Horasis Global Meeting asked me to participate in a panel discussion.  It was a great honor to debate with leading female figures at an international conference in Portugal. We were invited to discuss the following: “There are less than 15% of tech start-ups with female founders notwithstanding they outperform their male equivalents. Women learn how to be confident in their work-life planning abilities so leverage bright ideas over the long-term. How can women be better supported as entrepreneurs? And what mentoring is needed to win more funding capital.

It’s important to note that, I’ll be talking about my personal experiences. Although I’ll be using research to support my claims, I don’t want to pretend they’re part of a universal truth. I’m also aware that as a white, middle-class woman, working in an industry in which women are widely represented, I have certain privileges. Moreover, I am part of a generation in which women have more professional opportunities and role models. Taking all this into account, I still notice not everyone gets the same chances, nor are they perceived in the same way. In this essay, I hope to tackle some topics that will call for reflection.

Although I generally have a positive experience being active as a female entrepreneur, I must say I experienced a hard time at Horasis Global Meeting. I was fully prepared for my speech, but while I was there, I felt completely out of my comfort zone and noticed I just put myself in a corner hiding behind my laptop. Normally, I can present myself confidently and I trust myself in having an opinion and sharing it, but it was difficult to act in the same way out of my familiar surroundings.

So, with this little side note that I didn’t completely succeed following my own advice (yet!), I’ll share my experience and thoughts about how I think you can you can grow in female leadership

WHAT ABOUT FEMALE ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
ASK THE SAME QUESTIONS TO MALE & FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS

Entrepreneurship shouldn’t be approached from a male nor female perspective. Too often I hear people claim men and women are already treated equally. Unfortunately, my personal experience tells me this is not always the case. And research says so too. When people ask me what I do, one of the first questions I often hear is: Isn’t it hard? How do you combine work with a social life? or So you are a career woman, so you don’t want kids?, while my male entrepreneur friends get questions like: That’s cool, what’s your plan for the next year?”

I would like to refer to Dana Kanza, who revealed some distressing statistics in “The Real Reason Female Entrepreneurs Get Less Funding”. She states that companies led by men get five times more funding than those of female entrepreneurs. An alarming gap, which Kanze explains by referring to “The theory of the regulatory focus”. The theory, developed by Tory Higgins, states that there are two ways to focus on a goal. The regulatory focus of prevention follows a conservative approach, emphasising security, safety and protection. In the regulatory focus of promotion, growth, potential and development are prioritised.

Both approaches can be proven successful to achieve a goal, although this strongly depends on personal preferences. Individuals thus should be given the chance to take on the focus that matches their own style best. According to Kanze’s research, that’s part of the problem: female entrepreneurs often don’t get the chance to choose the regulatory focus that fits their approach.

Researching investment rounds, Kanze found that female entrepreneurs are more likely to be confronted with questions focused on prevention, whereas male business owners are asked about aspects linked to promotion. Both male and female investors are guilty of asking these types of questions.

Women, for example, need to explain how they will retain their clients, while men get the question on how they’ll acquire customers. Both aspects are crucial in building a business, but acquisition will lead to a higher profit than retention. As a result, male entrepreneurs will seem to have a bigger potential growth. 

The study shows that men more often get the chance to talk about initiatives linked to promotion, while women are subjected to questions about prevention. And because of that, men can show their ideas potential and the ambition of their goals more easily - which leads to more investments. 

It would be a good idea to ask the same questions to both male and female entrepreneurs. This way, everyone has an equal chance to expound on their vision and ambition. But since that is still a work in progress, I can only give you the hint to turn around the questions yourself and tell your story with enthusiasm, charm and show your plan’s growth potential.

Last year, I participated in De Leeuwenkuil, a tv show in which entrepreneurs try to find potential investors. I was better prepared than ever for my pitch, or better said: that’s what I thought. Once the moment was there, I became so nervous that I had a complete blackout. Fortunately, it didn’t end there and then. The panel started asking me all kinds of questions that helped me get my thoughts back in order. The more they asked me, the more I got the chance to explain my vision, my plans and the possible tracks I wanted to explore. I won, giving me a nice partnership with my investor as a result. 

Looking back at this experience, I’m convinced that we, as female entrepreneurs, also should take action ourselves. I was lucky to mostly answer questions that were promotion-oriented, but not all entrepreneurs will get the same chance. Therefore we should turn the question around and emphasise promotion. Recognise the current pattern and shift the attention to your vision, ambition and the growth of your business.

WHAT ABOUT FEMALE ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
WHAT ABOUT FEMALE ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
WORK WITH PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN YOU

Working with an investor is not always evident, although I’m very fortunate about the partnership with my investor Bart. I often go with my gut feeling, consequently asking his advice about my - rather impulsive - plans. He -mostly- tells me to go for it and corrects me if I’m wrong. For me it is important to feel at ease with the people I work with. According to his own words, he invests in people, not in products and that was the first lesson he taught me when we started our partnership.

People sometimes seem to have a hard time with this way of cooperating. From their view, we take on conservative gender roles in which men support women financially. That’s not how it feels to me at all: he believes in me as someone with a vision, supported by a business plan. If I wouldn’t have a tangible strategy to fall back on, he would never had invested in me.