Following President Trump’s inauguration, many people are still struggling to come to terms with the result. Where some businesswomen see new opportunities with a President from the world of business, others fear that doors may have been closed, and things may become tougher. Here then are four reasons to allay some of those fears and give everyone cause for optimism.
Cities are offering more help to female entrepreneurs
One of the most important elements in launching a successful startup is mentorship and guidance. In a 2014 survey by UPS, 70% of businesses which receive mentoring stay open for five years or more, and 88% of those credit their mentors as “invaluable” in their continued success.
Yet with the relative paucity of women in certain areas of business comes a lack of mentors, who can help cater for the specific challenges faced by female entrepreneurs. Women also face issues when it comes to funding. Securing money from largely male investors can be tricky, as can extra costs such as childcare, with mothers making up more than 80% of single parent families in America according to the US Census Bureau.
The good news is that cities have started to pick up the slack, and make themselves a more enticing proposition for the nation’s entrepreneurs. New York City has led the way under Mayor Bill de Blasio, hiring women in key governmental posts and sanctioning new grants and schemes. Thanks to programs like the $16bn Minority & Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) certification and Women Entrepreneurs NYC (WE NYC) support network, 40% of all NYC businesses are now run by women. The 2016 WE Cities index ranks the city as the best in the world for women-owned enterprise, dominating the criteria for market access and the value & frequency of funding.
By all measures, the US is leading the way when it comes to enabling female entrepreneurship. The 2015 Female Entrepreneurship Index (FEI) ranked the United States first in the world, well clear of second place Australia. The top 25 WE Cities also include the Bay Area, Washington, Seattle and Austin, while a Center for an Urban Future report found that Memphis and Dallas have the highest female-led business revenue and growth.
And the broader Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking (GSER) found that six of the top 20 global cities by percentage of female-led startups were in the USA. Much remains to be done, but America is already in prime position to continue this expansion in the years to come.
Silicon Valley is becoming more diverse
The tech industry’s diversity problem has been well documented in recent years, with several lamentable Twitter campaigns painting a picture of a field hampered by the glass ceiling and instances of harassment. A combination of poor public image, company culture and a lack of support mean that little had changed in recent years, even as tech companies openly acknowledged the diversity problem.
A recent report by Morgan Stanley suggests companies with greater gender diversity experienced higher ROE and stock performance. Separate reports by McKinsey and Sodexo meanwhile posit that companies with more diverse boards of directors significantly outperform all-male boards. But the relative shortage of candidates for tech and board level jobs has led to fingers being pointed in every direction. Companies blame education and educators blame companies, with no side until now really willing to commit to serious change.
The past year has seen the buck fall to the women of Silicon Valley, and they are starting to make headway. The Watermark Index, a sort of ‘Bechdel test’ for Bay Area boards of directors, has been set up by female Bay Area executives to hold companies to account.
‘Diversity coaches’ such as Paradigm have sprung up to offer advice and support to tech unicorns, with clients including Airbnb and Pinterest. Elsewhere, a coalition of prominent CEOs and investors including former Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao launched Project Include earlier this year, a consultancy and data tracking scheme to assist small and medium sized tech startups.
One of the biggest hurdles for female entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley is funding. One entrepreneur who sold her startup to Microsoft found that while investors were becoming more comfortable taking advice from wives and girlfriends on fashion startups, they were still reluctant to invest in women with tech and engineering ideas. To this end, groups like Pipeline Angels have emerged, combining the forces of female angel investors across the country to invest in great ideas by great women.
Whether organically or through outside pressures, many of the larger firms have gone public in their desire to improve the diversity of their staff. Apple, Google and Facebook have all made public their desire to hire more broadly, publishing reports on their current staff diversity. Apple increased the proportion of women and minorities in the company in 2016, while Intel have announced a $300m fund to improve diversity in both their company and the wider tech sector.
There’s still plenty of work to be done, but diversity will continue to be a flagship policy through the years to come.
There’s a concerted effort to boost STEM subject take-up
While tech companies continue to work on inclusivity and image, sourcing talent for the tech and engineering fields means a change in education. While girls are consistently shown to perform at an equal or greater level than boys in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, take-up drops off through school and into undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. While some would argue that girls simply aren’t as interested in these fields, the overwhelming consensus is that they just aren’t being promoted or taught in a way which engages young women, and demonstrates the rewards of a STEM based career.
With 2016 showing an improvement in the number of girls pursuing STEM subjects, it’s vital that progress continues to be made. While the Clinton campaign showed a heartening level of support for women in leadership, attacks during the campaign on women were worrying, and stands to negatively affect young people’s perceptions of what is acceptable.
Perhaps the best way to challenge this is to demonstrate that STEM career paths are accessible through good career advice and visible role models. This means changing attitudes among teachers and parents, and celebrating the individuals who have succeeded in the field.
Online groups such as the female-run I F**king Love Science and A Mighty Girl regularly trumpet lesser known female voices and historical achievements, while providing resources to parents and educators.
The stories of Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin, the fact that the Apollo mission was saved by a female programmer, or the fact that 75% of the Enigma code cracking team was made up of women are more relevant and resonant now than ever.
We collectively need to make sure that efforts like A Mighty Girl and WISE conferences aren’t just a way to support people already in those areas, or something neat to like on Facebook, but an active part of education. Figures like Kim Kardashian aren’t necessarily always bad role models, but kids can only benefit from a more diverse range of inspirational women across a spectrum of careers.
More and more women are finding their voice
The best news is that there is more impetus than ever for women to succeed in business. Despite losing to Donald Trump, a plurality of the country’s voters voted for Hillary Clinton to take up the most demanding role on the planet. The fact that the Presidency is now an attainable goal for women should make becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company small fry by comparison.
For all the difficulties that many women may now face, the election result is also a motivating factor. Numerous articles and anecdotes indicate that women are making a more concerted effort to call out bullying, harassment and other instances of sexism or gender bias without the fear of resultant stigma. The use of ‘bossy,’ ‘catty’ and ‘shrill’ stand to be resigned to the history books, and there is a widespread desire to prove through action what could not be argued through words.
In true Rosie the Riveter spirit, the warlike nature of the election campaign stands to drive greater engagement and success on issues that affect not just women, but the makeup of a more progressive and successful society. Women will be more driven to start businesses, and men and women in business stand to be motivated to provide more assistance in mentorship and funding. Whatever your position on the President, the last 12 months of discourse around women in America can be a rallying cry that will drive progress in all industries.
Author: As the founder of Start An American Company.com, Heather Landau has honed her skills in service advisory from the pragmatic to the practical. With a total of 25 years combined experience in international marketing and business development, Heather is a leading voice on company formation in the U.S., and operates similar services across Europe and the rest of the world. On top of her knack for helping SMEs develop into the USA, Australia and Europe, Heather holds a BA (Hons) in Modern Languages (French/Italian), and is conversational in German and Spanish.