It’s no secret that women are underrepresented on the tech and startup scene. Last year, a study by Dow Jones found that only 1.3% of privately held startups have a female founder. The same study also determined that the overall median proportion of female executives at successful startups is 7.1% and only 3.1% at unsuccessful startups, making a case for the positive role women play in new ventures. What’s more, of the 8,688 companies whose success/failure was definitive, 49.7% succeeded, while 50.3% failed. For startups with five or more female executives, however, those numbers were 61% and 39% respectively.
Despite these findings, women still make up a miniscule proportion of founders and executives at startups. And that’s a problem that “keeps me up at night,” writes Ryan Holmes, CEO of HootSuite, a leading social media management tool. "For every 10 people interviewed for a tech position at our office, nine are men," he says.
Brendan Mulligan, CEO of the photo sharing site, Cluster, has had similar experiences. Last month, Mulligan discussed two open positions he posted on AngelList. “We are looking to hire a backend engineer and a designer,” Mulligan explained. “The listings have been active since June and we’ve received about 60 applications. Of those, 53 have been men and seven have been women.”
So what can we do to improve these numbers? According to Holmes, the solution is education. “Truly narrowing the gender gap in the startup community comes down in large part to how we educate children. Providing better computer science education in public schools to kids, and encouraging girls to participate, is the only way to rewrite stereotypes about tech and really break open the old boys club.”
Programs like Microsoft’s DigiGirlz aims to do just that – to get girls interested in computers and tech. Held at Microsoft locations worldwide, DigiGirlz offers free camps and events that give girls a firsthand look at what it’s like to work in technology.
But a lack of computer training in schools isn’t the only problem, says Maria Finley, founder and CEO of Citrus Lane, a baby products company. “Women have created artificial limits for themselves,” says Finley. “Lots of women come up with great ideas, but don’t have the confidence to make it happen. Of those who go for it, I’ve seen that they tend to start small, founding mostly sole proprietorships or bootstrapped businesses. Of those who aim for gold and try to raise venture capital, they still often fall into the trap of thinking small.”
We need to change the way society conditions girls starting at an early age. As Lili Balfour, founder and CEO of Atelier Advisors, explains, “Girls are socially conditioned to believe that their purpose and meaning in life is derived from their physical appearance and popularity. Most young girls spend very little time playing aggressive sports or intellectually challenging games. Naturally, they grow up to be women who don’t care about being the winner or being the smartest kid in the room.”
And given the stats from Dow Jones, it seems that tech startups would greatly benefit from such changes.
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