The New Wave Of Career Women – Making Inroads Into Male Territory

Forbes’s latest Midas list, the list of the top 100 venture capitalists investing in technology startups, featured just four women. That’s right, 4% of the top 100 were women. One of them, Theresia Gouw, co-founder of venture capital firm Aspect Ventures, said it was frustrating to see so few women in the field of venture capital and even worse to see their already small numbers dwindling even further. Gouw is a former employee at Accel Partners and her partner in Aspect Ventures is Jennifer Fonstad, ex-managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson. This makes these two ladies’ company the first to be set up by former employees of major players in the investment sector. Gouw admits one of the reasons they decided to found the company was to provide a fresh, female perspective to venture capital and she also said she hopes their enterprise would be a good example to aspiring female entrepreneurs.

Finance and investment is one area that has traditionally been thought to be reserved for men, but discouraging as the above number of female venture capitalists seems, things are changing there too. A new generation in the workforce is emerging that just would not follow old stereotypes of what’s work for men and what’s work for women but would rather work to accomplish their personal ambitious goals. Let’s look at another Forbes list, that of the 30 under 30. This list actually comprises 15 lists of thirty people in each. Every one of these people is considered a star in their respective area, from finance, through sports and entertainment, to food. It’s people under 30 that will be setting the rules in the future and things on these lists are looking much better in terms of numbers, the finance section included. There we have Lucy Baldwin, a 29-year-old managing director at Goldman Sachs, no less, who’s responsible for managing the firm’s research in Europe and is also member of its investment review committee. Another young woman on this list is the financial assistant to the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Tracy Britt Cool, who also chairs four companies under the umbrella of Warren Buffett’s conglomerate.  The two other female entries on this list are a vice president at JPMorgan Chase and a principal at Blackstone Group. Four out of 30 seems a bit better than four out of a 100, doesn’t it? It looks a bit more promising and optimistic, especially in light of what one of the top venture capitalists on the Midas list had to say about the gender inequality in the financial sector. Annie Lamont, a veteran in the industry, says it’s actually surprising to see how little women’s representation in this industry has changed over the last three decades. Still, she’s hopeful too; she is seeing more women daring to go into investment management and more women willing to become entrepreneurs.

Another business sector typically seen as a male-dominated area is technology, of course. Young ladies with ambitions in this field would be happy to hear that on this “30 under 30” list there are six young women who have founded or co-founded their own companies, including web developers, social network managers and providers of various online services. Perhaps the partnership that’s most worth noting here is Tech LadyMafia, a network specifically focusing on women in tech, giving them a platform to discuss projects, exchange expertise and perhaps most importantly make themselves seen. That’s right, Erie Meyer and Aminatou Sow founded the company because they were tired of hearing there are no women in tech. The platform currently has 750 members from all over the world. This is a great step in the right direction, which resonates perfectly with the opinions of the female Midases who are unanimous that more girls should be encouraged to go into tech and engineering.  They believe that girls should become entrepreneurs and that more initiatives should be created to make women confident that they could be just as good at investing as men. In fact, Annie Lamont says that venture capital is one of the most fulfilling professions in the world, and it’s perfectly suited for women, because it’s much more meritocratic than other jobs.

The belief that one of the main hurdles for young women when it comes to choosing a profession is the lack of role models seems to be very widely shared. According to Katie McQuater, features editor at British marketing news website The Drum, young women need more figures like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer to look up to as role models. To this end, two years ago the website launched a series called Girl Guides, containing interviews with prominent female figures in the digital tech world, from major news portal editors to digital entrepreneurs and marketing executives. McQuater says she’s certain that the only way to ensure the successful development of the digital industry in the long term is to empower more women to consider a career in this field with its endless opportunities. Once again, this is linked to encouraging more girls to go into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). So, let’s take a look at the role models here.

Asian girls e=mc2Ready for some great news? The Science and Healthcare section of the “30 under 30” for 2014 is almost 50% female. Thirteen of the 30 most promising young scientists and science entrepreneurs are women. And what they’re doing is very ambitious: from engineering personalized organs to be transplanted, a new technology aiming to provide for a fast and early diagnosis of ovarian cancer, to cloud security improvements and a genetic engineering tool that could be used in the development of drugs, crops and for industrial purposes. In fact the list is topped by a 23-year-old entrepreneur, Divya Nag, whose company Stem Cell Theranostics is working to solve one of the biggest issues that pharmaceuticals researchers face when testing new drugs on human cells — these cells die very quickly outside the body, making the process very time-consuming and expensive. Stem Cell Theranostics has a technology which can turn a specialized cell into a stem cell and then turn it into another specialized cell that can survive longer in the laboratory, making the testing process much faster and efficient, not to mention cheaper.

STEM will be the main group of industries that will very soon need more workers, so there is a purely economic reason for more girls to be encouraged to go for education in one of these fields. Fortunately, the generation that will in twenty years’ time account for the majority of the workforce is at the same time tech savvy, open-minded and intent on doing something meaningful with their careers. This mindframe can only be of benefit to all stakeholders — employers and employees alike, and the wider community as well. What’s even better, these young people don’t care about gender differences, they care about talent. These are the business leaders of tomorrow and many of them are demonstrating to us that they are not afraid to become business leaders as early as today. Why wait, after all? The future is coming faster than we would have believed in the past and millennial entrepreneurs are riding the wave higher than older generations would have ever dared. In all likelihood, the time when girls won’t hesitate to go for a science or technology degree at college is not too far on the horizon as the success of the ladies we have profiled here suggests. They are living proof that you shouldn’t give up on a career dream just because you’re a woman and there are too few women in the field you’ve set your eyes on. On the contrary, the fact that there are so few women in this field or that should be an additional drive for aspiring female engineers, scientists, investors and tech professionals — gender equality is not just something to dream about, it’s perfectly possible to achieve.

These are all young women who have decided to ignore traditional attitudes and pursue a career in areas where few women have tread before them. Their success is evidence of the fact that success in a certain business field is not a question of gender, something that we have always known but needs constant reminding in order to help more young women follow in the footsteps of these great role models. The thing that is perhaps most important, however, is that many of these young entrepreneurs are combining their main work with spreading awareness of how successful women can be in this field or that and encouraging girls to venture into areas not typically considered girl-friendly. Stereotype-crushing aside, another thing these ladies are doing is teaching by example that entrepreneurship is a state of mind it’s not simply a step to take when you have reached a certain age that might make you think about starting your own business. Opportunities in today’s digitalized world abound and what better time to take advantage of them than now?

 

Sources:

1. Slade, Hollie. “‘We Need More Women In Venture Capital’ Say Female Midas Listers.” Forbes, March 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/hollieslade/2014/03/26/we-need-more-women-in-venture-capital-say-female-midas-listers/

2. McQuater, Katie. “Are Women Still Being Sidelined In Digital?” Internet Advertising Bureau UK, March 2014. http://www.iabuk.net/blog/are-women-still-being-sidelined-in-digital

3. “30 Under 30”. Forbes, March 2014. http://www.forbes.com/special-report/2014/30-under-30/finance.html

4. “Top 15 Young Female Entrepreneurs and Their Rising Companies.” Under 30 CEO, March 2011. http://under30ceo.com/top-15-young-female-entrepreneurs-and-their-rising-companies/