"Entrepreneurship: why do young women hold back?"

"Entrepreneurship: why do young women hold back?"

  • Anne Boring ©Sciences PoAnne Boring ©Sciences Po

It's a fact: there are fewer female than male students involved in the start-ups incubated at Sciences Po. Economist Anne Boring specialises in gender inequality. She explains why young women may not feel legitimate enough to start a business and presents the initiatives Sciences Po is putting in place to help young women break the vicious circle of self-depreciation.

Why do young women seem to be more reluctant to start a business venture?

Anne Boring:

At Sciences Po, we have noticed that fewer young women dare to take the plunge into entrepreneurship than young men. There are as many women on the introduction to entrepreneurship course as men, and they do just as well. But in the Sciences Po incubator, only 30 percent of the projects have at least one woman co-founder.

We conducted a survey of female Sciences Po students who were at different stages of their start-up projects. The main motivation for women is the desire for independence, and wanting to work on a project where they are more than just a small link in the chain. They would like to engage in a project that has real meaning for them. But they perceive many obstacles. Overall, they do not feel sufficiently competent or legitimate to go for it... and their famous "perfectionist complex" doesn't help. Pressure from the family often discourages risk taking. It is also a very competitive scene, and young women may fear having to cope with being on their own in a largely male context.

What can be done to overcome these barriers to entrepreneurship among women students?

A. B.:

To change the mindsets of young women and men, we need to raise awareness. We are planning to establish a Chair on women and entrepreneurship. The aim is to offer courses, workshops and lectures designed principally for female students who want to start a business. It's between the ideation stage and development that they really need support. A few weeks ago, we started by running an introductory workshop to design thinking for women students.

How can design thinking help young women in particular resolve to start a business?

A. B.:

Design thinking is an approach that helps identify needs and develop creativity. It is an effective method for anyone, but it's particularly useful for female students as there is no judgement on creativity. This helps them break free of the fear of not being up to scratch. Above all, it suggests starting points for those who don't know where to begin; you look at a problem through the eyes of others, and ideas emerge through observation and listening.

You also want to work on negative stereotypes.

A. B.:

Yes, because they have a major impact on the vision that women students have of themselves. Many studies have demonstrated the existence of "stereotype threat", where feeling at risk of conforming to a negative stereotype makes you underperform. We need to examine the stereotypes that circulate at Sciences Po, albeit unintentionally, because they can have serious consequences on female students' education and how they see themselves and their future.

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