The Elephant in the Room: What is the real reason women don't become entrepreneurs?
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
I have been talking to people lately about women founders since that is a big part of the activities that I am involved in with both my companies, Mindclip Behaviour and Accelerator Frankfurt. I always say you can't make women want to become entrepreneurs. They need to want it. However, if there are some structural reasons why it is harder for women to become founders or succeed, then we need to address them and do something about it. In this post, I wanted to look at what is hindering women from even considering becoming an entrepreneur and, once they start, what to pay attention to become successful. We endlessly discuss the differences between women and men as entrepreneurs and how we can mitigate them to help more women become entrepreneurs. There are two camps those who think women need more mentoring and those who think women need more money. I believe both are required, but I emphasise money since without it, whether your own or others, no startup gets off the ground.
I am an engineer that always worked among men. Therefore, I may be blind to some hardships women experience in work-life. However, I am not immune to discrimination. One of the reasons for becoming an entrepreneur was the incident with my former Finnish employer years ago that made me realise I did not belong to the corporate world. Companies forget that the company culture is the reality employees experience, not the values printed on the annual report. (If you want to read the whole story, you need to buy my book "How to f*ck up your Startup")
I am passionate about entrepreneurship and helping women get started and stay on track with their startups. Over the years, as a business angel and a co-founder of Accelerator Frankfurt, it became apparent that we had very few women founders in the technology field. Considering that women make, on average, 20% of the startup founders, there had to be a reason behind it. What was missing? We could start from childhood, home, kindergarten and schools that treat boys and girls differently, but let's stick to things women can change now. I concluded that we women need to fix five problems.
Self-awareness: There is no way around it. Everything starts with you. You need to understand how you see yourself to be able to reflect on your behaviour and how you come across to others. Only when you know the difference can you take action and start changing the perception others have of you. It was a real life changer for me when I discovered what bring purpose to my life. I had to learn the importance of empathy and how to be more open to build relationships and trust with people. A succesful founder is coachable and open to feedback. It requires courage and curiosity to decide what needs to change and begin the journey to become the person you want to be.
Communication: This is related to the previous one. Self-awareness is key to understanding how you communicate with other people. Are you able to convince others of your idea? Do you feel that you get what you deserve? Are you able to negotiate your prices and contracts? Ofter women use language that sounds uncertain. They use conditional verbs could, might, and can, whereas men communicate with action verbs. Research shows that if you speak slower, articulate clearly and use shorter sentences, you seem more confident and trustworthy. We often see a male founder boasting away, selling the vision of stuff he is not even close to achieving, whereas women are over-realistic. The problem is that people want to believe in extraordinary things. Therefore, the fantastic crazy ideas win, so be bold and tell your big vision, not where you are today.
Lack of networks. We should all, men and women, include female founders in our networks. Accelerator Frankfurts, Female Founder program, aimed to help women create a network of female entrepreneurs. It is easier to ask for help or have someone to talk to that shares a similar life situation. Being an entrepreneur is very different from a corporate job with a secure salary, health insurance and vacation days. Sharing your experience with someone who has been there is much more helpful than a pat on the back from someone who does not understand how it feels when you don't know if you can pay your bills this month. Women are also more likely to be solo entrepreneurs, which further limits their network reach. A strong network is essential since it gives you access to resources, mentoring, financial and mental support etc.
Lack of role models. The fact that only around 20% of founders are women means that the probability of a woman knowing another female founder is four times more unlikely than a man. It is hard enough to set up a company on your own, and if you lack positive role models, you might not dare to do it. That is why the role model issues are related to the network. When you are part of a network, you will have role models who inspire you to start.
Money. The last but sometimes biggest issue is money or the lack of it. Female founders still receive only 1% of the funding. Shocking since they do make up 20% of the founders. If one tries to think positively, female founders are more likely to bootstrap. Some VC funds invest in female founders and even claim that female-run startups outperform males. Still, I hear from female founders that they get a different set of questions than men, with a focus on the current status and the risks of the business, not the vision. Therefore, communication skills are vital to know how to steer the conversation. Naturally, your network plays an essential role in cash flow and investments since all people, investors and clients alike, like to deal with people they know.
With my company Mindclip Behaviour, we want to help women to become more successful whether they are considering becoming an entrepreneur or already are but feel they would benefit from a coaching program. You can book a 30min call (Finnish, Swedish, English or German) via the link https://calendly.com/maria-mindclip/meeting, and we can discuss your specific situation and see how I can help you.