Think diverse: 5 key challenges and how we address them with ONE MISSION

Tech startups – a male domain? We want to change that! We – Maike, Marlene, Vanessa and Kristina – are the initiators of ONE MISSION, WERK1’s gender diversity initiative. And we are convinced that the potential of startups in Germany is far from exhausted. Inclusion and diversity in business management are an important factor for success and innovation. How is it then that in around 75% of German startups only men are represented as (co-)founders? Let’s have a look at some key challenges for female entrepreneurs.

What gender diversity actually means

Let’s make it clear right at the beginning: We need more women in founding teams. But that does not mean that we want to displace men. On the contrary: we want more startups with women AND men as founders. We want diverse founding teams that can benefit from each other through multi-faceted mindsets and different experiences and backgrounds. And thus be able to lead their startups more successfully and innovative.

Nevertheless, our focus is on promoting women, networking them with each other and encouraging them to take the step into self-employment. Especially in the field where women are significantly underrepresented: tech.

The key challenges for women entrepreneurs

Together with numerous experts from the Munich startup scene, we’ve identified five key challenges for female entrepreneurs at the kick-off meeting for our initiative. In addition to the lack of a network and the compatibility of family and career, the topics of mindset, financing and gender stereotypes are obstacles that female entrepreneurs have to face.

Key challenge 1: No party without a network

…And also no startup of your own. A network of other founders, mentors, investors and role models is indispensable for founding a startup. With the right people by your side, founding a startup becomes easier.

We have found that hurdles already arise during studies – the ideal environment and the right time to think about founding a company. On the one hand, the topic of startups is often not even discussed at universities. On the other hand, there are usually only men in the startup offices there. This is the first big obstacle for women who want to start a business.

But role models with a similar mindset are also hardly visible. Or how many successful female entrepreneurs do you know?

And another advantage of a large network: finding like-minded people who pursue a similar goal, have a purpose and maybe even want to get into a startup or invest.

This is exactly where we come in with ONE MISSION. We want to create transparency and show which events, programmes and strong personalities are out there. Our large network of role models who we regularly present on social media. We also initiate events for female founders and connect them with investors.

Key challenge 2: Growth Mindset – The right mindset makes the difference

Society often tells us women to be reserved. That we should become princesses waiting for their prince. But we often don’t want that at all! We want to decide for ourselves whether we want to become princesses, CEOs or whatever.

Breaking out of this cage takes courage. And strength. And work. We have to learn how to be who we want to be. We have to adjust our mindset. The good thing is: our mindset is not fixed, it can be changed. We just have to want to and face challenges. A growth mindset leads to growth.

We want to encourage women with ONE MISSION, show them that they don’t have to hide. They should step out into the world. Pursue ideas and found startups – if they want to. Everything is possible.

Key challenge 3: Family and self-employment

Children and Founding a company? Fortunately, this is no longer a rarity. Nevertheless, the term “working mom” exists. Whereas working dad is almost never heard. Why is it so unusual for women to be mothers and yet successful businesswomen?

We want to show women that they can also found startups as mothers. That there are many supporters. And that they can be successful. Especially when founding a company, a lot of time is invested in the new enterprise. But you don’t have to do it alone. Look for help, e.g. with co-founders, investors or mentors. And let your partner support you, too. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Key challenge 4: Money rules the world

Financing is a big and important topic. Unfortunately, there are still many investors who primarily finance in men. So there is a gender bias in funding: for women’s teams, there is still a gap in investments (whether through business angels or venture capital funds) between desired and received funding. In fact, it has been proven that women receive less venture capital. (See for example the study by BCG and MassChallenge).

We underestimate our unconscious bias, which causes us to act in a biased way. As a result, we look for commonalities in our counterparts. As the investment scene is male dominated, the share of financing in male-led companies is significantly higher.

We want to connect women with investors who invest in promising startups – regardless of gender, religion or age. An important partner in this is PrimeCrowd and Svenja Lassen in particular. We have already organised several events to bring together startup teams and investors. The goal is to expand this series of events even further and close the funding gap for female entrepreneurs.

Key challenge 5: Bye Bye Gender Stereotypes

With stereotypes, we ascribe certain attributes and behaviours to people. However, gender stereotypes are often highly reduced and influenced by external perceptions. They distort the view of groups and especially of individuals.

Unconsciously or consciously – we all use stereotypes to explain people’s behaviour. It has been proven that scientific essays written by men were judged to be more intelligent and convincing. Even the seemingly startup-specific characteristics such as assertive and risk-taking are more likely to be attributed to men. This makes it easier for men to identify and gives them advantages, e.g. in obtaining venture capital.

We want to raise awareness and challenge gender stereotypes. We know that it will be a hard and long way to sensitise people about their stereotypes. But we are ready to go this way. Are you too?

That’s why Gender Diversity matters

The other day I told a friend to say German female version “Kundinnen” instead of the male version “Kunden”. He couldn’t understand that. A discussion ensued and in the end I told him that we could now just always use the female form of a word. His answer: “But then I no longer feel addressed”. And that is exactly the point. We women are often excluded from the German language. Or there are only terms for professions that correspond to the stereotypes of a woman. E.g. secretary. Or nurse.

With ONE MISSION, we will make this (unconscious) inequality more visible and actively address the above-mentioned key challenges. We want to strengthen start-up founders and achieve that gender-diverse teams shape the future together.

Tech startups in particular are creating digital and innovative business models that are changing entire industries for the long term. It is therefore all the more desirable and worthwhile that the start-up teams are correspondingly heterogeneous. Only in this way can the needs and wishes of different target groups be taken into account and innovations created.

Of course, we know that diversity encompasses various dimensions such as age, origin or religion. And we realise that each aspect is incredibly important. Nevertheless, we have deliberately focused on gender diversity. That is our mission: to increase gender diversity in start-up founding teams. In doing so, we look forward to supporters.

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