How women are climbing up the startup ladder

jessica alba

Along with the current agglomeration of start-ups around the world, the start-up ecosystem has also seen a strong growth in the number of female founders. Last week, over 5000 founders, investors and start-up enthusiasts congregated in Munich, Germany at the “Bits & Pretzels” festival to discuss the current status-quo, to inspire, and to network.

“Bits & Pretzels” is a three-day festival that was founded in 2014 with the sole purpose of educating the next generation of entrepreneurs and spreading knowledge about the start-up scene. At this year’s festival, there was an impeccable focus on female founders. This was not merely a result of this decade’s strong focus on gender equality, but was largely initiated by the many guest speakers that stressed the importance of female founders for the future viability of a company. One of these speakers was Jessica Alba.

Though Alba is commonly known for her roles in various blockbusters, she actually founded her own beauty company called “The Honest Company” back in 2008, after the birth of her daughter, Honor. For her, this is a step too few women dare to take. For generations, this reality was the norm, however; once women had children, there was not much time for anything else other than running the household and taking care of the children. But for Alba, those days are over! Women should not feel that they have to give up on their career simply because of the circumstances at hand. And whilst we are seeing an increase in the number of female start-ups, there is still a long way to go. As Jessica Alba emphasized during her speech, we are still experiencing a lack of diversity in the workplace, despite efforts of large corporations and other institutions to improve gender equality. In fact, during her speech, Alba firmly stated that one of the essential building blocks for a successful company is to “bow down to diversity”.

Just a day earlier, Barack Obama also gave a speech at the festival, during which he identified that “…diversity is not an act of charity, it’s the engine of excellence”. So, when we see headlines that read “Goldman Sachs wants to increase representation in hiring for entry-level analysts and associates in the Americas to 50% for women…” it’s not merely for the benefit of the firm’s reputation, but it should also lead to improved future prospects for companies of all sorts.  Diversity shouldn’t be seen as an ‘act of charity’ but as an opportunity for a company to see absolute success. This is the message that we must bring across!

On that note, the Bavarian Minister of State, Judith Gerlach, also made an appearance at the festival and focused her speech on the importance of diversity within start-ups. She believes that if more women were to take on technical professions, this should not only solve the existing shortage of skilled workers, but should also make an important contribution to future development. Diversity is ultimately the driving change, or is it not?

Now whilst a statistic by the “Federal Association of German Start-ups” illustrated that in 2018, only 15% of female start-ups were founded, it is important to note that an increasing number of females have been climbing up the corporate ladder in recent years, in particular within the start-up realm. In fact, in 2019, funding for female-founded start-ups has been seeing record levels. But what has led to this progressive change?

  1. First and foremost, the world has been seeing an increase in awareness of gender issues.
  2. In addition, more and more women are pushing for successful careers. Yet, there has also been an increase in the amount of support amongst women.
  3. Also, women are now openly tackling matters that have been regarded as off-limits in the past, such as depression and menopause. Yet, today women are also more willing to work on themselves, e.g. accepting themselves for who they are.
  4. Lastly, women are also focusing more and more on their own well-being and are more willing and able to deal with complicated relationships than in the past.

The driving change we see here is that millennial women are investing in themselves far more than previous generations of women. And not just monetarily, but also emotionally and physically. Whilst there is still a lot of room for improvement, the She-conomy has advanced in the last decade, not just with the help of large corporations and other institutions but also through the way women view themselves in this modern world. And whilst it has greatly benefited women as a whole, we are also seeing positive externalities in the corporate scene. It’s a win-win situation, clearly!

Lilian Cohaus


photo credit “Jessica Alba” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0.