The twenty-first century is upon us. Really, I double-checked. Yet, in the business world, women have a way to go before they can claim to enjoy a level playing field with their male counterparts.
Case in point: women receive a mere 4.2 percent of venture capital funding – that’s right, less than five percent. This statistic was an inspiration to the researchers at Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, who conducted a study to shed some light on Venture Capital (VC) decision-making.
One finding that the Clayman Institute study uncovered is that women are penalized for their lack of technical acuity. According to Andrea Davies Henderson, one the Clayman study’s researchers, not having a technical background was something that hurt women, but not men. Henderson relayed that women’s chances of securing a meeting in addition to attaining VC funding are both negatively impacted by their technology gap.
This brings up the issue of women in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) careers. Today, women comprise half of the college-educated workforce, and represent about fifty percent of the total workforce in the United States. Yet, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. What could be behind women’s reluctance to embrace a STEM career? One study suggests there are various possible factors such as gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexible work schedules in the STEM fields.
Closing STEM’s gender gap has untold benefits. Women are apt to exhibit much needed qualities in the science and engineering fields according to TED Fellow Rachel Armstrong of the University of Greenwich. “Women tend to facilitate, cooperate, nurture and orchestrate,” she said. “Their approach is less ‘top-down, fix the broken machine’ than it is holistic and collaborative,” she added.
Female entrepreneurs are not sitting on their laurels and sulking about the STEM’s gender gap. Instead, they’re choosing to move forward and drive change. During a panel discussion at SXSW last year, a group of young female technology entrepreneurs discussed what it’s like to work in an industry that’s heavily male dominated. Although a very small percentage of VC funding is awarded to women, none of the panel members reported feeling that her particular experience founding a startup was different because of her gender.
Thanks to the Clayman Institute study, the long held belief that networking is vital for women in business has proven to be valid. The study discovered that one critical success component for female entrepreneurs is powerful network ties. It seems that when it comes to VC decision-making, having strategic connections in addition to strong recommendations assists women entrepreneurs more than men.
The needle is inching closer towards gender equality in the workplace, but women are not there yet. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” would like to change the conversation between entrepreneurial women and VCs. She proposes that investors support the lifestyle choices of women and assist them by granting them the same access to mentorship that men have. “At the end of the day,” Sandberg said, “the people who can most help women reach their opportunities are women.”