What entrepreneurship can learn from the pressure of sport for gender equality
It has been a summer of domination for women in sport. From 19-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez’s outstanding performance at the US Open, to the Canadian Women’s Olympic team dominating the field and the pool, it’s amazing to watch.
And I saw it all with my daughter by my side. I looked through my 6 year old daughter’s eyes at broken barriers and redefined gender roles in real time.
The question I ask myself is how to do the same for entrepreneurship? As a male entrepreneur, I’ll be the first to admit that our gender demographics have long been out of balance. We’re seeing a lot more male arguments, funding a lot more male-run businesses, and seeing a lot more men through successful exits. This represents a deep and fundamental flaw in the nature of corporate culture and something that absolutely needs to change. I have had the privilege of working with exceptional women entrepreneurs and seeing extraordinary results. And yet, I have also been too slow to recognize what I can do to correct this disparity.
It is a well-documented challenge, with incisive perspectives on how to move forward and serious efforts to drive change from many sides. Still, progress in our industry has been painfully slow. As I watched my daughter admire her new athletic models, I realized how essential it was for her to have the same heroes in business. And while the world of sport has historically been far from a model of fairness, and many improvements are still needed, there may be relevant lessons for the entrepreneurial community to learn.
Funding and subject of interest
The Tokyo Olympics were hailed for being the closer to gender parity the games never were. But it should be noted that this progress did not happen overnight. The success of American women at the Olympics, for example, can be largely attributed to a bill called Title IX, which provided equal access to all federally funded programs, including sports. There was an acknowledgment that there was a problem and a promise to increase funding, which reduced girls’ sports participation from one in 27 to two in five.
This is a major lesson for the business world, myself included. If we are to open more doors for women entrepreneurs, it takes a concerted, visible and sustained effort to tackle the problem. It starts by changing the behavior of the people who fund startups. Statistics paint a dire picture – only 20% of new startups in 2019 were led by women, and they received only 2.8% of the total VC funds allocated that year.
Access to capital has always been one of the biggest obstacles women entrepreneurs face. Some major players, like the Business Development Bank of Canada, have taken steps to dedicate funds to women, but without a conscious and focused effort from frontline investors like myself, progress will always fall short of expectations.
You can’t be what you can’t see
It’s not just funding and government initiatives that take women’s Olympic sports to the next level. It’s driving the standardization of women in athletics, highlighting role models and lowering barriers to entry. This virtuous circle has led to more female athletes and more success.
The same logic applies to entrepreneurship. British investigation found eight out of ten young people could not name a single female entrepreneur, and they were much more likely to view men as entrepreneurs than women. Kids should be just as familiar with Sara Blakely, the woman who brought Spanx to a billion dollar valuation, or Cindy Mi, who launched VIPKid to teach kids around the world to speak English, as they are. with Bill Gates or Elon Musk. It’s time to stand up for women entrepreneurs and make them known.
One from my own backyard: I was so inspired by Barinder Rasode at Grow Tech Labs in Vancouver. When my company started working with her in 2018, she was a female force in the male dominated cannabis industry. For my daughter, seeing a woman of color breaking down barriers and helping people along the way is crucial. Without further uplifting these types of visible role models, it is difficult to envision or aspire to a career as an entrepreneur.
Generational shifts and consumer power
Although progress has been slow, generational change has enormous power. Generation Z is the most entrepreneurial generation to date, with studies suggesting that 62 percent are interested in starting their own business. They are also motivated by lofty goals and the firm belief that business plays a vital role in correct social injustice. They demand that companies do better and be more likely to support those who take a stand for something.
These generational shifts are reinforced by something so powerful: the bottom line. In women’s sport, a increase in sponsorship, TV revenue and notes acted as a positive feedback loop, accelerating interest and participation and advancing fairness.
The same pattern applies to women in entrepreneurship. Investors are realizing that women entrepreneurs represent a tremendously valuable talent pool, promising access to new ideas, new energies and new markets. I think of Tara Bosch, the founder of Smart Sweets, whom I met in a Vancouver incubator when she was just starting out. While still in college, she recognized a huge neglected market for sugar-free candy and quickly moved from experimenting with recipes in her kitchen to an outflow of $ 400 million. The company’s success is not surprising—an arsenal of studies have shown that companies run by women outperform those founded by men. The logic of the result means that more funding and attention should go to female-led startups in the years to come.
There is one final parallel to note here. The presence and success of women in sport benefits everyone, not just women. It is a vehicle for challenging stereotypes and promoting equality in other areas. Studies have shown communities with empowered women are healthier, more economically stable, and simply better places to live. It’s a principle I was raised with at home and a staple of my culture: equality brings everyone forward.
The same goes for raising women entrepreneurs. Give women equal access to business creation fundamentally improves corporate culture. This leads to funding different and more diverse businesses, to being successful and influencing change at the societal level. None of this is rocket science – it has been emphasized time and again by founders and activists working to democratize access to entrepreneurship. This is not a new problem, but it is a problem that demands action more than ever. Now it’s up to investors like me to really take these lessons to heart.
Shafin Diamond Tejani is the founder and CEO of Victory Square Technologies, which supports technology startups through sustainable growth.
What Entrepreneurship Can Learn From Sports’ Push for Gender Equality first appeared on Worth.