by: Karolyn Maynard MBA ’18
On Friday April 20th, at the 14th Annual Smith Entrepreneurship Research Conference chaired by Professors Anil Gupta and David Kirsch, the Dingman Center’s Ladies First Initiative sponsored a panel discussion, “Gender and Entrepreneurship: Past, Present and Future.”
Sara Herald, our Ladies First champion, shared a thought-provoking statement to introduce the panel discussion: she described the mission of the Ladies First initiative as focused upon understanding the different barriers that female students face and how we can fix the system, not fix the women.
This was an apt introduction to spur further investigation in the area of gender and entrepreneurship, which brought 2 researchers, Mabel Abraham from Columbia University and David Ross from University of Florida, together with Dolly Oberoi, Co-Founder and Chairman of C2 Technologies, to discuss the topic of female entrepreneurship in the US.
The session chair and moderator, Rajshree Agarwal, asked salient questions and highlighted the reality that being a female founder has nearly universally negative outcomes, particularly in the US. As researchers and founders discussed the hypotheses and reasons for this, something became increasingly clear—even though the barriers have been reduced, it is a misconception to think that the barriers are gone.
The panelists held healthy discussions relating to the challenges female entrepreneurs face because of limited access to financing and the very real selection effects; in addition, they shared research which noted that female entrepreneurs feel less supported by their partners or spouses and are more burdened with the household or family while starting or growing their businesses.
As a graduate student who has supported the Social Entrepreneurship and Ladies First arm for the past year at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, I appreciated the panelist composition of researchers and a founder. While discussions centered around the challenges and existing research, the panel also highlighted the fact that despite the realities, female founders continue to thrive in their business ventures.
Dolly Oberoi shared that despite the fact that women are underestimated and may be held to a higher standard, this obstacle can be a source of advantage as women exhibit great courage, discipline and confidence when pursuing their goals.
As the researchers and founders discussed the realities of the challenges and the prevalence of myths that exist in the marketplace, they provided practical insights and tips that female entrepreneurs could implement throughout their entrepreneurial journey. I’d like to share three with you:
Finding: Female entrepreneurs need access to higher-resource networks
Tip: Be cognizant of how you are creating your network. Instead of relying on a third party to recommend you, see if you can connect directly to the resource holder.
Finding: Female entrepreneurs lack support and mentors
Tip: Seek mentors who can provide you with business acumen, advice on market entry and help to enhance your skills and abilities.
Finding: Research indicates that on average, getting married gives men more time to focus on business. The inverse is true for women.
Tip: As a female founder, figure out strategies that might aid you in integrating your family in to your work environment. Many successful female founders often emphasize partnerships and the incredibly valuable role that friends, partners, immediate and extended families play in helping them to support and achieve their goals.
At the conclusion of the panelist discussion, we were reminded that academic institutions play an integral role in the creation and advancement of entrepreneurship. Elana Fine, the Executive Director of the Dingman Center, highlighted the role that affinity groups can play to help female entrepreneurs continue to provide value as they meet opportunities in the market.
If you are a student founder or a woman interested in entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, I encourage you to take advantage of the resources and support here at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. It is one of the nation’s oldest academic entrepreneurship centers with proven success in supporting all students at any stage of the process—from an idea to a venture. Further, its commitment to female students through its Ladies First initiative and the introduction of the Ladies First Founders undergraduate class helps women to overcome some of the barriers they face across network, advising and support.
Finally, to all experienced, or hopeful female entrepreneurs, you are capable of scaling, of thriving and of making a tremendous impact. Thank you for your contribution to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and thank you in advance for providing your mentorship and support to all future and fellow entrepreneurs.
Karolyn is a second year MBA student at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. Prior to B-school, she held management roles at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte in Barbados. Karolyn is driven to combine business with purpose and supports the Ladies First Initiative and the Social Entrepreneurship arm of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.