Empowering women through entrepreneurship
Women are showing that through entrepreneurship they are solving problems that governments don’t have the resources, consensus or know-how to address.
Using entrepreneurship to break down gender gaps
#PressforProgress may be the theme for International Women’s Day 2018, but for female entrepreneurs it’s a mantra. Professor Margaret Maile Petty reveals how women are using entrepreneurship to break down the gender gap in business and society and why universities must continue to encourage impact-focused entrepreneurship.
Patriarchy is a real thing. That’s one of the lessons I’ve learned in my career. I’ve certainly been fortunate to have served in a variety of leadership roles, but representing the female minority is starting to wear thin.
In previous roles, I was often the only woman within management and executive teams. I have been to countless meetings where I was the only woman present. And most recently I was elected to an international board of directors, partly because I am a woman.
While I bristle at the thought that my most important credential is being female, I get that bigger change needs to happen and requires more women in senior roles. That’s why developing and promoting entrepreneurship has been one of the most exciting aspects of my work. The powerful skillsets and mindsets that entrepreneurship opens up are a conduit for tapping into our incredible human capital, offering new pathways that are self-defined.
I’m reassured to find so many talented, supportive women choosing this pathway. Like Nicola Hazell, who has been brilliantly leading the SheStarts female start-up accelerator. And Monica Wulff, CEO of Startup Muster, who has documented the progress in hard numbers, commenting that programs like SheStarts encourage more female founders by offering more relatable business role models.
Not to mention Annie Parker, former CEO of start-up space Fishburners. Annie’s known as one of the country’s most influential innovators – earning her a ground-breaking new role as Microsoft’s global head of start-ups. Annie, again showing us why she’s so well respected, has handed the reins to UTS alumna Pandora Shelley, ensuring the succession trajectory female leadership can carve out.
The thing I would tell my 18-year-old self is that there's a lot of time. Be curious and explore things. Go down paths you wouldn't necessarily do. Be young, be rebellious, make those mistakes. I'd do them all over again. Rather than just focusing on climbing the ladder, actually think about what are you doing to help people, or what are you doing that's still giving you intellectual curiosity.Surround yourself with really good people, and then get out of their way! One of the best pieces of advice I got when I first became an academic was, "Everyone here, Lan, is smart - the difference is how kind you are." I haven't overcome it, have you overcome it? No, I definitely have not. Yep, still up there, but there's a few cracks. Just keep tapping away, use a sledgehammer if you need to. Be persistent, and if we all keep doing it, it will shatter. I think the way to overcome it is to have good friendships with other women. We need to be thinking about gender and equality in every decision we make. We have to normalise it as 'business as usual'. Recognising intersectionality and cultural adversity and Indigeneity. Get behind our Athena Swan initiative.
Promoting more safe spaces for women and femme-identifying students. It always comes down to equal to all, superior to none. We have to stand up for women, and what women bring to the table, and the importance of diversity in innovation, in education, in society. We live in fantastic times at the moment, the #metoo movement is something that's unparalleled. Every individual needs to keep agitating. You have the agency to change the world, and you have the people who want to help you do it. So get involved.
These leaders are demonstrating how entrepreneurship is breaking down the gender gap in business and society.
Evening out the playing field
Start-ups are the leaders in creating jobs of the future, and more so for women. These new job opportunities mean both female leaders and employees now have a sharp axe to smash that glass ceiling and create a truly fair business culture.
How? Well, one in four start-ups in Australia are now launched by women, with 38 per cent of start-ups having full-time female employees and 42 per cent of start-up jobs being part-time.
Compare this with the corporate world, where less than six per cent of ASX 200 companies have a female CEO, as recorded by the 2017 Chief Executive Women's Senior Executive Census. In the Australian workforce as a whole, Workplace Gender Equality Agency stats show women constitute 36 per cent of full-time employees, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that 26 per cent of employment overall is part-time.
This flexible working, productivity-focused mindset is liberating for many women whose career progression has traditionally been defined by their ability to maintain full-time hours, or sacrifice family commitments.
Paying it forward
As Nicola from SheStarts has noted, engaging more women in start-ups will create a pipeline of future female CEOs, setting Australia up for a stronger, more equal future.
But, there is still much to be done. Women continue to face the issue of convincing largely male investors to back their ventures. Harvard Business School has found investors are 60 per cent more likely to invest in a man's proposal. And the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that less than five per cent of female-founded tech companies in Australia are funded by investors.
To break this cycle, women are ‘paying it forward’, literally. Take SheEO. Each year, they recruit 500 new women who contribute $US1100 each to a female-managed venture fund. That fund then provides interest-free loans to female founders. Every year the community expands by another 500 women and $US550,000. The result: a steady influx of robust female-founded ventures, ready to support the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
Engaging more women in start-ups will create a pipeline of future female CEOs.
According to CNBC, expanding financing options like SheEO are fuelling the rise of women in the start-up scene. If you’re a successful founder, it might seem like an extra ask to ‘give back’ when you’re already juggling a daunting to do list, but this contribution will far exceed any expected return on investment.
I’ve always made it a point to invest in my own network, by helping others succeed, connecting people to opportunities and resources – not because I have something to gain in doing so, but because I know what it’s like to start out. And what I’ve found is that this investment always comes back to me two-fold, without asking, like a good karma exchange to which I would attribute much of my own success.
Creating new opportunities through social impact
Women are having a tremendous impact in social enterprise. Statistics show that 55 per cent of the world’s social entrepreneurs are male and 45 per cent female – a significantly smaller gap compared with the commercial world. There are multiple factors behind this; one importantly being many women launch businesses to gain a better work/life balance, rather than to chase hockey stick revenue models.
It’s not surprising then to see a number of impressive female role models in this space. Take UTS alumna Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of Settlement Services International (SSI), who was awarded Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year 2017. In the past four years, SSI, which helps refugees and migrants settle in Australia, has grown its revenue from $9 million to $110 million, and helped 1083 refugees and asylum seekers gain work in the past 18 months.
Women are showing that through entrepreneurship they are solving problems that governments don’t have the resources, consensus or know-how to address. Women are not just uniquely placed to help tackle issues specific to women, but to inspire others to contribute to causes they’re passionate about.
These female leaders demonstrate deep empathy for the problem they’ve set out to solve, and an acute awareness that innovation has the power to deliver real change. As SheEO founder Vicki Saunders has said: "I don't want to put my capital into the same old dumb apps that don't do anything in the world. I want to put my capital into female innovators who are strengthening our communities."
Many of the changes we need, to get to the point where women and men have the same opportunities for success, are already underway. But progress won’t happen by accident or be delivered top-down. It will accelerate with the actions, choices, generosity and resilience of all of us.
Universities have a critical role to play in encouraging impact-focused entrepreneurship, celebrating diversity in our role models and helping graduates take these skills and mindsets into the world. I’m proud to be championing such efforts at UTS, and to be able to call on a strong network of female leaders to help all of us succeed in this mission.