It feels like a tipping point is fast approaching for women in the business world. Women-owned businesses have increased from a quarter of all firms in 1997 to nearly thirty-six percent as of the US Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Business Owners. Growing at a rate 1½ times the national average, the 9.8 million women-owned businesses bring in over $1.4 trillion in revenue annually. Sole-proprietorships account for almost ninety percent of those businesses, with women entrepreneurs starting an estimated 1,288 new firms per day in 2014. And yet, the more progress we make, the clearer it is how far we have still to go.
While the trend lines show progress in many sectors, there are several key areas where the percentage of female participation is still vexingly low, including angel investing and venture capital. Masha Drokova, a business owner and angel investor based in San Francisco, is trying to change that. Originally from Russia, Drokova launched her career in politics, then pivoted towards business when she founded her own social media agency. After finding success marketing for a variety of Russian companies, she started her next venture, public relations consulting for tech firms. Though successful in Russia, she moved her company to New York when she saw a market opening in the US for Russian-speaking PR consultants. Her work included PR for companies like Houzz, Hoteltonight, Gett, Toptal and WeWork, which earned her a strong reputation and opportunities to jump into the arena of angel investing.
Angel investing has long been a male dominated field. Today, the gender gap is much greater than many industries; only 7.4% of investors are female, according to AngelList data. Even in the fashion industry and in businesses with women-focused products or services, women only make up 11.3% and 21.9% of angel investors, respectively. This creates an imbalance in the angel marketplace, which can seriously influence the outcomes of companies trying to earn a portion of the finite capital available. Drokova mentions that, before she began investing, she didn’t realize how much of an impact both conscious and unconscious bias could have. Referring to situations she’s dealt with, she revealed, “Some of them want to date you, or they delay, and delay, and delay.” More than once, she has been told that she needed to find a male business partner to be taken seriously. Despite the barriers, she continued to work hard and found success as an angel.
Tough as angel investing can be for women, the world of venture capital can be even worse. Only 6% of venture capitalists were women as of 2016, down from 10% in 1999. This also has dramatic ripple effects across the economy, resulting in women-owned businesses receiving only “2.7 percent of all venture funding.” Always one to take on a challenge, Drokova is now in the process of launching a new venture capital fund. To mitigate the risks involved, she relies on a network of mentors and advisors to give her straightforward feedback and advice. She knows that she wouldn’t be able to build her dream “without both men and women believing in and supporting [her].”
I certainly agree. The majority of my mentors have been male, and some of my most vocal and helpful advocates have been male. That said, I still actively seek out female mentors as I’ve found their guidance highly valuable through every step of my journey.
Male-dominated sectors can be daunting for startup women, but Drokova shared some of her insights as to what can help women get ahead of the game.
- Focus on where you have expertise and knowledge; areas where you can see and recognize trends very quickly. This will allow you to focus on what you do best.
- Know what differentiates you and be able to articulate it in one sentence. You need to know what makes you special, but you also need to be able to communicate that value effectively to others.
- Surround yourself with people who believe in you. People may invest their money for an idea they believe in, but they will invest their time into a leader they believe in.
- Be aware of how much gender influences your decisions. Some of it may come down to the ways in which we were brought up, or unconscious bias, and it’s important to be aware of it so we can mitigate it’s impact
The road to gender equality in business still has some obstacles. However, when we reflect on the progress that has been made, and the areas where ground has not yet been won, the way forward becomes clearer. One thing we know for certain, women like Masha Drokova that are making their way into venture capital investing are a benefit to businesswomen everywhere.
This article was originally published on www.forbes.com, viewed Dec 27 2017