Improving Gender Equity in Entrepreneurship

October 31, 2016

By Veena McCoole

This past Tuesday, nearly a dozen women gathered to hear Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship Fellow at UMass Boston College of Management Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, Ph.D. discuss “Women in Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: Accessing Resources and Overcoming Challenges.”

Ozkazanc-Pan explained that having women engaged in entrepreneurship has a positive impact on both the economy and overall gender equity of a country, making it both an economic and social imperative. She noted that women produce higher returns in companies and 15% increased profitability is reported in companies with a 30% female share of corporate leadership positions. Additionally, if women-owned businesses in the U.S. were their own country, they would have the 5th largest GDP in the world. The U.S. could add $4.3B in annual GDP by 2025 if women attain full gender equality.

Women in the U.S. have made significant strides. African-American women entrepreneurs represent the fastest growing segment in startups, and in 2012, women-owned businesses accounted for 36% of all businesses, a 30% increase from 2007.

But the venture capital industry has plenty of opportunities for growth, and that’s where future efforts should be focused, according to Ozkazanc-Pan. Currently, 85% of VC-funded businesses have no women on the executive team and 7% of investing partners at the top 100 venture and micro-venture firms are women.

“There really is a reason [women entrepreneurship is valuable],” she said. “We know that in a society with greater levels of gender equity, there are lower levels of poverty and violence.” 

Ozkazanc-Pan’s research focuses on qualitatively assessing the reasons behind the statistics and around female involvement in entrepreneurial ecosystems. These ecosystems, she said, are different depending on the economy of a country and the extent of government control.

She also reported that male-founded startups generally believe diversity is important, but don’t know how to execute methods that prioritize diversity in their hiring practices. Ozkazanc-Pan described it as a “burgeoning awareness” of diversity.

Even in liberal Boston, race and class traditions guide decision making. “There are real tensions that have not been addressed that manifest in these ecosystems.” Ozkazanc-Pan said. “Local thinking impacts how people make decisions.”

Ozkazanc-Pan maintains that efforts around balancing gender inequities remain sporadic, and are not yet the norm in entrepreneurial programs. “Gender-neutral really just replicates white males because of the networks they come from,” she said.

Internationally, discrimination has multiple roots: religious, social and cultural. These are all potential barriers to women exploring entrepreneurship.

The Yale Women Innovators Series is held at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (254 Elm St., 3rd Floor) on Tuesday mornings. It is open to Yale women students, alumni, faculty and staff interested in entrepreneurship and innovation at any level.