Women in business: Addressing the ‘startup’ gender gap - Gulf Business
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Women in business: Addressing the ‘startup’ gender gap

Women in business: Addressing the ‘startup’ gender gap

Leaders must investigate the cause of the gender gap in the startup landscape globally and implement measures to help bridge it

The gender financing gap is one of the most high-profile and persistent problems in entrepreneurship. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, it will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide if the current trajectory in the growth of female entrepreneurs continues. This calls for the stakeholders in the startup ecosystem to initiate the closure of the gender gap and bring more women into the workforce, which could add $20tn to the global economy by 2050, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Research by the Harvard Business Review found that women eclipse men in most leadership skills like teamwork, innovation and problem-solving. This shows the tremendous potential of women when offered equal ground, yet only a few venture-capital firms and angel investors actively pursue and invest in women-founded companies. At this stage, it is crucial for global leaders to investigate the cause of the gender gap in the startup landscape globally and implement measures to help bridge this gap.

According to 2021 Global Gender Gap Index results, 58 per cent of the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity has been closed so far. The two reasons for this are a boom in skilled professional women combined with a lack of women in higher positions in companies. The UAE was found to be one of five of the most improved countries in this regard.

More women entrepreneurs and leaders mean several benefits even at an organisational level. Gender diversity changes the way an organisation thinks. For example, several studies have found that women-led companies have higher employee retention, due to the proven adaptable nature of women, along with their higher emotional intelligence.

The MENA region has been actively moving away from solely oil revenues. Regional governments’ initiatives to encourage startups and entrepreneurship point to the efforts made to diversify the economy.

As the Global Gender Gap report suggests, the UAE has positioned itself as a regional leader in achieving equality, diversity and inclusion. Entrepreneurs form the backbone of the global economy and the UAE is no exception to this. The government’s continuous reforms, packages and legislations actively attract top global talent. As per the latest data, an overwhelming 95 per cent of businesses are small to medium enterprises in the country and at least 50 per cent of these are women-owned. Women employ around 20 per cent of the workforce and contribute to around 20 per cent of the GDP.

However, there’s still a long way to go. No matter where I’ve worked around the world, I’ve observed that women in business face very similar obstacles. These include:

Lack of self-confidence: Many women often let their insecurities and fear of failure stop them from dreaming big. Every business has its ups and downs, and every business owner will experience self-doubt. When there are like-minded individuals and mentors to support business owners through tough times, it helps them understand the value and potential that their business possesses. At the same time, women entrepreneurs should own their accomplishments. I always advise women owners to not water down what they or their company has achieved.

Smaller networks: Traditionally, women’s business networks tend to be much smaller than men’s. Network groups help female founders get the growth they need, find customers, partners, suppliers, build connections and much more. My advice: once you find your network of supporters, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need from them.

Lack of mentors: Inc. revealed that 48 per cent of female founders in the US reported that there was little to no access to seasoned professionals, advisors and/or mentors. Without a trusted mentor to guide them, their professional growth can become extremely restrained. Pro tip: always do your homework on why you want someone as your mentor, and always have a more specific and tactical request to your mentor, that way it gets easier to get a response.

Defining the balance: All entrepreneurs who are parents struggle with the dual responsibilities on their hands and finding that perfect equilibrium, but this pressure is stereotypically more on women than their male counterparts. Finding ways to devote time to your business and family is key to achieving that elusive work-life balance.

Less funding: The business pitching process is an extremely nerve-wracking activity for every startup founder. As I had mentioned before, though there is evidence that women are capable of leading and running a business, investors hesitate to invest in a business venture established by women entrepreneurs. According to Crunchbase, in 2020, all-female founding teams got 2.4 per cent of all venture capital dollars in the US, down from a high of 3.4 per cent in 2019. In turn, women have to rely on familial support or referrals. You can raise the capital your business needs by learning to ask exactly what you need.

We women must be the change we want to see, and the solution that we’ve been looking for.

A study by Boston Consulting Group revealed that if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, it could double the global economy from $2.5tn to $5tn. The numbers are indisputable. The need for entrepreneurship diversity in gender is now and the world only stands to gain from it.

Jen Blandos is the CEO of Female Fusion, a community for women entrepreneurs

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