Where Are the Women Entrepreneurs?

I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs where my mother and many of my aunts were strong businesswomen. I am also an entrepreneur, perhaps because I had female role models, and I have always wondered—why don’t more women start businesses? Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times  agrees that something is wrong with the underrepresentation of female business founders. She notes that while women make up half the workforce and earn 40–50 percent of the degrees in business, science, and engineering, fewer than 10 percent of technology startups are founded by women, and only 36 percent of all US companies are owned by women. Also, many woman-owned businesses are small, employ only the founder, and earn less revenue than businesses founded by men, according to the census data. Why are there fewer women entrepreneurs? Miller cites research reflecting the following factors:

  • Women have fewer role models.
  • People mentor and give venture capital money to people like themselves. Miller notes that this dynamic is called “homophily, or love of same.”
  • Of all venture capitalists, 91 percent are male. Most worked in investment banking, private equity, or consulting and went to the same few universities—Harvard, Stanford, or University of Pennsylvania.
  • Not surprisingly, 91 percent of venture capital-backed entrepreneurs are men. Most of them have degrees from similar colleges and worked in the same firms.
  • Women are outside of these established networks and do not get the same mentoring, contacts, or funding opportunities.
  • Women are also less likely to get management experience before trying to become entrepreneurs. Only 19 percent of top executives are women, so women are less likely to have mentors in senior leadership.
Another disturbing roadblock is that women can experience sexual harassment by venture capitalists, especially when women are raising funds for technology startups. The massive imbalance of power between women and men controlling venture capital funds means that women are often propositioned or inappropriately touched as a condition of receiving funding, jobs, or other help that they need to start businesses. They often do not receive the funding when they rebuff the sexual advance. What difference do women entrepreneurs and investors make for women and for companies? Miller cites research by Linda Bell of Barnard College showing that the gender pay gap shrinks when women are the CEOs of companies, and women are more likely to be promoted when women are the leaders. In another article, Miller  reports that when venture capital firms hire a female investing partner, the financial performance of the venture capital firm improves. While networking groups for women like Astia or women-led investment groups like Broadway Angels can help, women cannot change these lopsided dynamics without male allies fighting alongside them for these changes. Perhaps more men with daughters will be motivated to challenge the status quo. Miller cites a research paper by Gompers and Wang showing that male venture capitalists with daughters show less bias against women in making hiring and funding decisions. We need to tackle this imbalance together with conscious intentionality.   Photo courtesy of Kevin Krejc. CC by 2.0]]>

How to Report to a Younger Boss

“I do not feel that my years of experience are valued or respected by my boss or coworkers,” wrote an employee on an employee satisfaction survey that I recently administered for a client. Most of the employees of this organization are very young, with only a few older workers below the executive level. This comment surprised both me and my client, but I recognized it as a symptom of the generational shift change taking place in the United States. Joanne Kaufman, writing for the New York Times, reports on a 2014 Harris Interactive survey conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder, a job recruitment website, which found that 38 percent of American workers now have a younger boss. Many baby boomers are choosing to stay in the workforce longer, and as large cohorts of millennials and gen Xers—highly valued digitial natives—move into leadership positions, Kaufman notes that “the odds are increasing that older workers will be answering to managers young enough to be their children.” Here are some tips for how to deal with what can be a challenging but valuable relationship in the workplace across generations:

  • Older workers need to recognize that younger bosses have valuable experience that is different than theirs because of technology and other experiences.
  • Younger bosses need to value the experience and reliability that older workers bring.
  • Older workers need to check their parental reflexes to offer advice if it has not been asked for.
  • Older workers need to reign in their reflex to talk about the past in a way that can sound patronizing to younger bosses.
  • Younger bosses need to appreciate both the work ethic and the absence of petty drama that most older workers bring to the workplace.
The generational divide is just another diversity issue, and we can all learn to value each other. As with any relationship, it takes two to tango. What has worked for you?   Photo courtesy of WOCinTech Chat. CC by 2.0]]>

Equal Air Time for Women: Eliminate the Male-Pattern Rudeness of Manterrupting, Mansplaining, and Manologues

Many women were immediately angry when we saw Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren interrupted, chastised, and cut off mid-sentence during US Senate hearings in recent weeks while their male colleagues were allowed to speak. As Renée Graham noted in the Boston Globe, “To be female is to be interrupted. By the time most girls reach their first day of school, they already know how it feels to be drowned out by a chattering group of boys.” It was so obvious to most women watching the Senate hearings that manterrupting was happening—why weren’t the men involved aware of their own rude behavior? There is now an abundance of research documenting that men talk more and take up more air time in meetings (mansplaining and manologues), and that men interrupt women (manterrupting) more. Here is a sample of the studies reporting these findings:

  • A study from Harvard found that the larger the group, the more likely men are to speak.
  • A Princeton and Brigham Young University study found that when women are outnumbered, they speak for between a quarter and a third less time than men.
  • Women are interrupted more by both men and women.
  • The more powerful men become, the more they speak; the same is not true for women. For good reason, women worry about a backlash that can occur when women speak more. A study from Yale found that both male and female listeners were quick to think that women who speak more are talking too much or too aggressively. Men are rewarded for speaking more, and women are punished.
  • A New Zealand study found that in formal contexts, men talk more often and for longer than women. Women use words to explore; men, to explain.
  • A Harvard study found that female students speak more when a female instructor is in the classroom.
Graham reports a new study that shows that female justices, including our three female Supreme Court justices, are three times more likely to be interrupted by their male colleagues. While this treatment crosses political and racial lines, male senators may be overreacting to shut down Senator Kamala Harris, an assertive black woman, even more quickly than is true for their white female colleagues. Susan Chira of the New York Times reports on a new study by Tali Mendelberg and Christopher F. Karpowitz, which found that until women make up 80 percent of a school board, women do not speak as long as men. The study authors also note that even when men are in the minority, they do not speak up less. We need men to become aware of these gendered patterns that silence or ignore women’s voices. Chira reports on one recent hopeful event when Arianna Huffington, as a member of Uber’s board of directors, advocated for more women on Uber’s board. When another director, David Bonderman, objected because he said women talk too much, the other male directors supported Huffington’s call for him to be removed from the board—and he was. Because of the spotlight Uber has been under, due to public outcry, for fostering a culture inhospitable to women, the inappropriateness of Bonderman’s remarks was visible to the other male directors. This is a great example of men acting as allies after becoming aware of the gendered dynamics that shut women down. As I wrote in a previous article, there are some things that both women and male allies can do to create an environment where women can get their voices heard, for example:
  • Form gender-balanced panels in professional conference settings and encourage moderators to equalize the air time allotted to women and men.
  • Institute “no interruptions” rules in meetings.
  • Ensure equal participation in meetings. Keep track of who is and is not speaking and call on people who are speaking less.
  • Increase the number of women in leadership and on teams.
  • Be an ally—draw attention to women’s contributions, and make space for them and for each other.
Maybe someday the men of the Senate will become aware of their behavior—meanwhile, we need to elect a lot more women to public office to insist and persist in women being heard in government and elsewhere.   Photo courtesy of aSilva. CC by-nd 2.0]]>

Help Women Work to Bolster Our Economy

Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve, keeps a close eye on the United States economy. One of the concerns of the Federal Reserve since the Great Recession (officially 2007–2009) has been the sluggish rate of overall economic growth in the United States, which impacts the well-being of all of us. In a recent speech, reported by Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times, Chair Yellen said that policies making it easier for women to work could significantly improve the nation’s economic growth. She suggests three policy areas that would make it easier for women to participate in the labor market:

  • Expand the availability of paid leave.
  • Make affordable child care available.
  • Make flexible work schedules more available.
Yellen notes that raising women’s participation in the workforce to the same level as men’s could increase annual economic output by 5 percent. The fact is that, since the early 1990s, women’s level of participation in the workforce has been falling in the United States. Appelbaum notes that a recent study by Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, both of Cornell University, found that the United States has fallen to seventeenth place out of twenty-two developed nations in women’s workplace participation. The researchers attribute the decline in workforce participation by women to a lack of government policies. They suggest that the United States should adopt European policies on paid leave and affordable child care to close the employment gap. Yellen noted in her speech that we are squandering “the potential of many of our citizens and (will) incur substantial loss to the productive capacity of our economy” if we do not make it easier for women to work. Why don’t we have the same level of government support for working women and men in the United States as is available in Europe? Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times  notes that while Americans agree that paid family leave should be available to workers to take care of a new baby or a sick family member, we cannot agree on who should pay for it, or whether it should be mandatory or voluntary. Miller cites a recent Pew Foundation report showing that 94 percent of Americans say paid leave would help families, 65 percent say that paid leave would help the economy, and 67–87 percent support paid leave being available. However, Miller notes that Americans are torn about gender roles and also about whether paid leave should be a government mandate or offered voluntarily by businesses. She notes that
  • Some Americans feel a massive distrust of mandatory government policies; 69 percent of Democrats support a government mandate for paid leave, while only 33 percent of Republicans do.
  • US culture shows deep ambivalence about gender roles; a majority of Republicans feel it is not in the best interest of families for women to work outside of the home.
Unfortunately, the people who most need to work are the most affected by the lack of government policies that support working families. Low-income workers (including women, blacks, Hispanics, and those without a college degree) are often thrown into poverty when a baby is born or a family member is ill and the worker must take time off. Workers lose income and also can lose their jobs. Workers, families, and our economy will all benefit from mandated family leave and the availability of affordable child care. The United States is the only industrialized country that does not mandate paid leave. Shame on us. We must find the will to do this for the greater good. What are your thoughts?   Photo courtesy of Katrinaelsl. CC by-nd 2.0]]>

The Cost of Being a Successful Woman: New Research from Sweden

Joan C. Williams, writing for the Harvard Business Review about why white working-class men and women voted for Donald J. Trump in the 2016 presidential election, describes the strong feelings about traditional gender roles that still exist in segments of our society. She explains, “Trump promises a world free of political correctness and a return to an earlier era, when men were men and women knew their place.” She goes on to explain that manly dignity is a big deal for most working-class men. So is breadwinner status: Many still measure masculinity by the size of a paycheck,” and the paychecks of working-class men have been decreasing since the 1970s. During this same time period in the United States, women, especially educated women, have gained greater access to opportunities, increasing the resentment of working-class men and women. While the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump reflects, at least in part, that traditional attitudes about gender roles are still deeply embedded in large segments of society in the United States, a recent study finds that, surprisingly, these attitudes also still exist in Sweden. Why is this a surprise? Ray Fisman, writing for Slate.com, explains that while Sweden is known to be a progressive country with legal protections for women, generous family leave, and free day care for all, societal gender norms still play a big role. Fisman cites research by Olle Folke and Johanna Rickne showing that female career success is harmful to marriages in Sweden. They followed the marriages of aspiring female politicians and found that while winners’ and losers’ divorce rates are identical before an election, the divorce rate for winners doubles relative to that of losers right after an election. They find a similar impact from becoming a female CEO in Sweden. Fisman notes, “The authors argue that the women’s sudden success puts extra strain on marriages in which men are accustomed to playing a more dominant role in the workforce.” According to the researchers, the effect is larger when “the promotion results in the woman becoming the household’s dominant earner.” The costs of these attitudes about successful women are high. Neither the United States nor Sweden has ever had a female head of state—at least in part a reflection of discomfort with ambitious women. Other costs include

  • women having to work twice as hard to be considered for promotions
  • women receiving harsher performance feedback often with a focus on personal characteristics rather than results
  • higher divorce rates
I agree with Fisman’s closing statement: “We still have a long way to go.” Photo courtesy of BusinessForward CC by 2.0  ]]>