What’s the current status of women in business? Well, if you look only at entrants into business school, it seems we’re steadily approaching gender parity.
Nonprofit organization AACSB International found that women now represent at least four in every ten enrollments in business schools overall. This includes 44.3% of students pursuing undergraduate programs, 40.5% of MBA programs, 48.2% of specialized masters, and 41.3% of doctoral programs.
That’s good news on its own. However, it’s not all rosy. For example, as nonprofit group Girls with Impact reports, barely one in every five participants in a college venture competition is a woman. This is true even though, among the winners in said competitions, more than half had at least one female founder. One in three winners had a female CEO.
It’s not surprising that teams with at least one female members tended to win. After all, we know that more diverse teams tend to outperform their homogenous counterparts. What is surprising is that the number of women participating in these competitions is so low.
The findings show that women who are willing to take on the risks and challenges of entrepreneurship are just as capable of creating a path to success as their male peers. There’s no need for women to wait for employers to recognize their worth, or for equal-opportunity programs to help them get ahead. With entrepreneurial initiative, women can open their own doors.
But if that’s the case, then why aren’t they?
The Entrepreneurial Mindset is Key
Girls with Impact also found that women represent a much smaller share of those enrolled in entrepreneurship classes. At present, only 18% of entrepreneurship students are women. It’s even worse in classes that are “real-world”-focused, rather than theory-based, with enrollment dropping as low as 5%.
These classes give students the tools and know-how to succeed in the marketplace as entrepreneurs, so there is a lot of value inherent in them. However, even for young women who don’t plan to start their own business, entrepreneurship classes can still help develop useful skills.
I’m a strong believer in the power of an entrepreneurial mindset. Thinking like an entrepreneur draws on numerous widely-applicable skills, including critical thinking, leadership, business administration, and investing, just to name a few.
Training and education in entrepreneurship can help women develop their abilities and hone valuable knowledge that will increase their skillset and value in the job market. For example, let’s assume a woman wants to pursue a career in engineering. This is a male-dominated field, with only 20% of engineering degrees awarded to women, and women representing just 13% of the workforce. The above-mentioned skills developed through entrepreneurial education can help her tremendously to compete in the job market.
Entrepreneurial education, venture competitions, and other opportunities to expand one’s skillset are important. Personally, I believe the absence of women in these places suggests a two-faceted problem.
First, it’s a crisis of confidence. Girls and young women are not traditionally encouraged to pursue paths of entrepreneurship, and the same is true of other fields like STEM. This lack of encouragement reinforces the idea of business and STEM as being fields “for men.”
Second, there’s a lack of understanding regarding the value of entrepreneurial education. We need to act if we hope to correct that.
What We Can Do
I see a lot of promise in programs aimed at helping boost interest and enthusiasm in this area. However, we need to start young.
For example, the Entrepreneurship and Small Business Institute at California State University – Channel Islands recently hosted an event called the STEM Innovation Challenge. Organizers paired middle school girls with female mentors studying in STEM fields at the university, and gave each team three hours to develop a prototype capable of supporting UN sustainable development goals. At the end, female STEM professionals judged the results.
This type of initiative has numerous benefits. It stimulates creativity, encouraging interest in entrepreneurship and STEM. It connects young girls with older female mentors and role models. And, it allows them to earn public recognition for their accomplishments, which addresses issue of confidence mentioned earlier.
We shouldn’t just leave it to the universities, though. Private businesses can (and should) play a role.
Private organizations can work with educators to establish programs to nurture young women’s interest and confidence in STEM and entrepreneurial ventures. This will, in turn, promote innovative thinking and risk-taking, and help create a whole new generation of female entrepreneurs, STEM workers, and anything else young people can set their minds to.
The economy of the future demands entrepreneurial thinking. It’s up to us now to instill that in young women if they’re going to be competitive in the marketplace.
Monica Eaton-Cardone is an entrepreneur and business leader with expertise in technology, e-Commerce, risk relativity and payment-processing solutions. She is COO of Chargebacks911 and CIO of its parent company Global Risk Technologies.
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