I recently had the privilege of meeting Peggy Wallace, Managing Partner of Golden Seeds; the group, which as noted in The Australian, invested more than US $60 million in 60 female-led businesses in the last decade – making it the fourth largest angel investment group in the US. In her interview with the paper, she cites that when Facebook floated on the New York Stock Exchange two years ago with more than 800 million female users, there were controversially no women on its board (there are now two).
Just as Wallace did in the US, Scale Investors and its members in Australia are on a mission to fund the female brain and help women-led start-ups gain equal footing in a male-dominated world. These groups and others such as Commonwealth Bank’s Women in Focus, Springboard Australia and Jo Burston’s Inspiring Rare Birds are all pushing for more women in business and supporting them.
Pressures on the Australian economy over the coming years will challenge our aim to remain competitive globally.
Here’s why we need more women entrepreneurs to help sustain and fuel our growth.
Better representation of the population
Women constitute about half our population. We now play an active role as decision makers in male dominated industries from insurance, real estate and car purchases to home entertainment technology. As we become more active participants in the economy around us, we need more women starting and being involved in start-ups, to give voice to the needs of half the population.
Gender diversity in business and start-ups is not new. It has been a long running point of discussion and debate. The glass ceiling is breaking in some areas by people such as Jennifer Lee, co-director of movie Frozen, the first movie directed by a woman to get $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales and Cathy Engelbert, recently appointed chief executive officer of Deloitte’s, the first woman to lead a major U.S. accounting and consulting firm. But, as in Facebook’s case, businesses across most sectors are still shockingly behind when it comes to representing some of their biggest consumers and decision makers.
Like Jennifer Lee and Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx hosiery for slimming and firming, a company valued at $9 billion, we need more women representing and addressing the needs of one half of the consumer population.
Inspiring bigger successes
While there are more women starting businesses than men, we still don’t have as many big success stories as Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos globally. Women like Oprah Winfrey and Sara Blakely on a global level and Janine Ellis and Carmen Creswell in Australia are the few examples of those who have made it big.
One thing we frequently hear when talking about successful male entrepreneurs – especially those in technology – is how they were tinkering with ideas in college or their early years. With the exception of very few such as Marita Cheng, 2012 Young Australian of the Year and founder of Robogals, we rarely hear about girls exploring ideas that could lead into a business from an early age.
We need more successful women entrepreneurs to act as role models for future generations. As Jana Matthews, board member of StartUpAus said, “We need many more people who can make a job rather than just take a job”. This is more relevant now when unemployment is at its highest in over a decade.
Women identify problems different to men and start different companies as a result. As a gender, we look at the concept of innovation not as a means to an end, but rather as a tool to adding value to our lives and of those around us. Where male-led start-ups have traditionally approached innovation by identifying a market gap, women have tried to solve personal or broader community challenges. There is nothing wrong with the former. But it would be good to have more solutions addressing the issues of both genders.
As much as we need women in business, we also need women to identify problems different to men. Be it a small lifestyle business or big ones pursuing growth such as Saladax Biomedical (funded by Golden Seeds) that personalises chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients. If we’ve learnt anything from the disruptiveness of the last few years, it is that different is good.
More aligned with collaborative economy
Women tend to be more inclusive than men. We are less afraid to ask for help and more willing to collaborate when the need arises. This skill set will be instrumental as collaborative practises get mainstream in workplaces, manufacturing, consumption, resource management, recycling and how we perceive competition.
With community driven collaborative movements shaping our economy and culture, we will, and should, see more women involved in 3D printing, co-creation, software as services technology and other platforms leading the change. We will hopefully see more women like Ayah Bdeir, founder of New York based LittleBits that is democratising electrical engineering by giving people the power to invent their own technology, spearheading the change through collaboration.
Let me make it clear – more women becoming entrepreneurs will not automatically solve the world’s issues, our economic concerns or unemployment. But it helps in looking at these problems from a different perspective. As Peggy Wallace and her team are proving, it helps in creating diverse ideas and solutions to communities big and small. This could only be good for all of us now and, in the years to come.