Let’s do more than imagine a new world for women entrepreneurs Melanie Baker October 15, 2015 Columns, Featured, M-Theory A while back, I read this article by Carol Leaman of Axonify, with its very bold headline. It would be easy to have a knee-jerk, “Yeah, I wish…” response to it, since, to put it mildly, women in the workforce have a lot of uphill battles. Female entrepreneurs, many more so. But screw that. The spirit of tech is about thinking big, bold, and outside the box, and rewarding those with daring. So join me, if you will, in a world where one in seven people – nearly one in three women – is an entrepreneur. To make it interesting, let’s ignore the stats that somewhere between 50-80 percent of new businesses fail in the first year. Let’s say all of these businesses survive and thrive. Starting at the beginning, in this world, every woman who is interested in doing so believes she can start and succeed in business. In our world, less than half of women think they can, compared to nearly two-thirds of men, even when education and experience are similar. Got an idea? Great! Time to hustle. This not only affects how many businesses women start. It affects the types of businesses that start up. Women tend to start businesses that fill a need, often one they have themselves. (So more Kiva and ZipCar and less Yo’s Law…) Or they come up with a business model that works with their lives, enabling them to manage homes and families and build companies and prosperity. (Like the moms behind Mabel’s Labels.) The types of businesses women start vary widely the world over, but women do well at noticing niches of opportunity. Because women often think smaller to start, they may not overlook an opportunity just because it doesn’t seem big or important enough. So around the world, communities are seeing small, incremental improvements that may have global potential. Speaking of starting small, women launch businesses with less capital. One imagines the fact that women receive far, far less funding and are more likely to have loan applications turned down has something to do with this. Strange, given that loans to women tend to have extremely high repayment rates, as organizations like Kiva have found. Of course, the female entrepreneurs in our world are hard working and super ambitious, given the strong market demands and super high success rate. Here women have access to as much capital as they need. Or, instead of the lack of it being a barrier to success, it means that women bootstrap more, retain more control, and grow in smart, measured ways. No bubble nonsense here: sustainability. Unsurprisingly, having less money to begin and grow with, women are more capital-efficient. So perhaps no offsites in Maui and only one catered lunch per week. No problem. As a result of this smart money management, returns from female-led companies offer 35 per cent higher return on investment, and 12 per cent higher revenue when venture-backed (per a couple of the pieces linked above). This fuels growth and new jobs… and these teams enjoy a good potluck. Perhaps, then, even that 50 to 80 per cent failure rate for new businesses is lower when women are at the helm. Certainly that must be the case in this highly optimistic feminist world we’re exploring. Kevin O’Leary has said the female-led companies he’s invested in are leading in returns. And per Gotham Gal Joanne Wilson’s comments regarding her investment portfolio, 70 per cent of the 31 companies are female-led startups, and she hasn’t “lost one in six years.” So not only new jobs, but greater job security. For anyone who’s spent time in tech, specifically startups, that’s a huge benefit. Loving this lady-led landscape! Women don’t just have to be the CEO to have positive benefits for companies. Diversity on all teams (especially technical ones) and up through management has been shown to be good for culture, operations and financial results. Having more women throughout makes companies friendlier to women’s lives and their challenges, including common issues like childcare and pay equity. Of course, in our idyllic world, flexible hours, work locations and helping manage family life for everyone are high priorities. This makes rates of satisfaction and loyalty higher, and departure rates lower. Win! But greater diversity also means that those who aren’t raising families or have different needs are heard and respected as well. More win! Having more women in management, particularly, starts a cycle where they hire and mentor more women, and network beyond their companies. This brings more women into these organizations, where they get the experience and confidence needed to move up into management themselves. This fills the oft-discussed pipeline with more – and more broadly qualified – women. Of course, in our theoretical world, that pipeline extends all the way down into primary school, where from day one girls are taught they can be anything they want to be. Pink is for anyone. So are computers, soldering irons and venture capital. Healthy educational culture, healthy business culture, healthy community culture. Women running their own enterprises have broader community effects as well. Groups like Kiva have found that their micro-lending helps raise women’s status. Women become more vocal and active in their communities, helping to improve representation for themselves and their families. In long-term projects, there are even reports that women helping themselves in these ways can lower rates of domestic violence. This makes sense; the financial stresses of poverty put a huge strain on families. Women who run businesses also tend to be able to do more family planning, which enables resources to go further. These improvements in family position trickle down through the generations. Women prioritize daughters’ education, and when they make enough money to send them to school, girls don’t get left behind because boys’ education is considered more important. More educated women also do more family planning, which enables them to extend their own education earlier on, and build businesses later. Good education gives girls far more options and opportunities, helping to raise them and their families even higher. In developing countries, when girls go to school, often they come home and teach their mothers and younger siblings, so everyone benefits. Of course, in our alternate world, since one in three women has started a successful business, poverty, domestic violence, a lack of education and opportunities for girls are nearly as extinct as the dinosaur. Girls now have much greater chances of becoming doctors, engineers, astronauts… and CEOs. A world of female entrepreneurs. Happy families, healthy communities, and a fat bottom line. So… why aren’t we there yet? Photo: Women’s day 2015 by clement127 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or email@example.com.