When you were little, did you ever run a lemonade stand with your friends in the summer? Sell silly bandz to your classmates at recess? Run a secret trade of japanese erasers?
Me too. These entrepreneurial ventures, though trivial, were my early attempts at running my own small business. I liked the organizational aspect of it all, the products like challenges I could conquer and most importantly, I was eager to be my own boss.
Fast forward to the end of high school, and my spark for entrepreneurship had expanded. My friend Bella and I had created a small business we called “Crafting the Canyon,” where we sold handmade earrings and donated our funds to a new organization each month. In the three months before we left for college, Bella and I raised over $700 for The International Rescue Committee, The Innocence Project and Women for Women International, using our voices to support the Yemen Humanitarian Crisis, wrongfully convicted individuals and female survivors of war. For complete amateurs, this short-lived business venture felt like a success. Still, neither of us were interested in expanding or becoming jewelry designers, so it really was just an experiment.
Just for fun, though, let’s say that Bella and I decided to invest ourselves in the business, try and grow it into something real. The fact of the matter is that we would probably fail. Here’s why.
Many young women share my spark for entrepreneurship, but society doesn’t always nurture this spark. Did you know that 1972 was the first year women were included in the US Census Bureau? That we only run 36% of the world’s small businesses? That 90% of women-owned businesses generate less than $100,000 yearly?
Obviously, this is not because women are any less qualified than men, but simply because we are not given the same opportunities. Not only are women in business made to feel less confident than their male counterparts, but they are physically given less money to back their vision. Even in 2021, business ventures led by women are still 63% less likely to obtain venture capital than those led by men. Though male and female entrepreneurs are found to have equal success in business, this is only if they are backed by venture capital. So, if it all comes down to funding, women face a severe disadvantage early on in their entrepreneurial endeavors purely due to their gender.
These statistics, though infuriating, also feel kind of distant at first read. How does this really happen? How are the odds really stacked against us this severely?
Amanda Kreuser, co-founder of Masthead Media, describes how it is possible that only 3% of funding goes to all-female founders when we own nearly 40% of all businesses. Putting it in perspective, she discusses that women in business have come a long way in recent decades; Only 33 years ago, women still needed men to cosign their loans in order to raise funding. Though we are now technically equals in the workplace, a combination of misogynistic culture and internal biases holds us back. When a female entrepreneur is pitching to a room full of men, it’s improbable that many of her interviewers can relate to her background or see the business from a female perspective. Furthermore, a study published in Harvard Business Review found that interviewers frame their questions with bias, asking men about growth and women about potential loss. As women only make up 10% of these interviewers in US venture capital firms, we can clearly see how this cycle of inequity persists.
Knowing that this corruption has been accepted within the industry for so long is disheartening, but I feel that it’s more important to focus on bridging the gap than dwelling on our losses. Though there won’t be some overnight fix, we can start simple: empowering fellow women to take risks. Looking back on my experience, I realize that I am lucky to be surrounded by a supportive group of women who encouraged me in my business venture. If I had questioned myself or allowed judgement to infect my confidence, there is no way that I would’ve found the small (but meaningful) success I did. Women are capable and creative and we don’t hear that enough. If you have a passion and a cause, you can do it too, whether it’s a lemonade stand or a start-up