Women Entrepreneurs: Yes, We Can!

The 21st century will be known as the century of women and female entrepreneurs. Throughout the world, brilliant, passionate and creative female entrepreneurs are continuously on the rise, contributing to economic growth and social development — they invest in their communities, educate their children, create new jobs and build innovative and sustainable companies.

Today, there are 126 million women running new businesses worldwide and another 98 million running established businesses. They own about one third of all businesses globally, and nearly half of those businesses are in developing markets.

Yet, on a global scale, women still face challenges getting fair access to capital, to boardroom seats and to relevant mentoring training — and this is the case even in developed markets.

How can we explain that after almost 50 years since the beginning of the feminism movement women are only at the head of less than 20% of the companies even though they represent 52% of the world population?

After two years of working closely with female entrepreneurs and especially during the last five months travelling around Latin America meeting incredibly talented female tech entrepreneurs, I’ve observed three main barriers inhibiting the rise of females in the tech entrepreneurship sector. They can be resumed as a society anchored in a masculine culture and lacking of confidence in women, and an abstract idea about tech jobs.

A patriarchal society

The main challenge to overcome and also the most difficult to change is our masculine culture. Nowadays, many societies even remain embedded in a patriarchal culture. Sexual stereotypes that imply that women are less capable or that running a business is not their role still exist. Women are expected to found a family, not a company.

The economy directly reflects the patriarchal society. Today, the number of women in management positions continues to lag far behind men.

Similarly, the pay gap is far from being closed, and access to growth capital for women remains restricted.

Even on a public level, some laws restrict the right of ownership or the choice of profession for women. In 18 economies, women can not get a job without the permission of their husband.

Social pressure from peers, primary responsibility for child care, and higher domestic burdens make it very challenging for women to run a business or manage a company. Hard, but not impossible.

Indeed, the number of women heading companies is growing despite these challenges. Women entrepreneurs are making their place, getting accepted and recognized.

Fortunately, today, great female entrepreneurs, such as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, demonstrate that women are capable and can lead great businesses. And this does not happen only in the US, but also in the emerging markets, where the conditions are even tougher. Time and again, we meet incredible women, putting their company and country on the business map.

A great example are Rosario Monteverde and Magdalena Rodriguez, founders of the Uruguayan startup GPSGay, a top network application for the LGBT community in Latin America.

Together, they have gathered more than 10 international prizes with recently the Startup Nation for Women of Start Tel Aviv. But beside prizes, they are a great example that when you believe in yourself and align what you like to do with your entrepreneurial and personal life, nothing is impossible no matter your gender, your sexual orientation, or your origin.

However, a tendency has emerged in this transformation for equal representation in the business world, called androcentrism. Per definition, androcentrism is a new form of sexism that replaces the favouring of men over women with the favouring of masculinity over femininity.

According to the rules of androcentrism, men and women are equal, but only insofar as they are masculine. In the startup world, this can be loosely translated as the Broculture, with a quick reference to Barney and his suits. With exaggeration, the Broculture could be expressed such as: Work late, drink beer, watch soccer, share pics of the hottest girl you find on facebook and, of course avoid crying! You will then gain the respect of your peers.

Social bias and the overwhelming dominance of masculinity over femininity therefore remain the largest challenges that women face worldwide. Patriarchal cultures dominate the world, not just in emerging markets.

Try to google “entrepreneurs” from any place in the world and the results remain consistent: white men in suits. These images illustrate my point. They highlight the society’s entrenched notions of what an entrepreneur looks like.

Women entrepreneurs need to believe in themselves

In order to face this masculine culture and balance it, women should trust themselves more and support each other instead of breaking each other down. Indeed, female empowerment and gender equity are largely dependent on how women perceive and approach their female peers.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring report about capabilities perceptions, 46% of women believe they have the required skills and knowledge to start a business, compared to 59% of men.

Women are also more risk-averse than men in terms of entrepreneurial behaviour. Only Mexico and Kosovo actually show equal fear of failure rates.

The truth is that women constantly underestimate themselves. And we, women, need to work on this, with the support of you, men, if we want to reach a better gender equilibrium.

Our male-dominant and capitalist societies further fuel the problem by increasing unhealthy competition and tension between women. We so often lose confidence in front of other talented women.

Our capitalism-oriented society fosters competition between individuals and we are consumed by measuring ourselves against others rather than appreciating our own unique qualities.

In opposition for example to the ancestral concept of comadre recognised in the whole latin america. Comadres are women helping each other. They claim the existence of a strong vínculo of responsibility, solidarity between themselves to drive their community and keep it unified. For concrete examples, you can visit the online plateforme Comadre, created on the initiative of the psychologist and social entrepreneur Raissa Capasso, Co-Founder of Etinerancias.

Indeed, women need to understand that there is enough space and a special place for each of them. If we want to achieve better recognition, we have to start to work on female solidarity. Reject the endless cycle of self-destructive competition and start building a spirit of solidarity and common cooperation!

Encourage other brilliant woman and in turn get inspired to increase your own self-confidence!

Soft skills vs hard skills

Women today reach parity in terms of having secondary degrees in education. Great news! However, we notice only a few women enroll in tech programmes.

Some people argue that it is normal. Women simply don’t aspire to careers in technology. Others fight to increase the number of women with technological degrees and push to invest millions in program for girls to learn tech.

I don’t think that girls in developed economies have less opportunities to study technology than boys do. I do think that in emerging markets of Latin America, traditional views and the male-centered culture explain partly why there are fewer women in tech. But for me the principal reason is somewhere else.

The real reason is that there is a lack of information and clarity about the range of careers available in technology.

What does it actually mean to be a computer engineer, a material engineer? The ideas people have of tech professions are abstract and do not consider interpersonal and social skills. What are we doing to inspire women to become tech entrepreneurs?

One of the major factors explaining why so few young people look for opportunities in the digital economy is that neither their teachers nor their parents are familiar with it.

In addition, the job descriptions typically present technical careers that focus purely on hard skills, without any space for the soft skills such as communication, collaboration and social abilities. It’s time to break the paradigm, we all know that good engineers actually show important soft skills such as empathy, diplomacy and resiliency in addition to technical skills.

These issues of male-dominated culture and lack of confidence are evident in my daily life. I am still shocked when I attend an entrepreneurial event or visit tech classes and find out that only about 20% of the participants are female.

What’s next?

Now that I’ve come to understand the root causes, it is important to identify how to eliminate these barriers. How can we break the paradigm and bring more women on board? Watch out for our next blogpost in this series — The 5 Key Actions to Get More Women into Tech!

Till then feel free to add comments with your own ideas!