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Spot the difference: Why are there so few women leading tech start-ups?

May 5, 2010

Women in business

According to the Centre for Women’s Business Research, women own 40% of the private businesses in the US.

But–according to Astia, a nonprofit group that advises female entrepreneurs–women only create eight percent of venture-backed tech start-ups. What gives?

On April 21, 2010, the New York Times published an article examining the gap between male and female entrepreneurs in tech start-ups in Silicon Valley, New York, Austin and Boston.

Why are there so few women leading tech start-ups? Some highlights from Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley:

Education

  • Men, for a variety of reasons, are more likely to pursue computer science and engineering degrees in college and subsequently rise through start-up ranks.
  • Young women begin to turn away from math and science in elementary school because of discouragement from parents, under-resourced teachers and their own lack of interest.

Role models

  • “There aren’t enough women entrepreneurs because they don’t see women entrepreneurs ahead of them and successful,” says Anu Shukla, founder of three tech start-ups.
  • Women account for just six percent of the chief executives of the top 100 tech companies and 22% of the software engineers at tech companies.

Motherhood

  • For women who choose to leave their jobs to raise children, returning to technical careers can be difficult–technology changes so quickly that skills can become outdated.
  • The tug-of-war between work and family is harder at tech start-ups than in traditional workplaces–because start-ups require long hours and Silicon Valley has a “take-no-prisoners” culture.

Perception

  • When Candace Fleming was raising money for a start-up company she co-founded in 2007, one venture capitalist told her that it didn’t matter that she didn’t have business cards–because all they would say was “Mom.”
  • Karen Watts, founder and chief executive of Corefino, found herself mistaken for an administrator when she was in the process of buying another company. She was in the conference room pouring a cup of coffee when the other company’s lawyers and executives walked in and started discussing the lowest bid they would accept–as if she wasn’t even there.

According to the article, there’s still hope for female tech entrepreneurs: studies have found that teams with both men and women are more innovative and more profitable. And IT companies with women directors have greater return on investment, equity and sales. Organizations to engage girls and young women in science, technology and business are sprouting up (Girls in Tech! Women 2.0! WSTB!) and some of the hottest start-ups in Silicon Valley were founded by women–start-ups like Eventbrite, Meebo and Ning. Even Barbie has hopped on the tech bandwagon: she’s now a computer engineer.

Read the full article: Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley.

For perspectives on women technology entrepenurs in Canada, check out How women tech entreprenurs are breaking through the glass ceiling from CATA WIT. Learn about the Women in Business Initiative at Rotman. Visit the Women Entrepreneurs of Canada website. Read about programs that introduce young women to the world of science and technology–programs like Gr8 Designs for Gr8 Girls and Go Eng Girl.

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Vanessa Caldwell @ MaRS

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Vanessa is a writer at MaRS. She writes all kinds of things, like posts for the MaRS blog, articles for Convergence (the MaRS magazine) and the weekly MaRS eNewsletters.

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