Female entrepreneurs continue to face an uphill struggle launching tech startups

Entrepreneur | Featured | Women In Business

By Christie Whitehill

Supporting female entrepreneurs means physically breaking the glass ceiling with a jackhammer, not just talking about it, writes Christie Whitehill, founder of the Tech Ready Program.

Female entrepreneurs are fighting back. Over the last 10 years and more, the global economy combined with the progress of technology has fostered an extremely healthy environment for entrepreneurs to turn their great ideas into reality. From Facebook and Uber to Freelancer and Etsy, these ideas are being funded healthily and turned into reality. Unfortunately, over 75% of those ideas are born from the minds of males.

This is not about the quality of the ideas or the fact that most of them are from males, it’s about the fact that for whatever reason, females have not been able to contribute equally. It’s not for lack of ideas, either. Accenture’s research shows that 29% of women in developed countries would like to start a new business in the next five years. So, what gives?

According to the Startup Genome Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2017, only 22% of tech startups have a female founder or co-founder, while only 25% of IT positions are taken up by women. Deloitte believes there may be fewer women in IT today than there were in 2015. This is immensely troubling. While there is a lot of talk in the media about female entrepreneurs, female business leaders and women breaking the glass ceiling, it doesn’t generally address the most important aspect of the issue—why are women so poorly represented in startups?

Only by addressing this question is it possible to move forward and start to truly support female entrepreneurs. After all, a handful of women breaking the glass ceiling won’t open a big enough space for the rest to come through. Thanks to our insatiable love of data, it’s getting easier to pinpoint exactly where we are failing female entrepreneurs. Ironically, we are failing them the same way we are helping them—through technology.

We must understand professional women’s relationship with technology better both in terms of how it is a hindrance as well as how it is a positive. According to a report completed by Davidson Technology last year, “Men generally outnumber women 2:1 and this is consistent in all states. Of the total IT participation, 69%  are men and 31% women.” Furthermore, “Core coding type roles are still less inclined to attract a large representation of women. In Executive roles, the number of women is extremely low at 14%.”

Accenture also reported that last year, “Digital fluency, the extent to which people embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected and effective, is helping to close the gender gap and level the playing field for women at work. Getting on the right side of the digital fluency gap can change the picture for women—and their countries–in dramatic ways.”

Not only does the Accenture report highlight the positives technology can provide, it also pinpoints an extremely important facet of the issue which has so far not been discussed enough. That is that it is ultimately about getting on the right side of the digital fluency gap which will ultimately change the opportunities for female entrepreneurs. Of course, the Davidson Technology report illustrates that fluency in technology for women is not where it needs to be.

With two failed startups and some success as well, I can attest to this. What was not hard was networking, getting in front of the right people and selling my ideas. But what happens once you achieve the funding? For an entrepreneur, financial support comes in a variety of guises, from money and nothing more to everything including education modules and personal support. But you can’t guarantee what kind of support will come with the funding you find.

While I had very confident funders with my failed businesses, it was up to me to find the additional support and education that I required to fill the gaps I was missing. The difficulty there is that you often don’t know what you need until you have made a mistake. Surely this is the same for men, though, right?

It is, but as the statistics show, there is an educational gap specifically with females when it comes to technology. Technology is driving the large majority of business ideas, which means this is a much bigger problem for females and far more likely to discourage a female entrepreneur from pushing forward with her business idea.

Today there are several avenues that are encouraging female entrepreneurs to push forward with their idea and help level the statistics around male and female founders. This is a great start. But we now need to push forward and make sure that support for female entrepreneurs is not just through networking groups. It needs to be through educational groups as well, specifically around technology and business building, and they need to be supportive of not just women, but of each other.

While many of these groups, courses or education providers compete against each other, knowledge is something that is best taken in large doses. Women should do as much learning as possible, particularly in areas of weakness, and join as many support groups as possible.

There is no shortage of women wanting to start a business. To refresh on the extremely important statistic from Accenture, 29% of women in developed countries would like to start a new business in the next five years. Imagine if even half of them felt empowered enough and knowledgeable enough to do it. That would create some balance pretty quickly!

About the author

Christie Whitehill is the Founder & CEO of Hatching Lab and the 8-week Tech Ready Program, an accelerator course that connects female entrepreneurs with industry experts to equip them with the skills and confidence to validate their business idea and to select the appropriate technology to build their Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The program has launched in Sydney and will roll out nationally over the coming months.