Women’s Entrepreneurship Week 2016: How we can fix the gender gap in entrepreneurship

They’ve made remarkable strides in recent years, but women entrepreneurs still confront gender-related setbacks. Why so? In search of answers, we hosted a panel in honor of Women’s Entrepreneurship Week called Start-Ups and Downs: A Conversation on Being a Woman Entrepreneur featuring three entrepreneurial panelists, and asked them the tough questions.

 

Getting real about the gender gap

women entrepreneurship As women, we need to be frank about mindsets or conditioned behaviors that might hamper us, such as a lack of self-confidence or an inherent reluctance to ask for more, said Georgie-Ann Getton, founder of Illicit Mind and a senior at Baruch College.

“We have a woman running for president and we know that women are capable,” she said. “But for so many years we’ve been mentally taught to do the secretary’s job instead of trying to aim for the CEO position.”

Vestiges of this mentality remain: When seeking their first job after college, women tend to accept their first salary offer rather than negotiating, kickstarting a lifetime gender pay gap whereby men outearn women by an average of $365,000.

In a podcast on the gender gap in entrepreneurship, Wharton management professor Ethan Mollick pointed out that overconfidence is a key trait in entrepreneurs, given the majority startup failure rate. But research shows that women have higher levels of humility than men and are hence less likely to be overconfident or commit the fundamental attribution error of believing that their failures are purely down to circumstance and not some personal deficit.

 

Learning to ask for what we really need

womens entrepreneurshipAfter working at a women’s business center for a few years, Elisa Balabram observed that most women – including herself – choose to go it alone rather than ask for help. Balabram also noticed that whenever she received criticism she would “get stuck” and either give up or postpone executing on a business idea or new initiative.

In 2009, she published a book titled Ask Others, Trust Yourself: The Entrepreneurial Woman’s Key to Success, a manifesto advising women on how and when to trust their own instincts despite negative feedback.

“Trust yourself in who you ask for advice,” said Balabram. “And once you receive the advice, whether it’s positive or negative, I suggest that you dig deeper and do the research to find out if it is true.” This includes taking feedback with a grain of salt rather than letting a second opinion override your own beliefs.

She suggests asking the following question to put things in perspective when someone tries to kill your idea: “Does this person really have your best interests at heart? Or is it because they wish they had done it and they failed so now they don’t believe anybody else can do it?”

 

Putting female role models front and center

womens entrepreneurshipThere’s the male-dominated archetype of a successful entrepreneur like Virgin conglomerate tycoon Richard Branson or Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, but few equivalent female household names. As such, women entrepreneurs have few figureheads to look up to.

“I know that when I go to conferences and meetings there’s probably one female for every ten males, so there isn’t a lot of opportunity to meet with other women,” said Rosey Sopariwala, Vice President of Best Western Plus Regency House Hotel.

Sopariwala’s family runs three hotels outside of New York City, with a fourth under construction. She started in the business at age five, manning the phones to book reservations for hotel guests. “When you’re younger it’s especially important to have women that you look up to that are doing what you want to do.”

womens entrepreneurshipBalabram then asked the students in the audience to name successful female entrepreneurs. A few hands shot up, but most of the suggestions were of female CEOs – not business owners. The only two we collectively agreed on as self-made entrepreneurs were Oprah Winfrey and Kim Kardashian, but the ideas dried up there. As the moderator, I wanted to coax the crowd to come up with more examples, and yet I myself could not think of one.  

“I think it starts with us,” Getton said. “We have to take a stand instead of waiting for the guys to put a woman on the front page of the newspaper. Create your own newspaper or don’t buy the paper until you see women on the front of it or until you see people that resonate with you on the front.”

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