Events - 08.05.2015 - 00:00 

Beyond the glass ceiling

In a lecture open to the public during the 45th St. Gallen Symposium, four young female entrepreneurs were brought together to discuss their views and thoughts on the struggles they have faced.


7 May 2015. Alice Bentinck co-founded Entrepreneur First (EF), an early stage seed start-up organization that looks to encourage, aid and educate Europe's top technical talent navigate the world of start-ups, and Code First: Girls, an association that offers free courses and events that help young women learn the basics of web development, coding and entrepreneurship. In talking about EF, Alice noted that in a very short time they have become one of the biggest providers of talent when it comes to start-ups.

At Code First: Girls they ask the question why aren't more women in technology and entrepreneurship? One of the things Bentinck is hoping to change is not only the number of women in these fields but their attitudes. “It’s not just interest in technology but it’s building confidence and changing attitudes.” And while they are facing a number of challenges, “EF will be next year the biggest producer of start-ups in Europe.”

Russian-born but currently based in Copenhagen is Gulnaz Khusainova. She is the founder and CEO of many start-ups including EasySize – a service provided to online shops that helps them accurately determine their online customer’s size to reduce returns and to provide for a better consumer experience. She found that many entrepreneurial women face the same challenges she has faced. “There are a lot of stereotypes. People will assume what you are capable of and not capable of.”

But where is your tech guy?

Due to these barriers, she believes that female entrepreneurs have to put more work in. “Also, I noticed that as a sole-founder, I am constantly being asked, ’Where is your tech guy? ’” As a female entrepreneur, you will be spending a lot of your time proving to people that you can do that.”

Laurie Currie from the UK brought another perspective to the equation. “As a young entrepreneur, I felt that ageism was a bigger problem than sexism.” Currie is the co- founder of Snook, Scotland’s leading Service Design Agency and was recently named one of the UK’s top 35 business women under 35. Today, she’s ta programme manager at Hyper Island.

Root of the problem
Currie mentioned that she’s been asked the question of whether her companies would be any different if she were a man and she replied that, “I’ve been asked that question many times and it makes me really sad. The fact that you are still asking that question is the problem. A man would never be asked that question.”

The BBC’s Peter Day, who chaired the discussion, asked Currie if she believed she would be more successful if she was a man and Currie indignantly replied, “That is an awful question. I think the question should be… how easy is it to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are human beings.”

After being successful with two previous start-ups in Japan, Miku Hirano now is the CEO for Cinnamon in Singapore. Hirano feels that there may be a gender bias in her native country of Japan, and there may be a gender bias against women in business in general but that, “if you are in a country with a gender bias against women, and you are female, you should be an entrepreneur. You have to work hard but you don’t face any problems because if you look at a big company… you could have more problems.”

Hirano’s views seemed to inspire the other panellists as the discussion started to turn away from how difficult being a female entrepreneur is to how female entrepreneurs could change things.

Bentinck stated that as a founder, “you can dictate your maternity policy.”

Currie believes that in discussing the work/life balance, she believes that, “you can’t work every hour of every day… but you can set up charities, you can set up foundations…”

Hirano’s parting thought was directed to anyone, especially students, thinking of getting a start-up off the ground. “If you are thinking about founding a company, do it right now.”

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