Where Are All The Girls?

    Editorial note: This is a guest post by Natalie Gaudet, who is one of the key people behind Aalto Venture Garage and Startup Sauna.

    You are sitting in an entrepreneurial event, in a room full of people. You look around and suddenly realize that the room is filled with men, boys and guys. Where all the girls you ask yourself?

    Its a question asked more often than not. Aren’t there women entrepreneurs? As one of the the lone girls in this field, I have decided to deeply look into the reasons why there are so few female entrepreneurs.

    These reasons are not only Finland-specific, they are similar worldwide. For example, according to the Dow Jones VentureSource, only about 11% of US firms with venture capital-backing in 2009 had current or former female CEOs or founders. And Y-Combinator has had only 14 female founders among the 208 firms it has funded.

    Role Models
    I strongly believe the reason why there are so few women entrepreneurs is because of a lack of role models. Name one woman founder or co-founder who has taken a tech-based company from inception to a global scale. Give up?  While there are many companies that have women CEOs, it’s hard to think of the female equivalent of Mark Zuckerburg.

    (And while we are on the topic of Zuckerburg, in the movie ‘The Social Network’ did you noticed how female characters are portrayed? They were either dancing in their underwear or having sex in bathroom stalls. Great, some role models we have…)

    Young girls do not have successful women entrepreneurs to look up to. If there are no role models, girls will be reluctant to get into this field. No role models mean no women mentors.

    Perhaps it is the way we speak about startups that is not attractive for a girl to get into. Maybe it is not appealing for a woman’s mindset? There is a whole language that surrounds the ecosystem of startups. Pitching, bootstrapping, burnrate etc. are words that might not allure girls into this world.

    There are great female coders and developers out there but they are not building world class startups. It’s because it might not be interesting for them to found a high tech startup. It seems that women are more into building companies that really make an impact into ones life, not just about building another app to find your friends.

    Through my observations I realized that female entrepreneurs also get viewed and coached differently than their male colleagues – it might be because it is almost a novelty to see a girl pitching a startup.

    Men and women network differently among each other. Though most of the existing networks are not explicitly based on gender, there are some initiatives worldwide to create girls-only entrepreneurs clubs. Could that segregating women from the rest?

    When the creation of  TEDWomen was announced a while ago, it sparked controversial conversation questioning whether it is a step backward for gender equality to funnel women into a separate and perhaps unequal TED conference. Would having a female-only network do the same?

    Though there is a positive example of gender separation: all-girls schools tend to perform better than mixed gender schools. Does that mean that if we gather only female entrepreneurs to work together with female VCs and investors, we would see more successful women entrepreneurs? Would this also cut out the fear of failure?

    Life situation
    Really, it boils down to one thing: that women will always be the sex that childbears.

    Penelope Trunk, 3 times entrepreneur and author offers this incite:  ‘Smart women in their 20s are looking for husbands and cannot be 100% focused on some pie-in-the-sky startup. Women in their 30s are having kids and trying to figure out how to work less. Men are more easily focused solely on work.’

    It’s true that building a startup takes 100 hours a week and thus women thinking of starting a family or those that already have small children are reluctant to do so. Successful male entrepreneurs who have a family most probably have a stay-at-home wife to take care of the family. Is it possible to have two successful high-tech growth entrepreneurs in a family? If not, would the female entrepreneur require a stay-at-home husband then?

    Striving for a work-life balance is what most women want. There are only a handful of female entrepreneurs out there to look up to. Just as there were fewer female doctors and engineers back in the day. Nevertheless, I believe that entrepreneurship is one of those fields where women will get into eventually.

    Image by Caghs the Cat Lady