But, today it's no secret that the technology industry suffers from gender imbalance.
The research says it all:
- Out of the 41 Fortune 500 technology companies, only 5 CEO's are women.
- In 2015, 17 percent of Fortune 500 CIO positions were held by women.
- Only about 18 percent of all startups have at least one female founder.
The business case for creating greater gender diversity is real and urgent. Research indicates that gender diversity leads to increased competitiveness in technology, accelerates innovation, and drives market growth.
While the statistics on the gender imbalance in technology aren't exactly uplifting, there are programs and platforms working to take action towards increasing the number of women in tech, such as Girls Who Code, Women Rising, and Women Who Startup.
Several months ago, I attended my first Basecamp event put-on by Women Who Startup, a community of female entrepreneurs supported by local startup ecosystems, accelerators, and investors headquartered in Denver, Colorado.
I was immediately struck by how innovative, ambitious, and supportive this group of women was. While most members of Women Who Startup are in the tech startup industry, members also include female entrepreneurs across various industries.
I thought to myself: The tech industry can learn a lot by what Women Who Startup is doing to support female entrepreneurs.
I recently sat down with the powerful force who is South African born Lizelle van Vuuren, the CEO & Founder of Women Who Startup, to find out how this platform supports women entrepreneurs.
In 2012, Van Vuuren became acutely aware that no matter what her surroundings were, whether it was corporate networking or it was startup community events, there was a small percentage of women in the room. She kept asking herself: Where are all the women?
In early 2013, Women Who Startup began as a small meetup group and now 3 years later is known as one of the fastest female entrepreneurial platforms in Colorado and beyond. "Women Who Startup is a natural evolution of a community platform that generates support, motivation, and collaboration," says Van Vuuren.
I interviewed Van Vuuren about how her platform helps female entrepreneurs launch and grow their startups. This is what I learned is essential to female entrepreneurial success:
5 Support Mechanisms That Help Female Entrepreneurs Succeed
1. Community: Being an entrepreneur can be extremely isolating. Removing the isolation and creating a community is the foundation of Women Who Startup.
Van Vuuren says, "There are some women who are attracting exceptional co-founder talent and developer talent. But, I do believe that there is an abundance of women that are solopreneurs and I don't know if they know that going beyond solo is an option, and what it requires."
2. Virtual Connection and Collaboration: Bringing together diverse minds is powerful. Women Who Startup members are innovators and thinkers, engineers, CEOs, COOs, and CFOs.
3. Powerful Professional Network: Many women starting companies struggle to find mentors. Women Who Startup members, Sarah Duffy & Bri Baird, Co-founders of Kiitos, an online marketplace for parents to buy, borrow and sell goods for children, say: "We've met many CEOs at the events and then had follow-up coffees for help from everything from accelerators to payment processors. It's great to get such honest open dialog from successful CEOs."
4. Learning Opportunities: At the Basecamp events held monthly in Denver and Boulder, Van Vuuren interviews successful female startup founders and CEOs on their success and failures.
Duffy says, "I leave events feeling motivated, inspired and excited to get back to work."
At last month's Basecamp event in Denver, Van Vuuren interviewed Lee Mayer CEO of Havenly. Mayer described what she has learned, especially in terms of how much equity to give away and for what. This was incredibly valuable advice and information for those in the very beginning stages of growing their companies.
5. Transformational Networking: The best type of networking is when people are willing to help each other expecting nothing in return. Networking that is transformational in nature and not transactional gives entrepreneurs the most opportunities for growth.
"So what happens--organically--is that you start helping people so much and the help just comes back tenfold. Especially if you're in a virtual environment and I also see this happening at our monthly events," explains Van Vuuren.
Women Who Startup member Sandy Amaro, Growth and Marketing Manager at Meyer Law, says " I always walk away with more knowledge, a new perspective, and at least a couple business cards of women I truly connect with. These are women that I want to stay connected with for future ventures, passion projects, and to build business with."
Women Who Startup is on a mission to reach millions to promote gender diversity in entrepreneurship. Van Vuuren says, "It's about men and women working together. My slogan for Women Who Startup is: Changing the Face of Entrepreneurship, together."
"So, the best case scenario is more men and women collaborate. Consistently collaborate, be the change, tell the story, and lay the foundation of what it looks like to be collaborative," explains Van Vuuren.