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On The Bright Side: How Women Entrepreneurs are Engineering Progress in STEM Fields

April 30th Access to Opportunity Roundtable participants pose as a group on the stage in the District Ballroom.

By Jordan Chapman

As we look back on a successful Women’s History Month, wrap up National Inventor’s Month, and begin celebrating National Small Business Week, we are proud to shed light on our recently released research on women’s entrepreneurship in high-yield and high growth industries. Led by women-owned consulting firm Kapur Energy Environment Economics, LLC, this project was initiated in 2023 and the final results will be released in October of 2024. The preliminary findings of this research are compiled in an extensive 195-page report entitled, “An Illuminating Moment: Lighting a Pathway for Women STEM Entrepreneurs,” which includes a literature review, data and policy analysis, and preliminary recommendations to support women innovators.

We already knew that women’s participation in STEM, particularly through entrepreneurship, is essential for progress. A woman led the team that pioneered the COVID-19 vaccine at Harvard University, a woman invented Kevlar, a woman first identified the greenhouse effect, a woman created technology that now serves as the basis for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a woman wrote the first computer program, a woman built the Brooklyn Bridge, a woman discovered the composition of the Earth’s inner core, a woman discovered what the Earth’s ocean floor looks like, a woman pioneered new methods for treating cataracts and on top of it all, a woman invented chocolate chip cookies. In other words, we know the names we must share to uplift women’s contributions in STEM, and thanks to this research, we now know the numbers too.

At NWBC, we raise awareness of the obstacles women face, but equally strive to emphasize the potential opportunities that lie ahead as well. With that in mind, below are some of the major highlights of the preliminary findings.

On the one hand…But on the bright side…
There are 733,880 fewer female-owned STEM firms than male-owned firms.When you break this disparity down by employer vs. non-employer firms, the gap is much narrower (less than 200,000 firms) for non-employer firms, which make up the majority of STEM firms as a whole. Women business owners are also more likely to own non-employer firms across industries.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, if current rates of patenting do not significantly increase, the gender patenting gap will not close until 2092 at the earliest. The global STEM gender gap was also recently illustrated in research conducted by LinkedIn, which suggested the STEM skills gap would take 45 years to close, while the STEM employment gap would take 90 years to close.STEM firms owned by Black/African American, Hispanic, and Native American women outnumber their male-owned counterparts. Women of color are clearly making outstanding strides in gender equity in STEM entrepreneurship, which matches what we are seeing when it comes to the recent surge in new business starts.
Women are underrepresented in STEM education and the workforce. As referenced in this report and expounded upon in NWBC’s 2023 Annual Report, women make up nearly half of the workforce but only 27 percent of the STEM workforce and receive the majority of the bachelor’s degrees, but less than 25 percent of those in engineering, computer science, and physics.When looking at business owners under the age of 45, STEM businesses owned by women outnumber those owned by men. It will take generations to bridge disparities in STEM education and workforce participation for women, but in entrepreneurship, the signs of progress are superb.
Veteran male-owned businesses in STEM outnumber their female-owned counterparts by a factor of eight.According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women only make up 10 percent of all veterans, indicating that they may actually be overrepresented as STEM business owners.
There is only one state where the proportion of women-owned STEM firms is close to or greater than that of their male-owned counterparts: Maine.Women-owned firms make up 39.1 percent of all firms in the U.S, as shared in NWBC’s 2023 Annual Report. For many states, the proportion of women-owned STEM firms is higher than this 39.1 percent. Put another way, although the proportion of women STEM entrepreneurs may not be equal to that of men, in many states, the proportion of women STEM entrepreneurs is higher than the average proportion of women entrepreneurs across all industries. While as a country, we have a lot of work to do to close the gap in women’s STEM entrepreneurship, many states have obviously cracked the code.

The economic and societal benefits of increasing women’s STEM participation also deserve repeating. Researchers have previously found that if women, people of color, and people from low-income families invented at the same rate as other groups that do not face comparable discrimination and structural barriers, U.S. innovation would quadruple. A study commissioned by the U.S. Patenting and Trademark Office (USPTO) also found that commercialized patents could increase by 24%, and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita could go up by 2.7% if the gender gap in patenting were closed. Recently published research from USPTO has also found that “women’s participation in patenting… is growing and associated with more diverse teams and patents with higher economic value.” Women-owned firms generate over twice as much per dollar invested as their male-owned counterparts and if the gender gap in entrepreneurship closed, global GDP would increase by 3-6 percent. When it comes to domestic gains, an additional $7.9 trillion in revenue would be added to the U.S. economy if the average revenue gap between women- and men-owned businesses is closed. 

As a leading voice in women’s entrepreneurship, we have a few ideas for what could bring clearer skies and gender parity in STEM entrepreneurship, including supporting women’s STEM entrepreneurial education, investment, and outreach, leveraging ongoing efforts encompassed in the Investing in America agenda to connect women to 21st century opportunities, bolstering workforce entry and re-entry initiatives to get and keep women in the STEM pipeline, improving the incubator and accelerator system, and maintaining a viable pathway to commercialization and intellectual property for women entrepreneurs. You can read more about those in our 2023 Annual Report, connect to the conversations we are having today by learning more about our Access to Opportunity roundtable and uncover new potential gamechangers in the preliminary findings research report. But if necessity is the mother of invention, then we all have a part to play in ensuring women entrepreneurs have the access to the capital, opportunities, and resources they need, so we can all bask in the warm glow of their lightbulb moments.

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#ReportRelease #WomenInSTEM