Although the number of women-owned businesses is rising, women still face a steeper uphill climb than men when it comes to starting and running businesses. In the U.S., for example, women own about 30% of all non-farm, privately held U.S. firms. Women-owned businesses are concentrated in industry sectors where firms are usually smaller, and average sales/receipts for their businesses are only 25% of average sales/receipts for businesses that men own.
The gender gap is even wider in other countries. But the reasons for this gap are common across geographies. One of the most significant challenges women face is under-representation in the finance community in general, and that they are barely a blip in the venture capital investor community. Only 4 women were listed on the 2012 Midas List, an annual list of the top 100 tech investors.
Another key barrier is the fact that men continue to outnumber in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees and jobs. This is at a time when business innovation is increasingly tied to technology innovation. A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce found only one in seven engineers is female, and that there was no growth of women in STEM jobs since 2000.
Creating the Ripple Effect
But women are increasingly realizing that they can create new social and capital networks to support each other. These women are asking how can I help other women, and how can we help each other?
To that end, Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network held its fourth annual event in Istanbul in early June, which I had the opportunity to attend (thank you, DWEN, for hosting me). Since the inaugural DWEN event in Shanghai four years ago, interest in and attendance at the event has spiked. More than 150 women entrepreneurs from 13 countries and an online audience took part in this year’s conference.
As with past DWEN events, 2013 offered attendees businesses with a unique opportunity to develop relationships and grow their businesses. It featured an amazing roster of speakers who offered pearls of wisdom about how women can better leverage innovation, brand, capital and technology to grow their businesses.
Paying It Forward
But DWEN’s commitment to helping women collaborate and grow their businesses goes far beyond this annual event and its attendees. DWEN is taking things to the next level with several very visible, powerful initiatives. DWEN’s 2013 sums it up: Pay It Forward. Pay It Forward is the catalyst to collectively mobilize established women entrepreneurs to share their skills, experience, money and mentoring with women just starting up the entrepreneurial ladder.
As Karen Quintos, Dell’s Chief Marketing Officer noted during opening remarks at the conference, “We’re hoping to reach 1 million women entrepreneurs by 2015.” DWEN is challenging its 10,000 members in DWEN, Dell’s Women Powering Business community and the Wise Dell team to help one million aspiring women entrepreneurs by the end of 2015.
DWEN calculates that if each woman helps at least 10 fledgling women entrepreneurs, who then go on to help 10 more women, it can reach this goal. Established women entrepreneurs can donate time, money, support and encouragement to women entrepreneurs who are starting down the entrepreneurial road.
Expanding the Circle of Trust
Like-minded organizations have joined forces with DWEN, adding more fuel to the mission. The United Nations Foundation and Girl Up, Girl Scouts of the USA and the Dell Social Innovation Challenge have stepped up to help with the Pay It Forward initiative.
Elizabeth Gore, resident entrepreneur at the United Nations, spoke at the conference, and underscored that helping more women successfully start businesses not only empowers women, but also helps children and families and communities, and ultimately, a country’s economy.
By combining forces, these Pay It Forward charter members can amplify and multiply support to help girls and women execute on their entrepreneurial dreams and goals.
From Aspiration to Action
Dell is taking action to turn this goal into reality with its Empowering Women Challenge, a global competition to encourage university students from any country, male or female, graduate or undergraduate, from any field of study, to propose initiatives to help empower women and girls.
Launched at DWEN, the goal is to inspire at least 100 innovative ideas from around the world, a special emphasis on increasing entrepreneurship in developing markets. Once Judges select the 50 semi-finalists in September, DWEN members will provide them with direct mentoring. One member from each of the top three teams will receive an all-expense paid trip to pitch their team’s idea at a special awards event in December 2013. Winners and the 10 most promising projects will share a total of $35,000 in cash prizes.
The Empowering Women Challenge is a spotlight challenge of the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, which asks university students to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Finalists in the Empowering Women Challenge will be automatically entered as semi-finalists in the 2014 Dell Social Innovation Challenge, Dell’s umbrella competition focused on social entrepreneurship.
Painting By Number
As former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and DWEN panelist Cheryl Mills noted at the event, “If you wait long enough, sometimes the data catches up with what you know.”
During DWEN, Dell released the Dell Gender-GEDI Index, the first gender-focused, global entrepreneurship index based on the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI). The index measures high-potential female entrepreneurship based on individual aspirations, business environments and entrepreneurial ecosystems. By providing a cross-country comparison, the Index helps countries see where they are lagging so they can improve.
Gender-GEDI is made up of 30 indicators and ranks 17 countries. Research findings ranked the U.S. as No. 1 for having a solid institutional foundation and entrepreneurial environment for women. Other top-ranking countries include; Australia (No. 2), Germany (No. 3), France (No. 4) and Mexico (No. 5).
The research does in fact support what we already know: that governments need to give women access to the knowledge, networks, capital and technology they need to start a business and grow it. Social and cultural norms play a role as well. For instance, although Japan scores well in many areas, it has the lowest percentage of female managers (9 percent) compared to other countries. As a result, fewer women in Japan have the experience, skills and confidence to start their own businesses.
We are finally at a point when everyone from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg to Warren Buffet are shining the spotlight on the fact that although women represent 50% of the world’s human resources, they are still under utilized and under valued in the business world.
As it enters its fifth year, DWEN’s now established network can serve as a collective resource to advance the role of women in business by fostering entrepreneurship, and in turn, raising income levels and quality of life of families and communities.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” So what are you waiting for? Check it out and Pay It Forward.