The U.S. May Lead in Women Entrepreneurship, But It Has a Long Way to Go

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By Allison Engel

The U.S. stole the top spot for women entrepreneurship in the 2015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard, but that doesn’t mean it always offers a supportive environment for women entrepreneurs.

To reach this conclusion, 31 countries’ business environments, gendered access issues, leadership and rights opportunities, pipelines for entrepreneurship, and potential entrepreneur leaders were compared and assigned a percentage score and ranking.

However, the results weren’t pretty. In fact, the top nine highest-performing countries received overall “underperforming” ratings — failing to meet even half of the five targets. The No. 1 score of 71 percent really means the U.S. is average in propelling female entrepreneurship.

What’s even more alarming is that while the report sourced data from the World Bank Group and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, it also revealed an alarming lack of research on women in the workplace. In a business environment where data informs virtually every decision leaders make, how can we improve what we don’t measure? And make no mistake: Improvement is imperative.

Regardless of their countries’ scores, all leaders stand to benefit from recognizing and empowering women. In doing so, they’ll reap the gender dividend and ripple positive change throughout their communities. But to amplify the benefits, business leaders must think past policies that simply combat discrimination to formulate and execute on strategies meant to integrate women at all levels.

Luckily, there are steps business leaders can take to promote a more inclusive business landscape:

1. Start from within

You can crack the status quo by asking women employees what they need and supporting them through resource groups. By creating flexible workplace environments, you can also prevent women from dropping out mid-career.

These ecosystems won’t build themselves. Business leaders need to work with local chambers of commerce and building developers to create central hubs where communities can flock to collaborate, network, and share ideas. These hubs can also serve as platforms for successful entrepreneurs to mentor, infuse capital, and start new businesses.

Just look at the PayPal Mafia, which has fortified the tech industry in Silicon Valley. After PayPal was acquired by eBay in 2002, its founders started searching for new promising businesses to invest in and grow. A few of those companies just happened to be Tesla Motors, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

2. Invest in women entrepreneurship

One category in particular exposed some major areas for improvement: the pipeline for entrepreneurship. This segment awarded countries where women are engaging in startups at the same rate as men and where higher percentages of women know entrepreneurs, identify business opportunities, and believe they have the skills to start businesses. In this category, Nigeria, Ghana, and Jamaica earned the top three spots, respectively, while the U.S. came in at No. 17.

Research shows that people with ties to other entrepreneurs are more likely to become entrepreneurs themselves. However, in all 31 countries included in the survey, women are significantly less likely to know entrepreneurs. In 90 percent of participating countries, women are also significantly less likely to feel like they have the skills to start businesses.

To change this reality, it’s important for leaders to invest time and resources in supporting women entrepreneurship.

To diversify the infamously male-dominated tech industry, Intel Capital launched a $125 million fund to support startups run by women and minorities. While that level of funding isn’t feasible for every company, you can still help move the needle by supporting inclusion programs such as Men Advocating Real Change or #EntrepreneursUnite, a worldwide movement that aims to rally support from entrepreneurs, private sector leaders, and others. The movement recently had its first big win with the ratification of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 8.

3. Open a dialogue across company lines

Engaging your team in discussions about workplace equality is important, but it only skims the surface. Leaders must collaborate across verticals and company lines to shatter the barriers impeding women entrepreneurs. They should start core teams where everyone arrives at a mutual objective and works together to create a 360-degree plan that checks the box across the organization.

The HeForShe movement invites diverse perspectives to speak openly about the challenges women face in the workplace and to collaborate in combatting them. By opening the floor to celebrity mouthpieces such as Emma Watson, this organization has gained incredible momentum.

4. Seek out women-owned businesses and suppliers

As a business leader, you have the power to back women-owned businesses in the supply chain and beyond. The same people or partners tend to inherit the same contracts time and again. Break the chain by looking critically at who you’re grandfathering in, and seek out women-owned suppliers.

Whether you’re looking for new investment opportunities or simply a way to connect with women-owned businesses, WEConnect International is a great resource. It identifies, educates, registers, and certifies companies based outside of the U.S. that are at least 51 percent owned, managed, and controlled by women and connects them with multinational corporate buyers.

By making a concerted effort to employ and invest in women-owned businesses, business leaders can perpetuate the small business life cycle. At Dell, we spend more than $4 billion with our small and diverse suppliers, including Cathi Coan, CEO of Techway Services. We went into business when she was just starting, and now, Techway employs more than 100 people and continues to grow.

Although the scorecard exposed some grave discrepancies in global entrepreneurship, it’s not inherently negative. It highlights the need to break the status quo and forge a more inclusive path and, hopefully, inspires governments and private companies to take charge. Countries need to stay competitive in the global economy, and the only way to get ahead is to empower women entrepreneurs.

Image credit: Pixabay

Allison Conkright Engel leads global marketing and operations for Dell for Entrepreneurs. Prior to Dell, Allison worked for various startups, leading their Southwest expansion efforts. She has more than 15 years of experience in media and marketing and has worked for several iconic brands. 

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