Women in our Business: Powerful Career Advice from Female Leaders
Women are still underrepresented in Start-ups and Venture Capital firms. How can women thrive as entrepreneurs and attract more funding? We asked three female leaders to share their advice for business women.
Corporate gender quotas have become one way to empower women in the business world. But what about start-ups?
According to Fortune numbers, in 2019, $26 billion was invested in companies with at least one female co-founder. About $6 billion went to female-only-founded businesses, and $20 billion to female/male co-founded companies, but almost 10 times that much went to male only founders.
Compared to that, the percentage of women-founded venture-backed companies globally had not changed since 2012 when it plateaued at approximately 17 percent. That means the number of female founders is growing, but the percentage is not.
One major barrier for female entrepreneurs is that they get less funding for their businesses. According to Crunchbase, the median seed for female-only founders was $200,000 in 2010 and reached $460,000 in 2019. The median seed for male founders has risen from $300,000 in 2010 to $600,000 in 2019.
What are the reasons? And what can women do to advance their careers in the start-up world? We spoke to three women who have already had significant career success: Evelyne Pflugi, CEO and co-Founder of the Singularity Group AG in Zurich, Barbara Fry Henchoz, Founder of Re-thinking Diversity, Advisor at BackBone Ventures and Founder of Barbara Fry Consulting and Vreni Spoerry, Swiss Politician and former board member of several major swiss enterprises such as Credit Suisse and Nestle.
Why are there more male than female founders?
Evelyne Pflugi: Venture capital, and the business world in general, are still male-driven environments. Both men and women have dreams, but men seem too often be more confident, which gives them the courage to fight for their dreams.
The lack of confidence is an issue not only for female founders but also for female employees. If you ask a job applicant if he or she wants to become CEO, a man is more likely to answer yes, even if he doesn’t have any significant work experience. Women tend to answer no, because they often dare less.
How can women build their confidence?
Barbara Fry Henchoz: Women are still shy when it comes to their own career ambitions, particularly when competing in male-dominated environments. The lack of female role models is only one of the many reasons for this. My advice: Stand your ground and speak up when not treated fairly or not given the same opportunities as male colleagues. Be persistent, but don’t lose all your energy over it. Most people aren’t aware of their unconscious biases and stereotypical thinking. And if nothing helps, change company! Talent is always in demand.
It certainly helps to foster strong networks with other women. Learning from other women’s experience helps build confidence, as more and more women do build great careers. Yet, it’s critical to network outside of female-only circles. Most key position holders and decisions makers are still men, so women should go out there and connect with them, too. Easier said than done, certainly, but definitely worth it.
How can female entrepreneurs get more funding?
Evelyne Pflugi: Part of that is likely because of the prejudice of potential investors. But still, female founders need to be more confident in their presentation, dare to bring in what drives them personally and the numbers. I find that women often forget to present the bull-case scenario they believe in. Women have a lot more potential than they think.
That is the real problem, not men, not investors, not the system. I’m confident that once we stop feeling and behaving like victims, we’ll excel with ease.
What advice would you give the next generation of female businesswomen?
Vreni Spoerry: Go further down the pre-levelled path for women, there are at least no more legal and regulative limits for equality like in the past. Though one basis that can never be changed is the biology. If partners decide to start a family, during the first phases women are the one handling the delicate matter of family foundation and professional work. In today’s world this should be more self-evident and natural than it is now, without impact on a career or professional disadvantages. Later, in the family life, men nowadays get more and more involved in the parenting responsibilities and children’s lives, a notable very positive development.
Evelyne’s, Barbara’s and Vreni’s answers show that the challenges women face in the start-up and business world are twofold: On the one hand investors and colleagues need to rethink their way how they evaluate women-run businesses and the potential of such. On the other hand, women need to become more confident and learn how to compete in a male-dominated environment. At BackBone Ventures, we try to foster a new way of thinking and encourage women to take charge, despite given circumstances.