Women account for only 3% of all high-growth startups, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research, yet we obtain half of all degrees. Women also access just 5% of capital, yet operate 30% of all small businesses.
Why is this and what can we do about it? These were the central questions raised at an event I recently attended in New York City— the We Own It Summit. The answers (as you might expect) were complex, but a central theme regarding confidence emerged. Several participants suggested that women lack the confidence to “think big” and, where necessary, to “go for the ask”. Yes we can point to any number of reasons for this, including educational and social environments that suppress our abilities and goals, but history doesn’t have to be destiny.
Personally, I had a high school teacher who told my class of female honor students that not only were we not smart enough to go to Harvard, but we weren’t smart enough to marry Harvard grads, either. At Johnson & Johnson, a company President asked me what I thought I could accomplish by going to meet with a potential acquisition candidate in Japan because, “they will never take you seriously as a woman”. Like most, I have stories that could fill a book, but I choose to use those experiences as a catalyst rather than a restraint.
If you are a woman who strives to own your own business there are numerous organizations that are dedicated to helping women scale their high-growth ideas and get them financed including Astia, Golden Seeds, Springboard Enterprises, and Illuminate. For networking, 85Broads, is my personal favorite. The women who run these organizations are smart, aggressive, connected visionaries who are trying to change the numbers and the dynamics. Toward the end of the “We Own It” summit, some of these leaders agreed that a call to action for next year’s meeting was to prepare an “ask” and communicate it in advance. The “ask” may be a request for a mentor, review of a business plan or an introduction. The goal is to have these “asks” met by volunteers before the conclusion of the summit.
Try this out for yourself- find a woman who isn’t afraid to ask for what she needs, ask for her help and keep practicing “the ask”. If you learn to ask for small things with success and keep increasing the goal, you can build toward asking for what you need for your business and get it. We dream big for our kids, let’s do the same for ourselves! The video below highlights why it is so important: female-led businesses create a disproportionate amount of good in our world. Fellow women, we need your success.
Video courtesy of The Story Exchange, a global video project empowering women to start their own business.