The Forum on the World Economic Order welcomed an international delegation of experts in March for a study tour focusing on female entrepreneurship around the world. During the program, which took place in Washington, DC and in Chicago, IL, the delegation met with over entrepreneurship and startup professionals in the U.S. from the private sector, NGOs and non-profits, think tanks, academia, and federal government.
The discussion in Washington, DC centered on the unique challenges that women entrepreneurs face when starting new ventures, particularly in accessing capital and establishing a network. Many of the discussion partners agreed that investors tend to invest in founders who are most similar to them, which is a challenge for female entrepreneurs looking to break into the traditionally male-dominated entrepreneurship space. This same principle applies to mentoring; it is more difficult for a young female entrepreneur to take the steps needed to be successful if she is not able to learn from more established women who have faced similar circumstances. This is not to diminish the value of male-female mentorships, but merely to acknowledge that women entrepreneurs face unique challenges that are often best understood by other women.
Another major theme of discussion was that supporting female entrepreneurship does not just benefit women, but boosts overall economic growth. Women who are financially empowered are less likely to be victims of gender-based violence, and are more likely to become active in other areas of society such as politics, allowing them a greater voice over policies that impact their well-being. Economic empowerment for women can also have a ripple effect; strong, successful women can inspire others around them, filling in the mentorship gap and easing the path to success for the next generation of women.
The discussion in Chicago echoed many of the points made in Washington, DC, namely the need for a collaborative community of women entrepreneurs, as well as the challenges that female founders face in balancing personal and professional demands. Many of the organizations in Chicago had programs devoted specifically to women’s entrepreneurial success, as well as fostering entrepreneurship for women of all ages, recognizing that many women founders tend to wait until their children are grown before starting a business. Understanding these and other women-specific challenges allow for programming that is flexible and innovative, giving female entrepreneurs sustained opportunities to take their seat at the table and have greater influence over the global economic landscape.
Courtney Flynn, Program Associate, Forum on the World Economic Order, Friedrich Naumann Foundation