of Bill Gates and Andy Groves and Steve Jobs has come to a close, and a new
group of entrepreneurs and leaders is emerging—one as talented and driven as
any previous generation I can think of. But there’s something profoundly wrong
with the next generation of business leaders, as business channel CNBC has inadvertently
when doing research for a client, I happened on CNBC’s 2015 list of Top 50
Disruptors. All of these disruptors, defined as private
companies whose innovations are having a dramatic impact across their industries,
have attracted venture capital. Many of them are destined to change the world.
And some – like Uber and SpaceX and Airbnb – already have. But when I saw the photographs of
the entrepreneur-leaders behind these companies, something struck me as odd.
of them were male.
big deal, I thought. That’s just the top five. What about the other 45? Let’s
see the rest of these business all-stars before I jump to any conclusions. But
when I scanned the remaining 45 photos, all I saw was row after row of males.
There were but three exceptions, which I’ve highlighted in yellow.
up with that? Look, I’m not a statistician, but even I can recognize a
statistical anomaly when it stares me right in the face.
to try and find out why, I found a couple of interesting facts.
Very few CEOs in the Standard & Poor’s 500 are women. Most of us could have
guessed that. But I was shocked to find that they represent only 4.8%
of chief executives.
are nearly twice as likely as women to launch a new
fine. But neither of these facts explains the huge discrepancy in CNBC’s list. Only 3 startups out of fifty? If my math
is correct, that’s a meager 6 per cent. How can anyone explain this massive incongruity?
it’s not that women are less competent at running startups than men. Studies
show that women startup founders actually outperform
their all-male counterparts, with female founders performing 63% better than all-male
teams, according to a study by First Round Capital (ten years of data on over 300
companies and nearly 600 founders were analyzed.)
the solution to the puzzle might be found in another interesting fact. It seems
that firms with technical co-founders
perform a full 230 per cent better
than their non-technical colleagues. By technical, they are referring to STEM –
those with a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math education.
clearly tips the scales in favour of men, because women tend to shy away from
STEM related fields, even though they are just as capable of excelling at STEM
courses as men. So why the aversion? It appears to be a cultural issue
according to a U.S. government study entitled “Women
in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation.” Several factors contributed to
the gender discrepancy in STEM jobs, according to the study, including “a lack
of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly
flexibility in the STEM fields.”
now we’ve narrowed it down to culture and stereotyping—at least as far as tech startups are concerned. But that still begs the question, why should we be concerned about the lack of women in tech startups? After all, what’s wrong
with women starting healthcare firms or lifestyle companies or social services
organizations, which many do? Nothing at all. Except for this:
to be scalable.
means they’re not perceived as being capable of growing at double digit rates.
And that means they will not attract VC
funding on a consistent basis, which means women-owned startups will have far
less chance of becoming the next Uber or Airbnb, let alone the next Microsoft
Entrepreneurs are still seen and
judged through a male lens
capitalists are smart people. In fact they are some of the smartest people
around. But they are people. And in
business, people tend to associate with like-minded people. And since the vast
majority of VCs are male, they tend to fund the people they know
best. That would be younger versions of themselves, i.e. other males. “Men are
more likely to nominate men, so if we actually want to recognize the best of
the best, we need to actively encourage women to apply,” said Dr. Catherine
Anderson in a 2015 Maclean’s article entitled “Why
there are still far too few women in STEM.”
may not be enough. Sociology professor Sarah Thébaud has unearthed new
evidence indicating that women entrepreneurs are at a disadvantage “because
people are prone to doubt that they possess the kinds of traits and skills that
we stereotypically associate with entrepreneurship.”
a series of experiments she conducted in the U.S. and U.K., she asked participants
to evaluate a mixture of mundane and innovative entrepreneurial pitches by men
and women. Some participants were told that women led the ventures, and others
that men were in charge. They then scored each business on a series of measures
designed to capture the extent to which they thought it would be viable and
worthy of investment. They rated each entrepreneur on a series of dimensions,
such as how competent and skilled they seemed and their perceived level of
“I found that participants, when considering pitches of
run-of-the-mill business ideas, rated women-led ones as generally less viable
and less investment-worthy than those described as spearheaded by men. And,
even though there were roughly equivalent numbers of male and female
participants, I didn’t find any evidence of gender differences: Women
rated women just as poorly as the men did. (The participants were also
mostly in their early 20s, a sign that this form of gender bias is not a
bastion of older generations.) In reality, entrepreneurs
aren’t lone warriors […]. Creating a less gendered vision of what
successful entrepreneurship looks like will undoubtedly be challenging. But one
way to start would be for investors, organizations and educators focused on
entrepreneurship to actively promote and rely on criteria based on the content
of a business plan, rather than the perceived personality traits of a given
can only answer, good luck with that! We’ve
already established there is cognitive bias, which is notoriously difficult to
remove. So what can
be done? Is there any light at the end of this seemingly impenetrable tunnel? Could
the solution be as simple as finding more high-powered female venture capitalists,
like Mary Meeker and Kelly Hoey? That would help. But it’s not enough. Filling the VC ranks with women is not easy, given the technical and business requirements of the job. And even if there were more women VCs, women aren’t inclined to bestow any favours
on their own sex, as we noted in Sarah Thébaud’s study, earlier.
solution might be to turn the problem upside down—by changing our educational culture.
What if we started embracing science as an art? After all, science is every bit
as creative as any of the arts, perhaps more so. Artists and scientists have
much more in common than they realize. Experiments and hypothesis testing (trial
and error) are at the core of the scientific method. Any scientist will tell
you that, just as any writer will tell you that trial and error (rewrites and
retakes and do-overs) are at the core of writing and musical composition and movie-making, not to mention painting and sculpting.
science feel more like an art, fresh creative air must be blown through
the dusty, hidebound corridors of science teaching, which is often bound by
tradition instead of creativity. To encourage more people—especially women—to
go into technical fields we need to make science more relevant to young children,
especially girls, and keep making it relevant as they grow up.
need to do a better job of relating science to the real world by finding simple,
practical and creative ways to show their pupils how science can help people
live better lives—because it can. If science
and scientific thinking began to feel like a key part of our daily lives, women
(and more men, too) might flock to the sciences.
girls innately don’t like science and STEM? Both Marie Curie and her daughter won
Nobel Prizes in two core STEM fields: chemistry and physics. So why can’t the
next generation of female leaders be inspired to do something similar? The world
is becoming more ‘technical’ every day. We continue to write ever more sophisticated
code that unlocks the puzzle behind the body and the mind and our health and our
quality of life. Surely the world would be a better place if women were equal
leaders in this exciting technological arena. I certainly know the next generation
would be better and stronger for it, and so would I.