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Leadership, , , , , — February 22, 2010 13:11 — 34 Comments

A Genuine Question: Where are the Women?

I’ll be the first to admit that the Unreasonable Institute team is all male. Okay, that’s not much of an admission, but it’s true. We’ve spent a lot of time introspecting as to the reason for that (not about why we’re male, but why there aren’t any females on the team). But even after all that reflecting, we weren’t sure of the reason. All of us on the Unreasonable team went to the University of Colorado in Boulder and three of us were best friends before we started the organization. So the team organically materialized out of our conversations and all of our personal passions. But it incidentally did so without women.

Women involved with the Unreasonable Institute. And now we ask this question because it may have had some effect on the number of women entrepreneurs we can attract to the Unreasonable Institute. Here are a few stats on the matter:

  • Of the 284 applications we received for the Unreasonable Institute, 97 (34%) were female
  • 16 of 47 of our mentors are female (34%)
  • 11 of our 33 finalists are women (33%)

A lot of people I’ve talked to (both women and men) suggest that these numbers are high, arguing there just aren’t as many female entrepreneurs and male entrepreneurs (a contention the data and my personal observation appear to support). But the question is then why aren’t their as many female entrepreneurs as male entrepreneurs? Are women simply less likely to start their own ventures? Are women facing discrimination in areas outside the entrepreneurial space, like in education, that are obstacles to their being entrepreneurs?

The Data on Women Entrepreneurs. Apparently not. Vivek Wadhwa wrote a great post in Tech Crunch entitled “Silicon Valley: You and Some of Your VC’s Have a Gender Problem” highlighting data from a recent Kauffman Foundation study (being release in the spring) on this very subject. He indicates that the study’s analysis of 549 startups concluded the following:

Women entrepreneurs were as highly educated as their male counterparts, had the same early interest in starting their own business, and learned the same valuable lessons from their work experience and from prior successes and failures. The only real difference was that women put a higher value on their business partners and on their personal and professional networks.

Is it that women are less competent than men? Quite to the contrary. An analysis performed by Cindy Padnos, managing director of Illuminate Ventures, showed that women are more capital-efficient than the norm and that venture-backed companies run by a woman had annual revenues that were 12 percent higher and used an average of one-third less committed capital. Women-led high-tech startups have lower failure rates than those led by men. And organizations that are the most inclusive of women in top management achieve 35% higher return on equity and 34% better total return to shareholders than do their peers.

Considering this information, it would seem that it’s not the quality of women or their drive as entrepreneurs that keeps them from participation in the field, but something else.

What can we do? Especially considering Vivek Wadhwa’s contention that “we’re holding back the most productive half of our population,” what else can we do to encourage the involvement and participation of women entrepreneurs as a space and at the Unreasonable Institute?

A US English essay is done by students studying English related courses in the United States. A US English essay is always written by students, to test on their academic progress, and to ensure that they improve on their research and research findings presentation skills.


  1. Thanks for your request, how to encourage involvement and participation of women:
    1. really, get more than 1 woman on your team
    2. actively search for women entrepreneur examples
    3. encourage women entrepreneurs to submit for the finalist marketplace

    Happy to help btw, we have portraited female internet heroes for 1,5 years now.

  2. Katie says:

    Thanks for your honesty in this article. I feel ya. I founded a non profit, More than Me, and we try to be intentional about having an eclectic board and "staff." It hasn't been easy, not sure how successful we have been, but we have it in mind and are on our way.

    Loved this encouraging article, thanks again!! :)


  3. SaraJoy says:

    My response was too long for a comment–read it here: http://blog.thetippingbucket.org/2010/02/23/seein

  4. Katie Corner says:

    "Considering this information, it would seem that it’s not the quality of women or their drive as entrepreneurs that keeps them from participation in the field, but something else"

    I've been conducting research on women in the College of Engineering at CU for over 6 months now, and many of our findings relate to the themes in this post. To help answer the question above, it may very well be a possibility that women (even the most talented) self-select out of the entrepreneur option. Literature notes that when women pick careers, work-life balance tends to be one of the strongest motivators in their selection. Thus, given the stereotypes often associated with the early years of start-ups, it seems possible that active avoidance could be part of the story. That is at least some of what we have been finding for why some of the most talented women leave engineering. Food for thought.

  5. Kanoe Naone says:

    Great analysis and article. I concur with Simone. You need at least one woman on your team. The way decisions are made and what decisions get made will be positively impacted by having women as full participants. Love your site.

  6. Jalak says:

    in my experience women have always been entrepreneurial, especially after working in careers that don't offer flexibility. however, as a vc, i am seeing an increasing number of women looking for venture funding and think the key is to ensure they have the same access to capital that their male counterparts do — and as a funder, i do what i can to help educate ALL entrepreneurs about the process and make sure that women are included in the conversation. this is not about preferential treatment, but awareness that existing networks aren't always the most inclusive (on many different fronts, not just gender).

  7. Teju, you raise a great point that has been on my mind for months. You are right that about a third end up being women – I was one of 8 out of 30 finalists at Echoing Green who were female, for instance. Not to open up a can of worms but I do think part of the reason has to do with gender norms in our culture. I do notice that it is harder for me to sell to funders than it is for men, and I'm not alone. A fantastic book on this subject (Women Don't Ask) has a telling quote: "although women now own about 40% of all businesses in the US, they receive only 2.3% of the avialble equity capital needed for growth–male-owned companies receive the other 97.7%" (admittedly this stat is out of date, but not TOO out of date). About 9 months ago I realized that almost all Ayllu's advisers are male. I also noticed that many of the funders I talked to were male, and sometimes I didn't feel like I could be 'male' enough and that I was at a disadvantage. There are definitely behavior norms that make it harder for women to present themselves than for men (whether these are learned by women or just expected by society). Many of my peer women social entrepreneurs feel the same. There was an excellent article in WSJ last May about how women don't shoot as high as men, and this can be really limiting for their companies (http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB10001424052748704688604575125543191609632.html). Women Don't Ask says women should not copy male behavior, but have to learn to be more effective in a feminine way. It's a really interesting idea; I wonder if it is something you can investigate as a possible workshop for the women in next year's institute.

    - Melissa Richer

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