A question I’ve been hearing a lot more lately has been how to get more women engaged in entrepreneurship. What provokes a woman to start a company or maybe even prevents them? To go one step further, how can we engage women in Iowa to join our own tech startup community?
Before we dig into this, I want to start by defining what we mean by “tech”. In talking with friends outside the startup community I’ve noticed a lot of confusion when it comes to the word. Many people immediately exclude themselves from the space by citing themselves as not being “tech-savvy”, when in reality being involved in “tech” and being “tech-savvy” are not mutually exclusive. Tech companies can’t be built with technologists alone, but also need design, marketing, support, sales, finance, and so on in order to truly succeed. As tech entrepreneurs we’re simply finding problems to solve and technology is our tool to do just that.
With that definition in mind, what is it that specifically keeps women from joining the “tech” community? Arguments range from not targeting the earliest stage of development to blaming it on innate differences (I don’t buy it - and I think Neil DeGrasse Tyson makes a compelling case on why we can’t argue this just yet). The truth is there is no one thing preventing women from joining tech. Many things factor into it - all we can do is try to propel the next generation to explore and build upon the foundation we’ve set before them.
And while I am passionate about building awareness and recruiting more women to join this community as I build my own startup Goquets here with my co-founder Shawn Harrington, there are a few things we can do as a community to ensure a bright future for females today in Iowa:
Set the example
As humans we often learn by experience and follow the example set by those before us. Fortunately for me that example was set by my mother, a long-time entrepreneur who inspired me to travel down this road and not be afraid of what lies ahead (or as Neil DeGrasse Tyson notes in the link above, “travel the path of most resistance”). Many do not have such an example, and so I believe it’s our responsibility to be as loud as we can so that other women realize there is enough room for them to join in. If we are not visible while standing in the same room as our counterparts, it’s a lot harder for us to argue that our presence is needed.
Access to opportunity
The reason our education system exists today is to expose opportunity to the masses and with that the tools for success. We are only just beginning to realize the importance of accessibility in this world. If we can expose women to these tools earlier and show them how to build a company or help build a strong team, when the opportunity comes there’s nothing that could hold them back. There are a growing number of organizations looking to fill this gap, and quite frankly the sooner the better.
Change the perspective
Both men and women need to stop treating this conversation as taboo and need to start feeling comfortable expressing insight into how we can collectively encourage more women to join the startup community. An open dialogue will bring awareness to the issue a hell of a lot faster and I expect we’ll eventually start to see a new kind of female entrepreneur emerge: one who approaches the field with inherent confidence, embraces her unique skill-set and identifies as a ‘woman in tech’ without reservation.
So where is the opportunity for change? As Iowans I believe that opportunity comes in the form of supporting individuals who are pursuing their dreams in entrepreneurship (and perhaps tech) as objectively as we can -- our culture celebrates those who are willing to find a solution, even (or rather, especially) if it means tackling a big problem. If we are looking to draw out individuals with potential and we can do so without judgment, preconceived notions and stereotypes getting in the way, then we’ll be a better community for it.