Gender equality. A buzz term still evading women, who still lag behind in terms of wages and representativeness in the workplace, politics and just about every sector of society. However, entrepreneurship has seen a spike in recent times, as a new study by the Kaufman Foundation shows. But much more needs to be done to redress the gender balance.
The latest figures indicate women make up 40.6 percent of new entrepreneurs, a statistical zenith in the last 20 years. They are also more likely to start businesses as “opportunity entrepreneurs,” meaning that they launch not out of necessity, but in order to capitalize on an opportunity.
Still, women remain underrepresented among the ranks of entrepreneurs as they are half as likely as men to start a business. This shortage of women entrepeneurs is a missed opportunity. Women bring particular sets of skills that not only set them apart from their male counterparts, but also lend themselves to being successful entrepreneurs. One of them is the fact that they have a more nuanced view of risk, identifying more strongly than men as financial risk takers, while remaining concerned about “fool hardy risks.” They also display greater ambitions to become serial entrepreneurs than their male counterparts.
One example is Renè Banglesdorf, an aviation businesswoman who started her company, Charlie Bravo Aviation, nearly seven years ago, and became the first broker and dealer of aircrafts to hold a woman-owned business certification in Texas. Banglesdorf is blazing a new trail in an industry that has only four percent of high-level positions occupied by females.
Banglesdorf believes it is the responsibility of an industry to recruit and retain more females versus individual companies or corporations. She is trying to do her part as an advisor to Phoenix Arising Aviation Academy, a group that teaches the love of STEM learning through aviation in local communities. Banglesdorf is on the board of International Aviation Women’s Association and the General Aviation, Business Aviation and Helicopters.
So what kinds of barriers do women face? For one, mentors are in short supply. Nearly half of women entrepreneurs state that a challenge facing their business is the lack of available mentors. Mentorship plays an important role in developing successful entrepreneurs, for both men and women. If women are unable to find mentors, they may fail to reach their full entrepreneurial potential.
Next, there is the old-fashioned idea that entrepreneurship is a ‘man thing’. Research has shown that there is an implicit bias against women as entrepreneurs, where people are less likely to believe that women have the skills to succeed as entrepreneurs. This perception makes it harder for women entrepreneurs to secure funding. In addition, this cultural assumption that entrepreneurship is a masculine activity might dissuade women from considering entrepreneurship in the first place.
Finally, striking a work-life balance is tougher for women. Nearly three-quarters of births are to women between the ages of twenty and thirty-four. Women face additional pressures due to parenthood that result in lower rates of entrepreneurship. Research also has shown that women with STEM Ph.D.s are significantly less likely to engage in entrepreneurship if they have a child under age two, while there is no statistical difference in entrepreneurial rates of male STEM Ph.D.s with a child under age two.
Breaking down barriers
The report presents several suggestions to help boost women’s entrepeneurialship. One of them is the development and report metrics for entrepreneurship programs and initiatives. To understand how entrepreneurship programming serves women, attendance, participation, drop off rates, and entrepreneurial outcomes should be collected and reported by gender. Armed with this information, program coordinators and funders can make adjustments to better assist women entrepreneurs.
The next suggestion is an increase in the number of women represented in entrepreneurship programs. When women are leaders at organizations that support entrepreneurs, they can help develop gender inclusive events that attract women entrepreneurs, as well as use their networks to help women entrepreneurs access mentors and financial capital.
The report also suggests an increase of sSmall Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding to women-owned businesses. In 2012, only 15 percent of SBIR awards went to women-owned businesses. Federal agencies should continue to increase awareness of the availability of these awards by partnering with women’s professional organizations and unifying outreach efforts to women entrepreneurs.
Role models are also important. Stories of entrepreneurial success tend to be male-dominated, so, to counter that, government leaders can promote stories of successful women entrepreneurs.
Finally, decreasing the risk of becoming an entrepreneur is also important. Leaders should explore how various policies can help alleviate pressures and risks facing women, particularly those with young families, which can deter them from entrepreneurial ventures. For example, policymakers should examine whether subsidized child care or preschool, or other related policies, could create a stronger environment for entrepreneurship.
Image credit: Kaufman Foundation