It pays — literally — to have women heading start-ups, a new report by researchers at the University of Connecticut and the non-profit organization Girls With Impact suggests.
Researchers examined five years of college venture competitions at the University of Connecticut and found that although only 17.8% of participants were female, over half of teams that went home with prize money had at least one woman in a leadership position.
Released on Wednesday, dubbed the International Day of the Girl by the United Nations, the report found that of the 17 teams that won prize money, nine — or 53% — had female founders. Of the five teams that won the top prize of $15,000 over the years, three had female founders and two had female CEOs. Applications for funding were scored by blind review.
This is not limited to only students, researchers say; when venture capital firm First Round looked at its own data from 2005 to 2014, it found that its investments in companies with at least one female founder significantly outperformed companies with all-male teams — by 63%, to be exact.
“This shows that we can’t ignore having women on our teams,” said Jennifer Openshaw, founder and CEO of Girls With Impact, which teaches entrepreneurship skills to high school girls. “Women are part of the answer.”
But getting women to the table can be a challenge.
There are substantial systemic barriers to entry that feed into the male-dominated start-up industry, said David Noble, assistant professor in-residence at the University of Connecticut’s School of Business and one of the report’s authors.
Not only is Silicon Valley’s start-up industry rife with accusations of sexual harassment, he said, but studies have also shown that venture capitalists are much more generous to men than women.
A 2016 report by Bloomberg looked at U.S. companies founded from 2009 to 2015 that received $20 million or more in venture capital and other equity funding. Only 7% of founders were women, and companies founded by women received significantly less money — an average of $77 million compared with $100 million for companies founded by men.
A lot of this stems from ingrained assumptions about gender. “If you’re young and male, you’re seen to be energetic. If you’re a woman, you’re viewed as inexperienced. Those sorts of biases are very hard to overcome,” Noble said.
Women face a level of “unconscious bias” in the workplace, said Gail Evans, chief information officer at human resources giant Mercer. And doing the best work is simply not enough.
“I would take high-risk projects and knock it out of the park in hopes that the higher-level roles would come to me as an outcome of being such a great performer,” said Evans, whose extraordinary journey from janitor to executive at Eastman Kodak, Microsoft and now Mercer was recently documented by The New York Times.
“But those opportunities didn’t necessarily happen, and I would see other male colleagues that probably delivered a bit less get big opportunities and big roles.”
Evans said she had to learn to form strong professional networks and be an advocate for herself. She said she actively pushed herself to have tough conversations about promotion with her supervisors.
“I found it very difficult to have those conversations because I was afraid to have them,” she noted. “I was afraid of being fired, afraid that I was being too bold.
“Men have more experience with having those bolder conversations,” she said.
The problem starts during childhood, according to Noble. “We raise children differently based on their gender and send signals as to what is appropriate behavior and what is not.”
Evans agreed, saying: “We are all taught very early on to be pretty little girls.”
This then feeds into how women are perceived in the workplace.
One of the best ways to counter this is to start teaching entrepreneurship and leadership skills to girls early on, said Openshaw of Girls With Impact.
It’s not just about diversity, per se; it simply makes sense, she said.
“Women comprise the majority of buyers,” she said. “Smart companies are putting women in innovation roles for that reason — they bring the perspective of the buyer.”
Culled from https://www.usatoday.com/