I’m a 36 year-old serial entrepreneur. I run a successful web agency and am the Blogger-In-Chief of one of the most popular nonprofit practitioner blogs. I will also be writing a book this year. Like most serial entrepreneurs, I’m constantly coming up with new business ideas and I believe failure is one of the best lessons you can get as an entrepreneur.
My upbringing has a lot to do with the career paths I chose both during and after college. Here’s a little background. Growing up my dad refused to work for anyone else. He started several small businesses. Some he sold and profited from. Others totally failed.
After my parents divorced when I was in 4th grade, my mom went back to school to earn her bachelors degree. She regretted never finishing college before she got married and had kids. My mom finished her masters when I was in high school. While my mom showed me the value of education, my sisters and my dad showed me that if you want to do something in life, you go out and do it. And that you learn by failing. All valuable lessons, right? Of course not everyone was raised like this. It got me thinking about Lisa Barone’s, recent “A Letter to Women in Tech, I Let you Down“, a response she wrote because she was fed up with articles talking about how hard it is to be a woman in tech and “attributing random personality traits to gender.” I enjoyed reading Barone’s snarky post because I can relate.
But I also recognize that not every woman (or man) grew up the way I did or has the confidence and support that I do today. Sadly, there are plenty of women and men who were taught traditional gender roles growing up and that helped shape their lives. I believe this has contributed to so few women who are:
- Going out for VC funding and getting funded. In 2010 women-owned ventures accounted for 21% of the entrepreneurs that were seeking angel capital. 13% of angel funding were granted to women. Though that is a 4% increase from 2009, according to a study by the Center for Venture Research at University of New Hampshire, data indicates that when women do seek angel capital lag behind the market yield rate by 5%.
- Sitting on the Board of Directors. The percentage of women board directors in the Fortune 500 is about 15%, according to the Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors.
- Occupying the C-suite. There are 489 male CEO’s on the Fortune 500 list. Only 11 women occupy the C-suite.
Looking at these dismal stats can be depressing. But I’m also optimistic that can we can move the needle. Over the last few years there’s been a surge of discussion about women in tech and women-run startups. Groups like the Anita Borg Institute, ASTIA, Golden Seeds, Women 2.0, and DC Web Women have formed to help bring women together to provide funding, resources, and great networks to help advance technical women’s careers. Angels like Paige Craig are starting to publicly admit their biases such as “A pregnant founder / CEO is going to fail her company” which Paige recently struggled with and overcame.
But much more is needed. We need to foster young girls’ interest in tech. We need teachers and parents to help keep girls interested in tech and ignore stereotypical gender roles. For example, did you know that for the last five years, the National Center for Women and Information Technology has continued to host the Aspirations Award to recognize young women in high-school for their computing-related achievements and interests? Colleges award winners with scholarships. The award has drawn interest from nearly 6,000 young women that self-identify as interested in careers in computing. (Full disclosure: I’m running a peer-to-peer fundraising competition with my friends Danny Brown, Geoff Livingston, and Julie Pippert, to raise money to support the Aspirations Awards).
Natalia Oberti Noguera recently launched the Pipeline Fund in response to the rumblings about the lack of women-led and funded startups. The Pipeline Fund is a social venture fund that invests in women-led for-profit social ventures and trains women to become angel investors. After receiving numerous applications, the Pipeline Fund selected ten women entrepreneurs to be a part of their inaugural program. The women have also committed to pooling their investment money together and will fund a women-led startup at the end of the program.
Have we come a long way? Yes and no. One thing is for sure though, we still have far to go!
Disclosure: I’m on the Advisory Board for the Anita Borg Institute.