Do Women-Only Programs Really Make A Difference?

We recently reviewed some research from the University of Cambridge Judge Business School about women-only spaces and the notion that they boost women entrepreneur’s presence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries.

The research, headed up by Dr. Shima Barakat, who studies the teaching of entrepreneurship, thinks that while women-only programs can be beneficial, it is only a portion of a much broader solution that needs to be seen in management and training.

We agree with her. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons we believe women-only environments are a supplementary solution to paving the way for more female entrepreneurs in all industries, tech included.

Support is essential.

It is no secret that men are inherently inclined to take more risks than women. If we could place a magnifying glass on the sharp differences between how different genders handle stress, we would see that when under pressure, risk-taking increases in men and decreases in women.

When women face adverse situations, it is vital that the right kind of support system be in place to offset the lack of self-efficacy that often comes from fear. A community that is composed of seasoned female mentors could significantly impact the way in which women handle fear or high-risk situations.

“Women in science and engineering are perceived as tokenistic, explains Dr. Barakat. The same goes for women in entrepreneurship. So if you’re a female entrepreneur in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subject, you’re a double token and that creates a particular dynamic in learning environments which seems to involve women either trying really hard to step away from the stereotype in order to get on with the majority or magnifying their differences, both of which are artificial behaviours. When men aren’t around, those behaviors are minimized, and women operate and communicate differently – and ultimately do better.”

It is not that men cannot provide this support, but sometimes a male-free environment seems to be a more conducive and safe one for growth. This evidence brings us to our next reason we believe women-only spaces make a difference.

Learning environment matters.

If you take a look at the way that certain subject matters have been taught, it is easy to see that many of them seem more masculine or feminine. You can see this discrepancy when you take a look at many university applications. Putting women from various industries together in the same space to work, which is a lot of what our coworking spaces at Hera Hub look like, gives our community the opportunity to learn and grow alongside one another. They may even get a glimpse of a career they may not have otherwise considered when they were an adolescent.

Not only will women see for themselves what other careers they can consider, they now can better encourage their children by exposing them to industries regardless of whether or not they have been deemed gender appropriate in the past.

Capital needs to be more easily accessible.

When recently had a conversation about the differences in the way venture capitalists speak to female entrepreneurs seeking startup capital versus men with Hera Hub Sweden founder, Sophia Renemar. Even though women approached venture capitalists with more preparation and research, in a lot of instances, they asked for less money or were simply not taken seriously.

The comparison in VC language between genders confirms that women still need more support when it comes to gaining financial stability in the early stages of their companies.

With women starting businesses at 2.5 times faster than the average, a 20% increase over the last decade, it’s clear that these women-only spaces prove to boost the successes of female entrepreneurs. While this is only a small piece of the puzzle, it is one we believe is necessary.