Throughout my career, I’ve met many entrepreneurs – both male and female. And, while I noticed some behavioral differences between the genders based on personal experience, it is striking to see those differences on paper.
After conducting a survey this past fall of over 1,700 entrepreneurs from around the globe, we found men tend to start entrepreneurial ventures at a younger age, value patience over networking, and are more likely than their female counterparts to read books rather than take a class to improve their skills.
The research polled entrepreneurs from the US, Europe, Australia, and other countries who had recently launched a logo contest on 99designs. Additional findings include significant differences in male and female respondents on the reported number of hours spent per day on their venture, amount of funds raised, and perceived challenges of starting a business.
What is the source of these differences, and what are the takeaways if you’re a woman venturing into the startup world?
As one with experience working with founders of both genders and founding an ecommerce startup myself, I thought it’d be worth weighing in on the meaning behind a few of the gender-based findings.
Finding: Men tend to start their entrepreneurial ventures at a younger age (under 35). Women more likely to start when older (35+)
This may change as more and more women, especially in the US, now go to business school. However, overall, I think more women are starting their own business once their children have gone to school. This is when women have a little more time outside of corporate America or full-time motherhood to dedicate to a passion or a money-making pursuit. The desire to start a business is also a function of the lingering stigma that is unfortunately associated with “leaning out” when taking an extensive maternity leave. It’s difficult for employers to value the stay-at-home experience against someone who has not taken significant time out of the workforce (more likely, the male partner) which means the stay-at-home mom may not get hired for the role she seeks. Some women would just as soon go out on their own than try to climb the corporate ladder a few rungs down than where they perceive they should be starting again.
Findings: Men tend to work more hours a day on their venture. Women (still) spending more time with family than on their entrepreneurial venture as compared to men.
Men spend more time on “paid” work than women. Women spend more time on childcare and household chores. While this imbalance may be due to deliberate family choices, I think it is more difficult for a woman to shift from childcare and household chores to a new venture than it is for a man to move from paid work to a new venture. The former requires the man (or partner) to take on more unpaid work and requires the woman (or other partner) to make a difficult emotional decision to spend less time with her children. I know from personal experience that convincing a 3-year-old who doesn’t want Mom to go out to get a cup of coffee, let alone go to work, is much more difficult than convincing yourself to work on the passion that is calling you in favor of your day job.
Finding: Men say they are more likely to read books to improve their skills, while women were more likely to take a class.
According to the OECD (via The Economist), girls have been outpacing boys in academic performance in recent years. This is one of the likely reasons women are turning back to traditional academic settings to learn about entrepreneurship. Also, speaking from experience, starting a business can also be very lonely. It’s just you, moving things along every day until you have enough to support or success to get others to join you on the journey. I think women may also be seeking camaraderie and support in the classroom rather than simply looking to acquire new skills. Finally, men are more likely to have a network which they can informally learn from than women (see below point).
Finding: Men think patience is the most important trait of an entrepreneur, whereas women said they think networking is most important.
I think the the reason for this disparity is that the genders are seeking to improve one of their perceived areas of weakness. For example, research says that women are more patient than men. Research also shows that women tend to have smaller professional networks than men (according to a study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co via the Huffington Post). This is because women tend to seek deeper, meaningful relationships than broader, more shallow relationships like men do. I think both sexes are attuned to their “weaknesses” and cite “most important traits” they strive to improve upon.
Finding: Women more likely to say “getting out of their comfort zone” is their biggest challenge to starting a business.
According to Harvard Business Review, women are less likely to apply for jobs if they have been rejected before. Any seasoned entrepreneur will tell you, you will take a lot of rejection from prospective customers, investors, partners, etc. to get a venture off the ground. Getting out of your comfort zone means opening yourself up to rejection and failure. This can be a challenge for anyone, but, it seems to affect women more according to research.
Anecdotally, I recall speaking with a female entrepreneur a few years ago who was hesitant to reach out to an influential Silicon Valley investor whom we both knew, hiding behind the rationale that she “hadn’t spoken to him in a long time.” Yet, two male entrepreneurs I barely knew asked me to introduce them to this same individual. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this may be related to societal norms of men pursuing women in the dating dance. Boys are generally the pursuers as early as their schooling years and grow – shall I say, practiced – at preparing for the prospect of rejection and getting out of their comfort zone to pursue something they seek. Women are less practiced with this.
Finding: Men 2x more likely to have raised $100K+ in funding.
It’s no secret that venture capital and finance are male-dominated fields. According to TechCrunch, only seven percent of investment partners are female and this was in 2016. $100K is a decent amount of money. It’s likely not coming from friends and family, but professional lending institutions that have large amounts of money available to invest. There are likely inherent gender biases in these institutions that are difficult to pinpoint.
I also think women are more risk-calculating and are not keen on asking for financing unless they are confident they can generate the expected returns which would cause them to shy away from raising large sums of money.
The good news in all of these findings is the knowledge with which we are now armed – both men and women. We can use this data to help us identify and understand the gender biases that might affect females starting businesses, and the men and women who support them.
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