A recent poll from The Telegraph found that while almost a fifth of young women would like to run their own business, just 3% wanted to become a CEO of a company. The paper wondered if climbing the career ladder “has gone out of fashion since the financial crisis”. I don’t actually think the wider global economic problems have affected the desire of women to become entrepreneurs.
Anne Marie Slaughter has argued that there should be an end to ‘the myth of having it all’ and that focus should be diverted to allow women (and men!) to have what they want, when they want it. Hanna Rosin discusses this idea at length in her book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women.
The title polarises but I agree with her assertion that we are moving away from the breadwinner or homemaker roles. My experience of running a business, family and personal life is the strength in partnership between men and women. Certainly my co-founders are my husband Joe White and best friend Eirik Pettersen. I’d like to think we’re in a new era of partnership.
Defining times ahead
It is widely acknowledged today that women control over 73% of household income and over $20 trillion of consumer spending due to hot $28 trillion by 2014 (BCG 2009). Women represent a growth market twice as big as China and India combined, while more women than men use social media and they spend 20% more of their time than men on retail sites (Comscore 2010).
At my company we provide powerful but simple design-led DIY website builders for small businesses. It is great to see so many young women using the tools to start their own online businesses. In fact more than 50% of Moonfruit shops are built by women. I attribute this almost entirely to the prevalence of female consumers driving the growth of technology and women-led businesses.
It is no surprise then that four of the major global consumer tech businesses – Facebook, Groupon, Zynga and Twitter – have more female customers than male. However, each suffers from a lack of female representation at board level, and this is true throughout the business world. A few notable exceptions include Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook and Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, both of whom had long and successful stints at Google prior to their current roles.
Microsoft has also appointed two female business leaders into senior roles following the recent departure of Windows 8 boss Steven Sinofsky. Long-time employee Julie Larson-Green has been promoted to lead Windows software and hardware engineering while CFO Tami Reller will take responsibility for the business side of Windows.
Support at every turn
The question in 2013 will be how many other tech businesses, particularly those with a large and agile female customer base, will see women business leaders coming through at C-suite level. The scene has been set in the VC business, with the rise in women-run funds, such as Starvest Partners, DBL Ventures, Womens Venture Capital Fund, Belle ventures and Cynthia Padnos’s Illuminate Ventures.
However let’s be clear, they are opportunists and would not be investing in female founders and female-led markets unless there was a return to be made. With the inexorable rise of Pinterest this year, the numerous VCs that turned down the investment admitting they did not understand the female dominated service won’t want to make the same mistake again. Can and will this success at the blueprint of industry be replicated elsewhere, from start-ups through to established corporations?
In one sense, there has never been an easier time to start a business. The lean start-up trend means it’s relatively cost effective to start a business and get online quickly. Accelerators and angel investors have picked up on this trend which is also benefitting women entrepreneurs.
Y combinatory, 500 Startups, Golden Seeds, Astia, Kelly Hoey’s Women Innovate Mobile and Joanne Wilson are all investing in increasing numbers of female entrepreneurs and mixed teams. There are also a wealth of communities that women can tap for inspiration, funding or advice, from Women 2.0 in the Valley, Change the Ratio in New York, to Women in Technology in the UK.
The world is a better connected place than ever before. This should be taken advantage of and women should find the community that supports their interests best.