked around the problem quite a bit — now it’s time to get down to business. Let’s make a commitment to include women. And let’s do it because it’s right and it makes sense.

This program aired on February 19, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.