Women in the Startup World: Entering a Male-Dominated Industry


This post is for all of our young female readers hoping to enter/ advance in the startup world. Maybe you already have your foot in the door somewhere, or maybe you know nothing about the industry but want to start somewhere. Either way, this is for you. We hope that this post becomes a resource to help you navigate the fast-paced, ever-changing industry you love so much.

When discussing women in the startup industry, it’s difficult to ignore the shortage of us within it. According to an article recently published in the Observer, women own only 5 percent of startups, and only 7 percent of partners at top 100 venture capital firms are female. The same article also stated that women hold only 11 percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies.

So, it’s no secret that the startup world continues to be male-dominated.

But, since when were women scared or intimidated to enter a male-dominated industry? Did Leslie Knope give up her political aspirations because of the sexism she faced from her fellow city council members? No! Olivia Pope, despite the constant challenges she faces of being a powerful woman in Washington, never quits either. And neither does Daenerys Targaryen, who is still fighting to become Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Yes, these are all fictional characters. But the point is, it doesn’t take long to find examples of successful women in male-dominated industries who didn’t give up on their dreams.

This includes the startup industry. For example, take Kara Scanlin and Sharon Latour.

Kara is Co-founder and CEO of Lystr, based in Chicago. Lystr is a connected home device that adds items to your grocery list for you. It’s WiFi connected, lives in your kitchen, and is able to scan items or listen to voice commands to build grocery lists that are automatically added to the Lystr application on a smartphone.

Across the world in Sydney, Australia, Sharon is CEO and Queen Bee at Marketing Bee, a marketing company that offers open-source web development and cloud based marketing. Marketing Bee’s signature program, Hivernate, is known as Australia’s first-ever cloud based marketing department.

Both Kara and Sharon are the leading executives at their respective companies; they manage their teams and are the top decision makers. If that’s not success in the startup industry, then what is?

With Kara and Sharon’s help, we’ve put together some tips and advice for all of you young women who aspire to one day become major players in the industry.

1. Find your mentor. This can be one of the most important things you’ll ever do for your career. Find someone in your life—a teacher, relative, older friend, or neighbor, for example, who you respect and who you get along with. If you don’t know a female entrepreneur, that’s okay. You don’t know one yet. This is the time for you to put yourself out there and connect with one. Reach out to female entrepreneurs in your community, or contact your existing network for any connections they may have. Don’t be scared to reach out for help—you may be surprised at how eager someone is to help you.

2. Find your team. In addition to having a mentor to guide you, you’ll want to have people who will work beside you. Find people who share your interests and those that don’t. It’s important to surround yourself with a group of people with different backgrounds and ideas because that’s how you’ll learn and gain new perspectives. Kara highlights that this is particularly important in the startup industry.

“Diversity of opinion is important for startups because we have so much to learn about our business, the opportunity, and our customers.”

Although you may not be in the stage of launching or running a startup, start surrounding yourself with a diverse group of people as early as you can!

3. Stay aware of industry happenings. If you’re applying to a college, it’s important to research that college and get your bearings before you write your personal statement, right? The same goes for any industry you’re trying to break into— especially one that has so many moving parts. Consistently read publications like Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, and Forbes to become more familiar with industry jargon and processes. Once you read insights from established entrepreneurs and VC experts, you’ll feel more grounded in the industry and have more tools in your belt. Not only will this make you more informed and help you become more strategic, but you'll also feel more confident!

4. Get involved. This is two-fold. Encourage young women and girls that you know to follow their passions for STEM and entrepreneurship. More young women interested in STEM and the startup industry can eventually mean more women in the industry. More women in the industry will lead to more women in executive roles and CEO positions. So, be a role model for the young women and girls in your life who want to follow in your footsteps. Also, put yourself out there. Get involved in entrepreneurship clubs or organizations at your school or in your community. If there isn’t one, consider starting one. You can also get involved online by joining LinkedIn groups, Facebook communities, and newsletter lists. Who knows? Your involvement with various entrepreneurship and STEM communities may spark your imagination and inspire an idea for your own company.

5. Keep on keeping on. Although you’re bound to face challenges and obstacles in your startup journey, it’s important to remember why you do what you do and what matters to you. Always give your best effort and produce the best results you can. Sharon and Kara sum it up perfectly.

Sharon explains, “Your work ethic is your weapon. The more you grow into your startup journey, the harder and the more complicated the challenges along the way, and the key attribute to solving those problems is to persevere and have an unbreakable work ethic.”

And Kara offers, “As a female founder, I think there's a lot to say for how you choose to look at it. You can choose to focus on the fact that women-run startups are funded less than men, or you can put your head down and work harder. I think it's all about who you are, not your gender. That's how I see myself and that's how our team operates.”

We hope that these tips help get you started on your startup journey! Entering a male-dominated industry certainly has its challenges for women, but remember that there are resources available and people in the industry that are here to help. Good luck to all of you—including our 59 female Sage Corps 2017 summer fellows— as you continue to work towards achieving your startup goals. It’s time to find your passion, build your vision, and get to work!