Women's History Month: Perspectives on Business Feminism from a Woman-Led Startup
Updated: May 12
March is Women's History Month, a time to honor women's contributions to history and the present. To close out the month, the team at Carbon Reform wanted to talk about women in startups.
Our team’s mission is to deliver in the fight against climate change, but we also have diverse interests here at Carbon Reform—we recognize that our world is not a single-issue world. All genders in the workspace deserve equal pay, time, and respect, and gender justice in the startup space is something that we feel passionately about as a company (and as individuals).
In this installment of the Carbon Reform Blog, we are going to take a look at gender equity in business, and specifically women in the startup space. This is a topic very near and dear to us at Carbon Reform (as we are a woman-led business), and we think keeping the conversation open and honest is important.
There is room for women in the startup space.
The gender pay gap is very real and well-documented in our country, but tech startups are a whole different beast for equitable inclusion of all genders. Almost half of women working in STEM fields say that they have faced some sort of discrimination within the recruitment and hiring process, and Black and Latina women are also less likely to be hired into a tech role than white candidates. Women in startups have it especially difficult because they deal with the tasks of securing funding, continuing research, and hiring while being a part of a system that actively discriminates against them in the workplace.
Image: Boston Consulting Group
With many companies and educational institutions making commitments to diversity and inclusion, the science community has made strides in the retention rates of women and people of other underrepresented identities who pursue careers in related fields. However, women are underrepresented in startups, specifically in tech.
And why is that? Research backs up the claim that organizations with a higher percentage of women in leadership positions outperform organizations that do not have as many women leading. A study found that businesses founded by women ultimately deliver a higher revenue. The figure above shows that for every dollar invested in a women-led company, 78 cents is made in revenue, but for the same investment in a man-owned company, the return on investment is just 31 cents.
If women are such an asset to startups, then why did women-led startups only receive 2.3% of VC funding in 2020?
It's harder in hardware.
While women-led tech companies are consistently receiving less than three percent of VC funding, the number is even lower in women-led hardware tech companies. In a field where companies must build a physical product, a lack of visibility for women leaders creates this disparity. We hear many success stories of women-led and women-owned software startups and companies, but we less often hear about women in hardware fields like manufacturing. It is difficult to say why that is, but luckily there are women in the field who are changing this narrative.
Franchessa Sayler is one woman who has grown a startup from an idea to a successful company in the hardware field. She is the former Founder, President and CEO of Thrupore Technologies, a custom catalyst manufacturing company. She started Thrupore in 2012 while a graduate student at the University of Alabama, but she found that the chemical space in the Delaware region was very well connected and better suited for her business.
I was lucky enough to talk to Franchessa for the Carbon Reform blog; when I asked about her experience as a woman in hardware, Franchessa said that she found a community of other women in the field through events like conferences. She has attended conferences that were non-field specific for women in business, but even so she found it valuable to talk to other people who were facing similar challenges as her. Franchessa says that “a lot of problems we encounter have nothing to do with technology. It is financing and fielding questions and making sure that you come off a certain way. We all face nonspecific issues, but it helps to talk to each other and figure it out.”
Jo’s experience at the Women in HVACR Conference
Jo Norris is the Co-Founder and CEO of Carbon Reform. In October, she went to St. Petersburg, Florida for the Women in HVACR Conference, and I got to talk to her a bit about that experience.
Image: Jeff Schlichenmeyer
When I asked how the few days in Florida went, Jo said that it was very enjoyable and a great networking experience to meet other women who are in the HVACR field. She commented that the setup of the conference gave participants a lot of room to be creative, like giving coloring books to participants at keynote speeches to help everyone focus! Jo had a unique perspective because she was the only person that she knew of that was representing a startup—many of the women were working at larger companies. Nevertheless, she made a lot of valuable connections and met a lot of inspiring women in the field.
These conversations shouldn't just be taking place during Women's History Month, however. It needs to be a constant conversation in order to make the changes that are necessary. People of all genders deserve to have equal representation and funding in startups. Conferences and forums facilitated just for women are great to build a sense of community and support for underrepresented groups in the field, and it gives some hope for a more inclusive, equitable future. However, there is more that needs to be done.
When asked if they had anything to say to anyone looking to grow their own ideas into a startup, Jo and Franchessa both shared some valuable advice:
Jo: “It is likely that everyone’s advice is going to conflict with one another. Be coachable, but take everyone else’s advice with a grain of salt. Listen, but don’t second guess—choosing to start a company was your decision.”
Franchessa: “If you are a person who is not adverse to risk, then this is the career path for you. My advice for women specifically would be that this business is hard—build a support structure, and definitely talk to other women in business.”
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