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Women starting up in start-ups

In this modern day, women are still under-represented within start-up businesses, and in particular, the tech industry. A report conducted by the Australian Institute of Management found that flexible working arrangements was the most crucial factor in the attempt to increase rates of workplace retention. In fact, 58% of respondents listed this as the most important consideration to allow change. Naturally, this has a significant effect on the amount of women taking the leap to create their own businesses, in particular, tech industries.

Zoe Palmer, founder of business-to-business branding agency Brand Chemistry in Sydney, asserts that primarily, she started the agency was to open herself up to the passion of her practice. However, she soon realised that “The biggest benefit to it is that I feel like running the business and balancing it with your home life is like you have a bunch of valves to turn,” says Zoe.

It’s possible that start-up companies represent a large point of advantage for women looking to create successful careers, enabling them to still “have it all”.

James Alexander is the founder of Incubate, a Sydney University run accelerator program to fund student startups. He explains that there are incredible opportunities available for tech startups targeted at female consumers – and one need only look at the success of Pinterest to see that this is the case. For women thinking about applying to enter the program, he stresses that this is one of the areas where opportunity is ripe for female entrepreneurs, particularly attracting the interest of investors.

“I think if they’re a woman entrepreneur and they want to produce a product specifically for women, that’s something they should definitely do, because there’s not enough of those.”

Despite receiving a majority of male applications for Incubate, James explains that the most successful startups that have come through the program so far have had female co-founders, as females often provide leadership qualities that are beneficial to early-stage startups, such as excellent communication skills.

Female styles of leadership are greatly supported by biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher, author of The First Sex, who has written widely on the cognitive gender differences between men and women and their leadership skills.

Fisher coined the term ‘web thinking’ to describe the way that women make connections in their brain, lending themselves better to weighing up more variables, and seeing a great range of possible solutions to a problem. Men, on the other hand, are generally better at what she calls ‘step thinking’ – focusing their attention on one particular thing at a time. These styles of thinking allow for greater diversity in the management of a company when working together, proving advantageous to future planning.

Although the startup world is largely male-dominated at this point in time, this has not deterred many young women from jumping in and making waves. One such woman is Stacey Jacobs, founder of tech startup Tidy, an online platform for booking house cleaners in the Eastern Suburbs. The website has already received a healthy response, reaching 50 customers in its seventh week since creation, and she dreams of expanding it past the East.

“It was something I’d been thinking about for a while, and the opportunity sort of came about after I’d been in my last startup for 18 months, and I thought it was just now or never,” says Stacey. “So I made the decision to quit my job, took a week off, and then I founded the company.”

Stacey praises the advantages of co-working spaces shared with multiple startups in that they help facilitate networking with other startups and allow the opportunity to meet investors when in the early stages of your business. She has had particularly strong involvement with Fishburners, the largest tech co-working space in Australia.

The welcoming reputation of the tech industry is a common view held amongst female tech entrepreneurs, including 22-year-old Jessica Wilson. Wilson has had an overwhelming response to her startup, “Stashd App”, with users in 85 countries since its launch in November last year. The concept of the app combines her knowledge of the fashion industry with a tech platform that enables online shopping by simply swiping left or right, much like Tinder. In her experience working in the tech space, she believes that what’s needed to attract women to the industry is a shift in mentality.

“Women grow up with the media projecting what is expected, accepted socially, and on trend, in which tech is portrayed as ‘geeky’ ­– and who wants to be seen as the opposite of what society deems as what all the ‘it’ girls are doing?” says Jessica. “This is what has to change. Technology needs to be seen more as a vehicle to drive innovation. Women, too, have the potential to be the next Mark Zuckerburg – just with better dress sense.”

It’s clear that women have the ability to think in vastly different processes than men, facilitating a more diverse range of businesses and start-ups across Australia and the world. Despite the fact that many women fear inaccessibility of the tech world, it appears that the market is open for business. It is possible that the lack of women in the workforce and in particular the entrepreneurial sphere could indeed benefit current generations of women. Years of being underestimated and undervalued can provide up and coming business women with the edge to become incredibly successful. And it could be you.


WORDS BY ERIN ROONEY. For questions, queries or more articles, contact Erin at eroo2505@uni.sydney.edu.au

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