In Middle Tech’s recent episode with the co-founders of Women Innovators, Founders, and Leaders, or WIFL for short, breaking the gender gap in business ownership and participation rates of women in business was discussed at length. In their conversation with Laura Halligan and Meredith Moore, the Middle Tech team in Episode 137 attempted to gain a better understanding of what it actually takes to include more women in the tech, entrepreneur, and startup ecosystem. This episode is a must-listen for any new founder or business owner looking to increase the company’s inclusion of women.
First, like when handling any problem, it takes recognizing that there is actually a problem. Of course, most players in this ecosystem recognize that more women are needed in this space, but few recognize that there really isn’t any data specific to the problem in the tech and startup scene in this part of the country. Laura points out that there simply is no metric tracking women’s participation in Tech and Entrepreneurism in the specific ways needed to advance the goal of more inclusion. There is some non-specific data comparing the gender gap, summarized spectacularly by Evan Knowles in his blog for Middle Tech, “The Gender Gap by The Numbers”, but this general data simply does not give companies the metrics they need to include more women. Government bodies and extensions like the Small Business Development Center and the Kentucky Department of Economic Development need to step up to help provide more specific data that gives metrics helpful to driving change.
Second, male founders must realize that it is more than making the job available to women; it requires active measures to include, like tailoring job descriptions to have language that resonates more with women or by expanding beyond your network into groups that are specifically promoting women as thought leaders. Laura points out that founders must ask themselves “what are the things that would make women feel comfortable working with you? Or what are the types of things from a hiring perspective that maybe we're only looking from the male perspective that would make this job more attractive to a woman in tech?” When looking for talent, founders should be aware that they may need to cast a larger net to truly reach women who are both interested and qualified.
Third, understand that it is never too late to bring in more female diversity, but also know it is much easier to include women from the beginning before any set culture dominates. Plain and simple: if a “bro-culture” has already been established as a company’s norm, then most women will not feel comfortable or invited to work in that culture. WIFL is amazing because it is creating an environment and culture that women are comfortable being themselves in, which is not something that is true in the entrepreneur ecosystem in general. They have found success because not only do the participants feel comfortable to truly be themselves but also because their presenters and leaders do not try to change their reality when speaking to the group. For example, one presentation was led by a woman who held her child on her hip for the entire presentation, which made the participants feel comfortable being a mother in that environment. It takes recognizing that everyone is human and has human needs, which includes motherhood, so that women feel recognized and empathized with.
Finally, involve women in leadership roles and public-facing roles, so that women feel that it is normal for them to be involved in such a business. Just like Vice President Kamala Harris is normalizing women of color being in the White House, a founder who puts women front and center normalizes women being involved in and leading their company.
Of course, this problem is not one that will go away quickly, but that is because the problem is so deeply rooted in entrepreneurism. Solving this problem will take active planning and action on behalf of all founders. Fortunately, as more founders are successful in their diversity and inclusion missions, it will become more normalized for women to participate and lead thus making it easier to destroy the gender gap. Everyone stands to benefit from destroying the gender gap, so let’s all take action in trying to do so.