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Female Co-Founders: 7 Ways to Become the Boss

Number one on the list: Don't start a business with your husband.

Why aren't there more women CEOs of startups? Maybe because so many female founders are going into business with their husbands.

A new study finds that in companies founded by mixed-sex teams, the odds of a man becoming the leader of the company are twice those of a woman becoming the boss. When the two co-founders are married and have no children, the odds of the husband becoming the boss are actually even greater: three times as great as those of the wife.

The study was conducted by Tiantian Yang and Howard E. Aldrich, both of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and published in the American Sociological Review.

The researchers studied 1,214 people identified as entrepreneurs in the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics, a representative sampling of nearly 32,000 Americans. About half of the entrepreneurs founded their business with at least one other person, and about two-thirds of those teams were mixed-sex.

How can you increase your chances of becoming the leader or CEO of your company, even if your co-founders are a bunch of guys?

Choose someone other than your spouse as your co-founder. If you really care about being the boss, statistically, it's best not to choose your husband as your co-founder.

Sign a contract. Handshake deals tend to favor men. When team members sign a formal agreement outlining company ownership, women have a much better chance of becoming the boss. If there's no formal agreement, men are 85 percent more likely to be the boss in mixed-sex teams. With a formal agreement, the odds are almost 50-50.

Found your second company with the guys. Having created at least one previous company can be the deciding factor for either sex, but only when a formal agreement (above) is in place. In those cases, the team member who has created a company before is three times more likely to become the boss.

Write a business plan. When a team has a formal plan describing their target markets and their financial goals, the gender bias against women is reduced by about half.

Stay within your industry. Each additional year of relevant industry experience increases your chances of becoming the boss by five percent.

If you're co-founding with your husband:

Start a home-based business. Oddly, as a couple has more children, the odds that the wife will take the lead on the new business increase. Eventually, if the couple has three or more children, the odds of the wife becoming the boss are actually greater than the odds that the husband will take charge of the new venture. In these cases, the researchers write, the new business tends to be home-based, with the mothers "taking on the double duty of managing a new business and performing housework and childcare duties."

Quit your day job, but encourage your husband to keep his. If your husband is the only one bringing in cash while the business gets going, the chances are greater that you'll run the business (in this situation, your odds are 44 percent better than his) while he keeps the family solvent.

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IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Apr 10, 2014

KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Inc.com Editor-at-Large

Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.




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