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The Challenges that Women Entrepreneurs in STEM are facing

By Margaret Mullooly

I am a junior at the Catholic University of America pursuing a degree in Accounting & Finance. This qualifies me to be a potential future woman in STEM. Throughout my internship with the National Women’s Business Council, I’ve learned a lot about the positive progression of women entering STEM positions and how these fields have become more gender diverse. But as a future member of this portion of the work force, it is important for me to understand what the culture and challenges are for women who are pursuing careers in STEM – particularly women entrepreneurs.

If you research the reasons as to why there are very low numbers of women holding or pursuing careers in STEM, you will find that it is agreed upon across the board: it is cultural stigma that begins in primary school and works its way up through secondary education. By the time young women are applying to college and contemplating which degrees they should pursue, areas in STEM have long since missed their opportunity to be considered in the minds of these young women.  So what is this cultural stigma? From very young ages, women are not being encouraged to pursue interests in STEM. As female students get older, they receive less support than a male student would from parents, teachers and colleagues to tough out and stick with the difficult STEM courses. The issue is not a lack of interest in STEM from women; it is a lack of encouragement from their environments. This encouragement is absent at the very beginning of their educational journeys, making higher education in STEM an option that many times would not even occur to capable young women.

Although this issue is still very much present – real changes are being made. We are seeing more and more women pursuing higher education in STEM, and from there, entering the workforce pursuing STEM careers. In terms of entrepreneurship, there have been huge increases in the number of startups that are women led in the United States. Although there has been an increase in the last 30 years, startups in STEM have one of the lowest growth rates out of all the career areas that are seeing growth in terms of women entrepreneurs. Why is STEM the area with the lowest rate of women entrepreneurship? What are these reasons? These extremely low rates suggest that there are specific challenges that STEM careers offer women that other careers would not.

In researching what these challenges are, it became clear that one of the biggest things standing in the way of women entrepreneurs is the women themselves! When asked, venture capitalists said that women don’t ask for the amount of capital they need, they undersell themselves, and create proposals for much smaller businesses than their male counterparts.[1] There is a lack of confidence of women in STEM, presumably because these women are entering a work force where they recognize that they are a bit of a rarity. There needs to be a shift in the thinking of these young professional women that would promote confidence and respect in the workforce, encouraging these women to ask for what they need. It has been said that women in STEM ask for directions, while men typically do not and are not afraid to ask for all, if not more capital and equipment, than they need. [2]

Of course, another very much still alive challenge that women entrepreneurs in STEM face is sexism. Although this culture is definitely starting to change, women are still approached with a dismissive attitude. Stemming (hah!) from the interactions of society towards girls starting as young as primary school, it has become clear that there still exists an underlying belief that somehow men genetically have higher aptitudes in areas of STEM than women do. This subconscious bias is a real challenge for these women entrepreneurs that are trying to kick start their tech businesses by searching for capital from investors who inherently believe that they women are not able to be as successful in their efforts as a male would be. This reasoning could not be farther from the truth and that can be disproven through test scores and the statistics of the success of women led STEM startups: Women-led private technology companies are more capital-efficient, achieve 35 percent higher return on investment, and, when venture-backed, bring in 12 percent higher revenue than male-owned tech companies. [3] The argument of incapability does not stand and with more and more women entrepreneurs succeeding, this unconscious bias is on its way out.

Unconscious bias and a lack of confidence are two totally surmountable obstacles that women can demolish completely as more and more begin to create and pursue careers in STEM. The culture has already begun to change. As a future woman in STEM I am excited for the future and progress for women in STEM.

 

 

[1] Kocialsk, Cynthia. "WITI - Where Are the Women Entrepreneurs in Hi-tech Start-ups?" WITI - Women In Technology International. WITI Careers, n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2015.

[2] Kocialsk, Cynthia. "WITI - Where Are the Women Entrepreneurs in Hi-tech Start-ups?" WITI - Women In Technology International. WITI Careers, n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2015.

[3] Klein, Karen E. "Women Who Run Tech Startups Are Catching Up." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 05 Aug. 2015.

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