Just 2 per cent of US technology startups and less than 1 per cent of UK startups are founded by a female entrepreneur, according to researchers.
A study from the Global Entrepreneurship Development Institute (GEDI – which we're told is pronounced "Jedi") found that while gender inequality amongst entrepreneurs exists in all nations and business sectors, the technology space was particularly short of women striking out on new ventures.
In the study and its resulting GEDI Gender Index, the US ranked first overall in entrepreneurship climate for women, while the UK ranked sixth. The study ranked a number of factors, including education, access to capital, and local laws, which all influence business opportunities for women.
"Often there is this idea that for women, starting a business is a matter of personal choice," Dr Runa Aidis, director of the Gender GEDI project, told El Reg. "It is very important for policy makers to drill into the fact that it is not just choice. There are issues in the environment that are affecting high-potential female entrepreneurship."
That "high potential" – meaning the company is likely to have a high value – is key, say researchers. Aidis noted that in the US, 78 per cent of female entrepreneurs were considered highly educated, possessing a university degree or higher – which suggests that the businesses they found might be more sophisticated than your typical shops. In the UK, 57 per cent of women entrepreneurs were highly educated.
In tech, however, it seems that even highly educated women are finding trouble when it comes to starting up a company. While around 40 per cent of all startups in the US are founded by women, the percentage of women-founded tech startups is far smaller.
The numbers underscore a point that anyone who visits a trade show, tours a campus, or simply looks at the leadership page of a major tech firm could already tell you: women are vastly underrepresented in the tech industry.
A recent study from Google of its own workforce found that just 30 per cent of its staff were female, and women accounted for just 17 per cent of technical positions. Aidis noted that the hiring of larger companies can have a major impact on the startup space, as many entrepreneurs get their starts at big companies before striking out on their own.
While the numbers are discouraging, researchers do believe that simple measures will have a big impact in bringing greater equality into the field. Aidis points to educational efforts to encourage female students to take an interest in and pursue STEM fields as having the potential to change the business climate and make the startup space more viable for women.
"It is really about tweaking the system," Aidis said. "We have programs that exist." ®