CHAPTER :
Women & Entrepreneurship
With entries from:
Steve Guengerich   —   6 years ago

The U.S. labor force is nearly equally represented by men and women. And more women than men are enrolled in college today. Yet, there remains a far smaller percentage of women than men in startups, especially in high tech. There is a tremendous opportunity for women entrepreneurs!

But, it's still not easy. How do women manage the challenge of being an entrepreneur, while starting and raising a family? What comes after "leaning in?" Ignoring blatant sexism, how should women entrepreneurs handle more subtle gender bias, in a sales situation, at a contract negotiation, or on a product team?

The participation of more women entrepreneurs is inevitable, because it only makes economic sense. More women control significant purchasing power than ever before. This thread is for entrepreneurship lessons learned - From women / For women - providing tips, techniques, and tactics that have helped them succeed in a rapidly changing world.

Suzi Sosa   —   6 years ago

Do women’s personalities prevent them from being successful start-up founders?

Last year Inc magazine published a fascinating piece titled “Inside the Mind of the Entrepreneur” that led me to a hypothesis about why we don’t have more women founders. The article reported that, more than anything else, Inc 500 CEOs outperform the national average of entrepreneurs on “risk taking.” Undoubtedly this is one of the key traits required to start a venture. I immediately wondered whether this is also one of the key reasons why there aren’t more women-led start-ups?

Are women generally more risk averse than their male counterparts? Does this inhibit them from starting companies?

The truth is, I’m not convinced women are inherently more risk averse than men, but I do think that women may be generally less experimental than men, which might have the same effects.

We all know the joke about women looking for the instructions versus men dumping everything out of the box and trying to figure it out. This stereotype may be due to our neurological differences. Males are neurologically wired to be more “action oriented” (they tend to think in verbs) while females are more “relational” (they tend to think in nouns). This neurological difference manifests in many ways, and I believe it may lead men to be generally more experimental than women. And I think this might affect the number of women founders.

There is no instruction manual for a start-up. Starting a company requires ongoing experimentation and iteration to figure out what to do. You get a lot of things wrong. I suspect that due to their action-oriented wiring, men may be generally more comfortable “just starting” a company and then figuring out how to improve it later. They may be more comfortable making a lot of mistakes. This pattern might be called “risk taking” or it might be more accurate to say that men are more comfortable learning by doing. The research from the Inc article supports the hypothesis that those who are comfortable diving in, taking a large number of (calculated) risks, and learning by doing, tend to be more successful launching companies. This may be one of the key factors to explain the dearth of women founders.

On the other hand, another set of insights from the article lead me to believe that women may be generally better suited than men to grow companies once they are formed. The Inc survey revealed that the Inc 500 CEOs scored lower than average on “relational skills,” such as building strong relationships with customers and employees. Maybe this is why there is such a high mortality rate for start-ups? Partnerships and relationships are essential to grow a company, and as we put more importance on collaborative leadership, emotional intelligence, and building strong company cultures, relational skills will become even more important.

As a result, the same neurological differences that may make a woman less adept to launch a company may in fact make her better suited to develop and grow one for the long run.

So, what’s a women entrepreneur to do?

Think about how your natural proclivities will serve you at various stages in the start-up lifecycle. If you’re in the launch phase, make sure you get your product or service in market quickly and that you are learning by doing. Don’t spend months (or years!) on a business plan. Don’t wait until you have everything figured out. Experiment. Take risks. Just get started. If you are in the growth phase, tap into your natural relational instincts and build strong partnerships, internally and externally. These are key for long-term growth. And, being able to toggle between these two traits is the magic formula that will take you to scale.

Shari Wynne Ressler   —   6 years ago

While I speak to and participate in women-focused business groups, the truth is that being a woman entrepreneur is the last thing on my mind. Being a woman had nothing to do with decisions I made about the companies I started, co-founded, or funded. It’s a secondary mindset: entrepreneur first and woman second.

That said, the data shows that only about 3% of women-led ventures are VC-backed. One primary difference, as I’ve reviewed the research on this subject, as to the cause for this enormous gender gap in funding, is the confidence gap between women and men entrepreneurs.

In one study I reviewed, for a hypothetical job that listed 10 required skills for candidates to be considered qualified to apply for it, the majority of women applied for it only when they had all 10 skills, whereas the majority of men would apply for the same job if they had as few as 6 of the 10 required skills. While this is a simple example, I think it indicates a tendency that I’ve seen play out in real life.

The good news is that I’ve found the consumer product goods (or CPG) industry, where I happen to focus, is an extremely diverse one. At the SKU accelerator we operate for CPG ventures, the common founder group we see is women or couples. But, we also see ventures with founder groups composed of male and female siblings, family groups, and other groups of mixed gender, race, and native country backgrounds.

So, my advice is: don’t spend time letting people tell you that “you can’t” because you’re a woman. At the same, for the benefit of your product and your venture, build diversity into your management team and staff.

Surround yourself with people of different genders, ages, experiences, and a wide variety of backgrounds. To borrow the phrase, “it takes a village” to make a new venture successful.

In summary, don’t spend too much time differentiating yourself because you’re a woman. The best way to be successful is to figure out what you’re good at and do it; then figure out what you’re not good at and delegate (or outsource!) it to your staff.

Chelsea McCullough   —   6 years ago

What is within you waiting to emerge? What is that idea, that dream, that book, that company?

Be in it. Just for a moment. See yourself living the success of that reality. Have a conversation with someone and describe this thing that you have created. Celebrate it.

Now, come back to today’s reality and name what is between that bright future and this moment. Make an honest list. What is stopping you from starting? Is it time? Is it money? Is it expertise? Is it confidence?

I’m here to cheer for you. You can make this happen. In fact, it is already happening. And guess what? The world is here to help you.

So go for it. And invite the glorious mystery of the unknown. You don’t need to know what the future holds. You just need to get started, stay open and do the work to keep your lens clear.

The best thing we (you and the ecosystem that exists to support you) can do is have the courage to start, to accept the support that is available, to make stronger resources that help each other.

What is the personal journey that someone needs to go through to be ready for start-up? Everyone’s journey is different. But what I know, because I have seen it over and over again, is that it can happen.

Stay centered, stay focused and ask for help. Find your tribe and give those people the privilege of being your support. Seek the programs, the systems, the workshops, the guides who exist to show up for you. Trust that they are there and they are waiting for you to ask. Trust that they also need you to give back.

Hearing and listening to your truth takes courage. Acting on that instinct requires bravery. The first step is shedding the limiting beliefs that hold us hostage. The world is ready for you to do this. The world wants and need you to do this.

But realize that there is so much more in front of you. This current system celebrates successful short-term outcomes and undervalues the process. But do it anyway. C’mon! Let conviction override fear and then encourage others to do the same.

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