How women entrepreneurs can win

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Equality in entrepreneurship: how we can achieve gender parity.

Gender parity, also known as gender equality, refers to equal treatment, representation and opportunities for people of all genders. It means that the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of individuals should not be determined by their gender but rather by their abilities, skills and qualifications. 

As a fundamental human right, gender equality is a necessary pillar of a prosperous, peaceful and sustainable society. Sadly, the United Nations has shown we aren’t on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. Nearly 2.4 billion women globally don’t have the same economic rights as men and the UN has estimated it will take 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace. 

Although two-thirds (66 per cent) of new businesses in Australia in the past decade have been started by women, gender disparities in entrepreneurship continue to exist. 

Female entrepreneurs have a lot more things working against them when starting a business, compared with their male counterparts, including access to capital, unequal distribution of unpaid care work, not being taken seriously as entrepreneurs, and inadequate business support systems, to name a few. 

Access to capital is one of the most significant barriers. Research by Babson College and Wellesley College confirms that venture capital funding is disproportionately allocated to male entrepreneurs. A data set from Crunchbase found that only 2.3 per cent of venture capital went to women entrepreneurs.

Females, in many cases, face obstacles in attracting mentors, which limits their entrepreneurial success.

This funding gap isn’t because there are fewer women running businesses than men – that is a common misconception. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reports that the global male-to-female entrepreneur ratio is 10-to-seven. Instead, the venture capital gap could come down to several factors, including a lack of female representation in venture capital firms and fewer networking opportunities.

“Females, in many cases, face obstacles in attracting mentors, which limits their entrepreneurial success.”

Building a successful business often requires mentorship and a strong professional network. Females, in many cases, face obstacles in attracting mentors, which limits their entrepreneurial success. Research from LinkedIn found the ‘Gender Network Gap’ where women were 14 per cent to 38 per cent less likely to have a strong and diverse network, held true across almost every country observed.  

What’s being done to help

Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) – a global network with over 18,000 entrepreneurs across 226 chapters in 77 countries – is working to challenge and change those statistics, promoting greater diversity within its membership. As one of the world’s largest entrepreneur communities, run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, the organisation exists to provide peer-to-peer support and collectively build success. Its diversity initiatives include running events exclusively for women within EO to connect, network and share unique business experiences in a safe and supportive environment, as well as a mentorship program at localised chapter levels linking female entrepreneurs to other entrepreneurs who can be a ‘sounding board’ for them and their business. Diversity and inclusion training are also a part of the membership and onboarding process, to recognise the diverse perspectives of female entrepreneurs.

Other companies that support female entrepreneurs are seeing positive results; for example, 

Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Females is an initiative that provides education, funding and mentorship to female entrepreneurs in developing countries. A study by the International Finance Corporation found that graduates of the program reported a 40 per cent increase in revenue on average, highlighting the impact of mentorship and education in bridging the gender gap.

We Connect International connects female-owned businesses with large corporations and offers them access to global supply chains. Research conducted by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania indicates that female entrepreneurs who are part of We Connect’s network report higher revenues and more significant business opportunities.

What we can all do

Tackling gender equality in entrepreneurship requires both mindset and environmental changes. We need to challenge norms and individual businesses, venture capitalists and networking groups to drive this change. By taking small steps over a longer period of time, we can hope to make the ‘dents’ needed to form lasting change. 

Here are some actions to improve gender parity for female entrepreneurs:

  • Ensure that female entrepreneurs have equal access to quality education and training in business and entrepreneurship from an early age. Encourage girls to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
  • Facilitate access to financial services and capital for female entrepreneurs. This includes providing microloans, grants and access to venture capital.
  • Establish mentoring programs and networks that connect female entrepreneurs with experienced business leaders who can provide guidance and support.
  • Raise awareness about unconscious bias and discrimination in the business world. Training and education can help both females and males recognise and address bias.
  • Implement more family-friendly policies in the workplace, such as flexible work hours, parental leave, and affordable childcare, to support female entrepreneurs who balance work and family.
  • Encourage businesses to adopt diversity and inclusion initiatives that ensure equal opportunities for female entrepreneurs. 
  • Advocate for government policies that promote gender equality in entrepreneurship, including tax incentives and procurement policies for female entrepreneurs.
  • Skills and capacity programs and entrepreneurship training to help female entrepreneurs develop the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in business.
  • Raise awareness about the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs and advocate for gender parity in business through campaigns, events and social initiatives.
  • Support female entrepreneurs by sourcing goods and services from female-owned businesses. Partner with female-owned suppliers and vendors to create a more inclusive supply chain.

  • Publish diversity and inclusion metrics and goals to demonstrate the business’ commitment to gender parity. Regularly report on progress and be transparent about challenges and areas that need improvement.

  • Ensure that physical spaces and digital platforms are accessible and inclusive to all. This includes providing facilities and technologies that cater to different needs and abilities.
  • Encourage open communication with employees to collect feedback on diversity and inclusion. Act on this feedback to continually improve policies and practices.

  • Share success stories of females within your business who have achieved remarkable milestones in their entrepreneurial journeys. Use these stories to inspire and motivate others.

Achieving gender parity in entrepreneurship is crucial to foster a more inclusive and diverse business landscape and prosperous society. To do so, we need to collectively create a supportive environment that offers equal opportunities for everyone. By addressing the obstacles and difficulties female entrepreneurs confront, we can shape a future where gender does not determine business success.

This article first appeared in issue 43 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine