But hurdles such as late night meetings and male-dominated culture at startups create barriers to entry for two specific groups: women and parents.
That’s why researchers at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation are taking another look at how early-stage firms can better engage parents and women in their operations.
Kauffman Foundation researchers Alicia Robb and Emily Fetsch both have studied why startups tend to be dominated by young men, and how to create inroads for more women and parents. Robb, a senior fellow at the foundation, said there are a variety of reasons why startups should focus on incorporating a variety of different people in their companies.
“There have been studies that show a diverse team and diverse boards of directors perform better and generate a higher return on investment,” Robb said. “If you have a company that’s all one type of person, its makeup doesn’t really reflect your customers or your market. Diversity and different viewpoints usually will add value, end up in a better product or service and a better overall operation.”
To vault the hurdles, Fetsch advocates that entrepreneurial communities need more women to step up as startup founders, and for other company leaders to push for more family-friendly policies. In addition, she contends that perceptions of women in entrepreneurship must change in order to foster more involvement from them.
“Research has also shown that people perceive entrepreneurship as a ‘masculine’ activity,” Fetch wrote in a recent Kauffman blog. “Changes in perception of what an entrepreneur is ‘supposed’ to look like can also encourage women to become entrepreneurs. … The more women founders there are, the more opportunity there is for gender-inclusive businesses.”
For parents that may be unable to participate in late-night coding shindigs, Fetch said fortunately time is on their side. As younger startup founders turn older and start families, more early-stage firms are beginning to incorporate family-oriented policies. In addition to the policies, Fetch encourages entrepreneurial leaders to have candid conversations about their personal challenges with work/life balance to encourage more communication on the stresses of the startup world.
Another avenue to create more diversity in early-stage businesses is to market the support systems and cooperative culture available to startups, Robb said.
“I don’t think there’s a better time to be an entrepreneur,” she said. “There are so many budding ecosystems around the country — not just in Silicon Valley — and you can see it in Kansas City. … There’s so much energy around entrepreneurship as a career opportunity for not just young people but also for parents, retirees and Baby Boomers — there’s been a flood of interest in starting companies and there are so many resources out there to help people.”