Why Are Viral Articles on Entrepreneurial Success Never About Women?
“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” — Hillary Clinton
If you have read any number of articles about entrepreneurial success then you have likely noticed something — rarely do these viral articles focus on women. A quick search on your favorite search engine will throw up a ton of articles on entrepreneurs and their success, but the overwhelming majority of those articles focus on men.
Why is that? Sadly, the biggest reason is that the majority of entrepreneurs are men. So, to answer the initial question we first must explore that little fact.
One study, a joint effort from Ethan Mollick of Wharton and Venkat Kuppuswamy of UNC, looked at 90,000 Kickstart entrepreneurial projects. While the focus of their study was after the campaign and the outcomes of crowdfunding projects, their work highlighted some interesting facts.
What’s great is that you can see all of these ambitious entrepreneurs chasing funding to make their project a reality, whether they were looking for $1,000 or $10,000. Not everyone succeeds. The thing about Kickstarter is you set your goal and if you don’t reach it, then you get no money. There’s a balance to be struck — you don’t want to go too big and miss out on much-needed funds, but you don’t want to undervalue yourself either.
So, the study was to examine the likelihood of failed entrepreneurs to try again and to look at the difference between optimistic and overconfident entrepreneurs. If you fail by just $10 then you’re likely to be optimistic and if you fail by $3,000 then you may have an overconfidence problem.
In their study, they found some interesting information. In terms of overconfidence, it’s men who are likely to be guilty of this. When a woman fails to reach her goal, she seems to tell herself that this isn’t the route for her. Whereas the man dusts himself off, views it as a blip on the radar, and decides to try again.
So, even though overconfidence is typically negative, in the case of entrepreneurship it’s working very much in the favor of the overconfident. But, if you failed the first time, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll fail again.
Women are more likely to make a rational decision to bow out. The overconfident man, though, will try over and over and over. Eventually, he may succeed and get his funding. So, while a rational decision has been made it doesn’t necessarily help matters.
Unfortunately, the results of the research get sadder. When the first attempt succeeds it’s viewed as a vote of confidence and it fuels the overconfidence and supports their overconfident idea that they’re truly a genius. On the flip side, when a woman succeeds, she puts it down to luck or connections. The woman reacts to her success with humility.
When it comes down to it, the study found that if the women who opted out by making a rational decision simply tried again with the same overconfidence as men, then the attempt at a second project would increase by as much as a third. If successful women were less humble, then launch projects would increase by almost 20%.
So, even though we view overconfidence as inherently negative, it’s a good thing. At least, in terms of launching a successful entrepreneurial career. In this study, unrealistic overconfidence has an overwhelmingly positive result. That’s not to say women should suddenly be more arrogant and act like jerks.
It’s to say that women are socialized to be humble and that’s something we have to shake off. Moreover, when an entrepreneurial woman finds success, it’s important that she recognize that as a vote of confidence in the same way men are likely to do. That should be taken as an encouragement to launch new projects.
Ultimately, this boils down to the social incentives we receive. Men are more likely to negotiate a better salary and you could say it’s because they make the effort to enter into negotiations and it’s not their fault that women don’t. However, the reason women are less likely to negotiate is that women are seen as pushy when they attempt to negotiate whereas men are viewed as ambitious. It’s self-preservation. There absolutely is a double standard at play and it influences how women navigate the world and the social conditions they’re handed.
With the belief instilled in women that success is entirely down to luck, it takes a lot to overcome that and try again. Whereas men are encouraged to wear their confidence on their sleeve and try again even if they fail. This isn’t a radical idea, it’s simply one that isn’t instilled in all children from a young age. While it might seem like a small thing, when looking at entrepreneurs, it influences us more than we realize.
Harvard Business Review looked at the success of women in startups. Though women make up almost half of America’s workforce they only represent 9% of financed, technology entrepreneurial startups. A number so low it’s frightening, even when compared to women in STEM. Women make up 27% of the workforce in STEM fields so 9% in terms of entrepreneurship is staggeringly low. It’s a good place to focus on because if you’re going to read a viral article about a successful entrepreneur there’s a good chance it’s related to technology.
So, what gives?
Ultimately, the women who do endeavor, struggle to find financial backing. In the technology field, it’s hardly surprising when the majority of financial backers are men. Even when they do succeed in gaining financial backing, though, there’s a struggle to work with those backers due to the overwhelmingly male atmosphere.
The HBR report highlights the reality of the situation for female entrepreneurs. If they secure backing from an all-male firm it reduces the probability of successful exit drastically. Women having women partners improves the likelihood of success. While there may be some sexism at play, the report didn’t find this. At least, not explicitly.
Rather, the success of female-led startups seems to hinge more on female involvement with those female-led startups. The research suggests that gender-matching improves performance and thus influences subsequent rounds of finance following the initial investment. This is just an insight into one industry, but it may help explain why women are less likely to be entrepreneurs.
This, of course, helps us answer the initial question posed in the title of this piece.
So, to answer the initial question, the reason the viral articles on entrepreneurial success rarely highlight women is that there are fewer women in entrepreneurial roles and you can see from the above exactly why that is.
However, when a woman does break out it should be the subject of a viral article because it’s important that women see women succeeding and recognize that that type of success is possible.
We can’t change anything overnight, but we have to start somewhere and women who are successful entrepreneurs should be highlighted as an example of the possibilities when you drop the humility and embrace a little bit of overconfidence.
They can also serve as a reminder to financial backers that female entrepreneurs exist and to women who have entrepreneurial dreams, anything is possible if you keep at it.
“I want every little girl who’s been told she’s bossy to be told again she has leadership skills.” — Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook