American women are starting their own companies at record rates.
This may explain the media interest in women-in-technology and STEM professions, or the number of communities and proliferation of advice to support female engineers and start-up founders. If press coverage is any indication of public opinion, one might guess that many of these women — like many men — have been inspired to try to strike it rich in the great entrepreneurial gold rush.
I don’t have the data to back it up, but I have a different theory. I suspect that the boom times for female entrepreneurship is less about trying to become the next Mark Zuckerberg and more about choosing between a rock and a hard place.
Kathryn Gould, a pioneering woman in venture capital, and an early employee at Oracle gave the University of Chicago MBA class commencement speech a couple months ago (which you can watch here or read highlights from here). She’s a tough lady who has had a great career, and Gould admits that her approach was to avoid talking about being “a woman”, at times even pretending that women did not face obstacles. However, in a rare concession during the commencement speech, she talks about two obstacles she faced. The first is overt discrimination: she wanted to attend CalTech, but the school didn’t admit women until 1970. The second challenge she faced is probably more relevant to most women today: despite being “one of the top handful of VCs in the business” at the time, with a great track record under her belt, she wasn’t able to find a new job when her former company disbanded. Gould says that she is pretty sure a guy in her position would have been snapped up very quickly. In order not to lose momentum, she took matters into her own hands and started her own firm. She then says:
You ambitious women will surely face something like this in your career. Just go around it!
I sympathize with this advice, even though I realize its impractical for many. Not everyone can, nor has the skills, circumstances and stomach to be an entrepreneur. But in my opinion, the boom in female entrepreneurship is at least partially driven by the same things that Kathryn Gould faced in the 1990s. I believe women are starting companies in record numbers as a direct consequence of unappealing workplace cultures and policies in spite of the relatively safer, creature comforts of a corporate position.
Being your own boss is often risky, financial and emotionally stressful, and is certainly no cake-walk. However, the alternatives can be unpleasant as well. Being an entrepreneur means you are, by definition, in control of your work-life balance, your hours, and the creator of your own corporate culture. In the meantime, for those who choose to stay the company course, Fairygodboss hopes to shed light on the best and worst places to work.