Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: Unfair to Female Founders?

With insights based on fieldwork and extensive research, Ozkazanc-Pan and Muntean share how society's basic systems may be working against us.

Banu Ozkazanc-Pan and Susan Clark Muntean, the authors of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: A Gender Perspective, gave us a research-fueled tour of the resources available to and those out of reach for women entrepreneurs. 

English poet John Donne said it for us: “No man is an island.” And no female entrepreneur is one either. Successful entrepreneurs are often described as connectors. They build networks of internal and external relationships that they can depend on for support, feedback, insights and resources.

As you grow and scale your company, you realize you can’t do it all. You build a team and often a group of partners, service providers and others who help grow your business.

But what about the existing entrepreneurial ecosystems we have been given? The marketplace. The community. Other entrepreneurs. Investors. The media. Service providers. Policymakers. Is the existing system setting women up for failure?

Do women get a fair shake?

When the latest edition of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems was being launched, the authors hosted an online chat to talk about the book and its message.

While we like to think that women entrepreneurs navigate the same earth as the men, the reality is that women must navigate entirely different paths. From “mom-tracked” careers to issues around funding, female entrepreneurs are dealing with a very different ecosystem than men. The gap is even wider if we’re talking about women and non-binary founders of color and white males.

So, what’s an ecosystem to do?

Many ecosystem participants create special “islands” specifically for women entrepreneurs. The female founder funding programs. The women’s accelerators. The mentor programs specifically for women. But these programs may create a stigma and stir backlash, much the way affirmative action does. Women taking advantage of the special programs are suspected of not being “good enough” for regular funding or regular programming. The stigma may mean they don’t get “regular” funding later. (According to studies, these entrepreneurs are twice as likely to not get any funding in the future.)

Before talking with Ozkazanc-Pan and Muntean, I hadn’t previously heard about ‘gender-blind sexism.’ It’s a term that’s been used elsewhere, but according to Ozkazanc-Pan, “we’re extending it to the entrepreneurial ecosystem space to talk about how many ecosystem actors want to claim they don’t see ‘gender’, just people or they believe we live in a meritocracy. They say things like ‘we value diversity and women’s voices’ but then say, ‘we want to hire someone we trust.’”  

Women continue to come up against a set of invisible barriers. The system is working against us and the more we learn and know, the better armed we are to make a difference.

Take the time to listen in on my conversation with the authors and check out the book as well. It’s good to know what you’re up against.

If you want to see more coverage on Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, read our Book of the Week post for extra content!

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