We’ve all heard the stories of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs plotting world dominance from their college dorm rooms (or parents’ garage, as the case was for Jobs), but how often do we hear of young women doing the same thing?
According to The Student Room and The University of Law Business School, by the age of 21, there are twice as many male entrepreneurs than female at university – in fact, it’s even more than that: the study found that 20% of male students had already started their own business compared to just 8% of female students.
The survey, which canvassed over 1,200 people found that the disparity came down to confidence – or lack thereof – in young female students.
Of the students that were questioned, 73% of female versus 59% of male participants cited fear of failure as the main de-motivator and 64% of females versus 50% of males said that not knowing how to fund start-up costs was another. 61% of female contributors admitted they were also afraid of losing money, compared to 52% of male contributors. Perhaps the biggest disparity of all was that 45% of the women surveyed were afraid of having the responsibility of other people’s livelihoods on their shoulders, whereas only 29% of men were worried about this.
What interests me so much in this survey is the underlying stereotypical gender roles that are still very much at play in Generation Z.
Many young men are still growing up with a more solid belief in their own abilities whereas young women, as this survey attests, continue to doubt themselves. Young men continue to have a more confident grasp on money whilst young women are still adopting a care-taking persona.
This is not to say that either sex is incapable of feeling the opposite but it cannot be denied that gender norms are still proving to be a huge contributor to – or inhibitor of – young people’s self esteem. And that’s not even considering the huge effect that other factors, such as race, sexual orientation and upbringing will also have on how confident these young women feel about starting out on their own.
The good news is, there are still plenty of role models to look up to. Below are some sage words of advice from young female business owners who took the leap despite the odds stacked against them.
Ellen de Visser, founder of AccessEast Translation
Experience: As a young female entrepreneur, it’s hard to find good role models – 80% of the people in the room at entrepreneurial networking events are men and, unfortunately, this is the case for both participants and speakers. It can be lonely if you feel like you can’t identify with anyone, but this has motivated me to speak at events such as TEDx and to host my own, to inspire and empower other young females – we don’t have to take the path that is expected of us.
Advice: I think the most important thing for women who want to start a business to consider is, even if you don’t have a specific idea, start going to networking events and find like-minded people who will motivate you to take the next steps. Building a network is not only good for yourself and your business but going to events will also encourage other
women in your environment that they can do it too.
If you like freedom with responsibility, creating something innovative that you care about and steep learning curves, entrepreneurship is definitely something for you.
Lyndsey Johnson, founder of GrowthVine
Experience: I started GrowthVine when I was an 18-year-old university student after being motivated by the public shaming I received from one of my male lecturers and abandonment from my employer when I fell pregnant. During this time I decided that I wasn’t going to work for anybody else. I didn’t know the first thing about how to run a business and the first time I tried, I failed – which was met by well meaning but hurtful comments from my father, asking me if I was going to get a proper job now.
I took what I learnt from my first attempt and used it to refine GrowthVine. I kept learning, I kept taking the knocks and ignoring people’s negativity and my business kept growing. Now I’m a multi-award-winning business owner having fulfilled 800,000 orders per year and regularly reaching an audience of 25,000 with my consultancy.
Advice: The biggest difficulty females face in business is other people’s perceptions, so you’ve got to be even tougher and work even harder to gain the same respect as a man. Don’t let the people that don’t take you seriously get you down and don’t worry if you don’t have the confidence others around you seem to have. Your confidence will grow as your success does, so don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and your skills – this is what will really grow your business and your confidence.
Kim Aviv, founder of tech start-up Pathfinder
Experience: It wasn’t easy to ensure that I was taken seriously, and on one occasion, despite having consciously chosen to wear trousers to a meeting to de-gender myself, a VC executive asked me why I’m not wearing a skirt with my long legs. Often it felt like it was a lost battle, and there wasn’t a way to win respect. I did manage to raise investment from five male Angel investors who I have the utmost appreciation and respect for, but following my experiences, I believe that the startup community as a whole and the tech sector in particular is seriously oppressive towards females.
It is tiring to have your intelligence and capabilities questioned from the very start of a conversation, almost every day, just because of your gender. It is frustrating to see lesser startups that are male-run raise more capital, just because of gender. I overcome these hurdles every single day as a female business owner and yearn for the day where my gender wouldn’t play a role in how I am perceived and respected.
Advice: As someone who found themselves anxious and confused throughout their studies, I can honestly say that you can do whatever you put your mind to, what you don’t know you will learn, what you haven’t tried you will experience, and if you fail you will survive. The journey is as important as the end result, and it’s a hell of a ride.
Abigail and Chloe Baldwin, co-founders of creative studio Buttercrumble
Experience: When we first started our business, we were both shy and worried about other people’s perceptions of us. We’ve definitely had to try harder to be taken seriously as young women and had to prove that we’re capable, but we soon realized that we had supporters out there. We’re still introverts, but we’ve gained so much self-confidence as the business has developed and we’ve had the pleasure of working on projects with John Lewis, Chester Zoo and the Royal Armouries.
Advice: You don’t need to be the best in the world or a global success overnight. Take each day as it comes, because you’re constantly improving and strengthening your skills. As long as you’re persistent, strong-willed and passionate about your idea, you can achieve what you set your mind to.
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