#PressforProgress may be the theme for International Women’s Day 2018, but for female entrepreneurs it’s a mantra. Professor Margaret Maile Petty reveals how women are using entrepreneurship to break down the gender gap in business and society and why universities must continue to encourage impact-focused entrepreneurship.
Patriarchy is a real thing. That’s one of the lessons I’ve learned in my career. I’ve certainly been fortunate to have served in a variety of leadership roles, but representing the female minority is starting to wear thin.
In previous roles, I was often the only woman within management and executive teams. I have been to countless meetings where I was the only woman present. And most recently I was elected to an international board of directors, partly because I am a woman.
While I bristle at the thought that my most important credential is being female, I get that bigger change needs to happen and requires more women in senior roles. That’s why developing and promoting entrepreneurship has been one of the most exciting aspects of my work. The powerful skillsets and mindsets that entrepreneurship opens up are a conduit for tapping into our incredible human capital, offering new pathways that are self-defined.
I’m reassured to find so many talented, supportive women choosing this pathway. Like Nicola Hazell, who has been brilliantly leading the SheStarts female start-up accelerator. And Monica Wulff, CEO of Startup Muster, who has documented the progress in hard numbers, commenting that programs like SheStarts encourage more female founders by offering more relatable business role models.
Not to mention Annie Parker, former CEO of start-up space Fishburners. Annie’s known as one of the country’s most influential innovators – earning her a ground-breaking new role as Microsoft’s global head of start-ups. Annie, again showing us why she’s so well respected, has handed the reins to UTS alumna Pandora Shelley, ensuring the succession trajectory female leadership can carve out.
These leaders are demonstrating how entrepreneurship is breaking down the gender gap in business and society. Here’s how they’re doing it:
This flexible working, productivity-focused mindset is liberating for many women whose career progression has traditionally been defined by their ability to maintain full-time hours, or sacrifice family commitments.
2. Paying it forward
As Nicola from SheStarts has noted, engaging more women in start-ups will create a pipeline of future female CEOs, setting Australia up for a stronger, more equal future.
But, there is still much to be done. Women continue to face the issue of convincing largely male investors to back their ventures. Harvard Business School has found investors are 60 per cent more likely to invest in a man's proposal. And the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that less than five per cent of female-founded tech companies in Australia are funded by investors.
To break this cycle, women are ‘paying it forward’, literally. Take SheEO. Each year, they recruit 500 new women who contribute $US1100 each to a female-managed venture fund. That fund then provides interest-free loans to female founders. Every year the community expands by another 500 women and $US550,000. The result: a steady influx of robust female-founded ventures, ready to support the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
“Engaging more women in start-ups will create a pipeline of future female CEOs”
According to CNBC, expanding financing options like SheEO are fuelling the rise of women in the start-up scene. If you’re a successful founder, it might seem like an extra ask to ‘give back’ when you’re already juggling a daunting to do list, but this contribution will far exceed any expected return on investment.
I’ve always made it a point to invest in my own network, by helping others succeed, connecting people to opportunities and resources – not because I have something to gain in doing so, but because I know what it’s like to start out. And what I’ve found is that this investment always comes back to me two-fold, without asking, like a good karma exchange to which I would attribute much of my own success.
3. Creating new opportunities through social impact
Women are having a tremendous impact in social enterprise. Statistics show that 55 per cent of the world’s social entrepreneurs are male and 45 per cent female – a significantly smaller gap compared with the commercial world. There are multiple factors behind this; one importantly being many women launch businesses to gain a better work/life balance, rather than to chase hockey stick revenue models.
It’s not surprising then to see a number of impressive female role models in this space. Take UTS alumna Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of Settlement Services International (SSI), who was awarded Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year 2017. In the past four years, SSI, which helps refugees and migrants settle in Australia, has grown its revenue from $9 million to $110 million, and helped 1083 refugees and asylum seekers gain work in the past 18 months.
Women are showing that through entrepreneurship they are solving problems that governments don’t have the resources, consensus or know-how to address. Women are not just uniquely placed to help tackle issues specific to women, but to inspire others to contribute to causes they’re passionate about.
These female leaders demonstrate deep empathy for the problem they’ve set out to solve, and an acute awareness that innovation has the power to deliver real change. As SheEO founder Vicki Saunders has said: "I don't want to put my capital into the same old dumb apps that don't do anything in the world. I want to put my capital into female innovators who are strengthening our communities."
Many of the changes we need, to get to the point where women and men have the same opportunities for success, are already underway. But progress won’t happen by accident or be delivered top-down. It will accelerate with the actions, choices, generosity and resilience of all of us.
Universities have a critical role to play in encouraging impact-focused entrepreneurship, celebrating diversity in our role models and helping graduates take these skills and mindsets into the world. I’m proud to be championing such efforts at UTS, and to be able to call on a strong network of female leaders to help all of us succeed in this mission.
Margaret Maile Petty
Executive Director, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Creative Intelligence Unit