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The lack of female entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley has been a hot topic recently.
The New York Times reports that, although around 40% of private companies in the US are owned by women, there is still a significant lack of female entrepreneurship in the tech sector — only 8% of American venture-backed tech startups are founded by female CEOs.
Cyan Banister can attest to these stats out of her own personal experience. During her 4-year tenure as an investor in the Valley, so few female entrepreneurs have approached her that she can count all of them on one hand.
And only two of those pitches have been for startups outside of the fashion industry, she adds.
Banister cites the risk-aversion argument when trying to explain this significant void. As an entrepreneur herself (she’s the founder of Zivity.com, a social network for the art world), Banister understands what it takes to start a business. One important entrepreneurial characteristic is a willingness to take a risk — which is something, she feels, doesn’t generally come naturally to women.
While men are hard-wired to be much more open to risk, “it’s just not built into us,” she says.
And there are few greater risks in the modern world than staking your career, your lifestyle, and all your savings on a business venture that could very well fail.
Combined with other factors — such as male-dominated workplaces, a strong focus on family, and a lack of business-focused curriculum in our education system — it’s not surprising that there’s such an empty space when it comes to female entrepreneurship, especially in the tech industry.
So what needs to happen to change the status quo?
Banister offers a few suggestions on how professional women, and society as a whole, can innovate to encourage more female entrepreneurship.
1. Start in the workplace.
Women don’t need to drop everything and launch a company to have a bigger impact on the professional world. They can start by being more assertive in their current offices, she says. Women should feel confident to speak up and participate in open debate with their colleagues and superiors.
2. Women should consider launching tech companies with male partners more often.
Banister is a huge fan of male/female founder partnerships. “Over 50% of consumers on the internet are women… that gives [female entrepreneurs] a huge competitive advantage” when starting a business, she says. And the balance of personalities and characteristics that come from the male/female dynamic offers huge potential for success.
3. We all need to highlight more successful professional women in the tech world.
Our culture is “so CEO-focused. We’ve glorified the position of CEO so much… but there are all these powerful women behind the scenes,” she says. Out of all the industry events Banister attends, she reports female speakers are few and far between. From business development to product management, we should start highlighting the women who are right behind the CEOs but still making a major impact at their companies.
4. Encourage entrepreneurship in our children.
There’s no doubt in Banister’s mind that girls who demonstrate entrepreneurial interest and talent early on should be encouraged down that path. She also feels that adding more business classes in our schools, as well as swapping out calculus with statistics, would encourage entrepreneurship for all students, regardless of gender.
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