Fighting Bias and Barriers: The Present Battle for Women Entrepreneurs
Despite significant advances in recent years, women still face a range of unique challenges when it comes to entrepreneurship and the road to success can be a bumpy one. A recent article in Forbes magazine highlights the pitfalls that exist for female business owners – everything from difficulties entering certain male-dominated sectors to negative prevailing attitudes about women in business.
One of the biggest hurdles for women in business is securing funding. According to a report by Bloomberg, women received just 2% of all venture capital funding in 2021, despite accounting for roughly 40% of those applying for funds. This highlights the inequalities that exist right from the outset – a problem that hampers growth and innovation.
Male investors, it seems, may not understand the unique challenges women face and may be less likely to take a chance on them. This can lead to a vicious cycle in which women struggle to secure funding and are thus less likely to succeed, perpetuating the myth that women are less able to launch new businesses.
A Northwestern University analysis entitled ‘Women no longer regarded as less competent than men but still seen as less ambitious and decisive’, sums up the perceptions that women must overcome as female business leaders. If trust is not shared by investors, customers and other stakeholders, they will not get behind the enterprise and give it the backing it deserves.
Even top female performers find it hard
Even after years of ‘proving themselves’, they may still be subject to unfair criticism and held to higher standards than men. Just look at the recent controversy surrounding the announcement from Jacinda Ardren, New Zealand’s first female Prime Minister. Citing ‘burnout’ as her reason for not running for Prime Minister for another term, she received criticism from some female commentators who suggested that she may have set the ’cause’ back some years. Ultimately, it may have been a case of damned if she did and damned if she didn’t.
What should women do to help themselves?
“To combat these challenges,” says Taylor Ping, CEO and founder of Hierarchy Media, “it is important for women entrepreneurs to actively seek out resources and support networks that can help them navigate the business world.”
Ping has helped international entrepreneurs and brands such as Bryce Cleveland, CEO of Scalpa, and high-profile media stars like The Black Tape Project and Arman Izadi, to communicate with their audience and increase their online following. Knowing firsthand how hard it can be to make it as a woman, Ping has developed a number of strategies.
Believe in yourself
Ping learned that having a positive mindset and believing in oneself is critical in achieving success in entrepreneurship. She had to overcome the societal bias that business was a man’s world and realize that she had the skills and ability to succeed on her own.
Commenting on her own journey, Ping adds, “You have to embrace your weaknesses. I learned that instead of avoiding my weaknesses, they could be used as fuel to make me stronger. Once I acknowledged them, I accelerated my personal and professional growth.
Work with like-minded people
While ‘pulling yourself up by the bootstraps’ may be the romantic ideal of many a ‘self-made person’, the reality is that few make it without help along the way.
“Collaboration is key,” says Taylor. “It can be a lonely road, and working with others who share similar values and goals can lead to more successful outcomes. I always try to work with like-minded individuals with whom I can share my ideas, resources and skills. I find it leads to innovative solutions and greater success.”
Chart your own course
The final piece of her strategy is to always be true to herself. According to Taylor, it’s essential to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve and to tap into your passions, talents and values.
“Entrepreneurship can be glamorous and exciting, says Ping, “but you must stay grounded. You have to be authentic and maintain your own set of values. Ultimately, I believe this leads to a more fulfilling journey.”
The perceptions holding women back
While Ping’s journey has been a source of inspiration for countless women, lack of trust from investors can do more than merely hold women back; it can completely stifle their ability to grow.
“First, you have to understand how investments work,” says Ping. “Investors are more likely to provide funding to entrepreneurs who they believe have a high potential for success. If they doubt your skills, experience, or potential to succeed, they may not part with their cash.”
A 2017 study by Harvard Business Review, found that investors are more likely to ask men questions about their potential for gains while asking women questions about their potential for losses.
Lack of support from one investor can spook others. It can act as a signal to other stakeholders, including potential customers and employees, that the business may not be worth investing in. This can create a negative feedback loop and a host of negative associations and perceptions.
Help women help themselves
Even the recent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a funding program created to help small businesses during the pandemic, seemed to be affected by bias.
- Women-owned businesses made up 39% of businesses in the US but only received 22-27% of PPP loans
- The initial rollout of the program favored larger businesses and left out smaller minority and women-owned businesses
- Male-owned businesses received larger loan amounts and at a higher rate than female-owned businesses
Creating awareness and change
“In my opinion,” explains Ping, “awareness around discrimination is the first step towards creating a more equitable and inclusive business environment. With women underrepresented in leadership positions, facing gender bias, unequal pay and, in extreme cases, harassment, much more needs to be done.”
“In the same way the #MeToo movement brought attention to sexual harassment in the workplace and sparked conversations about how to prevent and respond to it, we need a similar sweeping movement to promote gender equality and support women’s career development. Many of my heroes, like Sheryl Sandberg, do so much good, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Written by Vanessa Lau
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