Is it harder to succeed as a female entrepreneur? If it truly is, to quote James Brown, A Man’s Man’s Man’s World out there in Entrepreneurship ville, what does that mean for those of us who teach young men and women to start their own businesses?
According to a recent article by Lydia Dishman, “Practical Advice From Female Entrepreneurs Who Stand Out in a Sea of Dudes,” male entrepreneurs outnumber their female counterparts 3.5 to 1 and the women featured in her story claim it feels like an even more disparate ratio. Issues raised include being relegated to a “mom” role within a heavily male venture, not being taken as seriously as men in the same positions, feeling less able to speak up, and the uncomfortable feeling of being the only woman in a room full of men. This isn’t the familiar career versus family dilemma that is so often the focus of discussions about women in business (which judging by Google- over 26 million hits in .41 seconds- continues to be a hot issue and a very important one). No, the difficulties cited by Ms. Dishman are all inherently related to the femaleness of being female, which would affect an entrepreneur whether she is 11 or 91.
How then to tackle these issues as an educator? We are not interested, nor should we be, in teaching our young female entrepreneurs to be somehow less female. Neither, though, do we have control over the current state and demographics of the world of entrepreneurship. What do we do to make it easier for those of our students who decide to enter that arena? Perhaps it can best be achieved by normalization- preparing all of our students, regardless of gender, to pitch to friendly and unfriendly panels, to be in rooms surrounded by peers and by strangers, to always be completely prepared and ready to speak up, and to be always aware that entrepreneurs come in all types. For example, here at The Possible Project , a youth entrepreneurship center that teaches high school students to start and run their own businesses, we work hard to create a diverse environment, including diversity of gender. Our students come to us through a nomination process and our education team (which is co-ed) works with the schools to find students of both genders. We regularly bring in entrepreneurs and local business owners to interact with students and care is taken to ensure that equal numbers of male and female speakers, advisors, and guests are engaged.
Additionally, The Possible Project, and all of those who are involved in teaching and mentoring young people in entrepreneurship, can take lessons from how we talk to students about using the issue and diversity of their youth. Ms. Dishman’s article featured five female entrepreneurs sharing their advice on how to succeed in a male-dominated field. Similarly, as all of our students start to run their ventures, we talk about how to succeed as a teen entrepreneur in a world full of adults. Many of the tools and strategies we discuss mirror those used by the women cited by Ms. Dishman: be as prepared as possible because you may be underestimated, use your diversity to stand out when appropriate, gain exposure to a wide variety of people and places so that you aren’t freaked out when you’re the only person who looks like you in a room, and don’t go it alone- collaborate and form partnerships so that you always have backup and support.
And all entrepreneurs- male, female, young, and not-so-young- should remember that good ideas can come from anyone and anywhere, so never be afraid to stand up and say, “I have a great idea.” And don’t be afraid to use that restroom labeled “Entrepreneurs.”
Megan’s career has focused on helping to improve the lives of vulnerable populations. A graduate of Boston College and Georgetown University Law Center, Megan spent eight years working as an attorney before spending several years in a non-legal capacity in the housing and homelessness field. Working with youth has always been a priority for Megan and she has worked as a teacher, tutor, and mentor. Megan also writes literature for children and lives with her husband and two superhero dogs.