Bridging the gender gap in entrepreneurship

Gender inequality at work is a global problem, despite undoubted progress in many areas over the last decades. Norway is an international leader in some aspects – not least for its paid maternity and paternity leave – but even in Norway there are fewer women in entrepreneurship. In today’s blog we hear from some of the inspiring female entrepreneurs in Norway working to promote innovation and break the gender divide.

A global challenge

Arguably every country and every sector has its own challenges when it comes to gender, but it’s a fact that around the world women are still more economically excluded. A 2013 report by the World Bank Group concludes that only half of women’s productive potential is being used globally, for reasons that can include “lack of mobility, time, and skills, exposure to violence, and the absence of basic legal rights”.

Women are similarly underrepresented in entrepreneurship. In the words of the 2013 Women’s Report by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM): “In nearly every economy there are fewer female than male entrepreneurs, and they appear to show reluctance to scale their businesses or to enter new and less tested markets”. In general, GEM found that women were more likely to:

  • start business as single founders with fewer employees,
  • start a business out of necessity than opportunity, and
  • struggle to maintain their business once started or to find enough financial support.

Women also had less faith in themselves as entrepreneurs, for instance: “women in Europe and the U.S. are much less likely to believe they have the capabilities for entrepreneurship compared to men in their economies.”

This is a problem that female entrepreneurs also observe on the ground. Aurora Klæboe Berg, VP of Business and Market at Norwegian success story Dirtybit, suggests that, “by stereotype, women have more self-awareness while men have more self-confidence. Women want to know that they will succeed before trying in fear of failing. Being an entrepreneur is high risk, and requires a mix of both self-awareness and self-confidence – independent of gender.”

Tanja Holmen, Project Manager at NxtMedia, a Technoport 2014 conference partner, makes a similar case. “I think part of the solution lies in the need for security, financial resources, and ambition. The fact that so many female entrepreneurs become self-employed or start small enterprises says something about the need to encourage certain attitudes – especially a willingness to gamble with one’s own finances. Entrepreneurship involves a lot of gambling…not to mention madness and fun!”

So what’s happening in Norway?

According to GEM’s report, in Norway half as many women as men are involved in entrepreneurial activity, and half as many own an established business.

In 2008 the Norwegian government set out the target that 40% of entrepreneurs would be women by 2013. In fact, that percentage is decreasing – from 32.6% in 2007 to 25.8% in 2012. This puts Norway third from bottom in Europe, and fourth from bottom in GEM’s list of 24 innovation-driven countries.

“I don’t think quotas and things help very much,” says Stina Nysæther, Co-Founder of Startup Norway. “It’s more about highlighting the good female entrepreneurs that are out there and the work that they’re doing – and not so much focus on them being women, but to create role models for girls. Our focus at Startup Norway is to get people interested in entrepreneurship.”

Aurora Klæboe Berg agrees. “I don’t think that the focus should be on specific initiatives for women, but rather improving the mind-set of our nation. In Norway people are not encouraging each other to succeed the same way as in the US. Everybody expects you to fail, and when you do, they say: ‘I could have told you so. Why’d you bother even trying?’ While in the US the mentality is: ‘That sucks, but what’s your next entrepreneurial adventure?’

“Just a few people are successful at their first attempt. That means we have to be strong to try again several times. In Norway we need more innovation and crazy entrepreneurs so our economy can rely on more than just oil in the future. So if we for some reason fail with Dirtybit, I urge you to encourage us to continue!”

Moving towards a more equal future 

“In Norway we need more funding and more programs, it’s true,” says Stina Nysæther, “but we also need more entrepreneurs – people need to be inspired to start a business.

“What we see that helps in Norway is not about focusing on women but focusing on health, or fashion – picking the topics that potential future female entrepreneurs would be interested in.

“The women and men that show up to our events don’t have differences in ambition or knowledge, but they do see problems in different places,” explains Stina. “For example the winning app at our Startup Weekend in October was Weather Ware, an app designed by a female preschool teacher to help parents make sure their children are dressed for the weather.”  

“I believe that with more success stories, more entrepreneurial attempts will occur,” concurs Aurora Klæboe Berg. “We all need role models, and I hope I can encourage others (both male and female) to follow the entrepreneurial path by being one.”

Tanja Holmen is also optimistic: “I think a lot will happen in the innovation scene in Norway in the future, both for female and male entrepreneurs. Advances in technology are bringing better ways to produce, establish, distribute and communicate. Hubs and flexible workspaces are also increasing with record speed. These are very welcome arenas for innovation, and vital supplements to the more established, traditional incubators that we’ve been using so far.

Perhaps even just this change in entrepreneurial culture in Norway will encourage more women to take the plunge.”


Women of Technoport 2014

Successful female entrepreneurs and innovators sharing their expertise at Technoport 2014 include Leila Janah, founder of Samasource; Liz Wald, Head of International at Indiegogo, Lauren Anderson, Community Director at Collaborative Consumption, and Siri Skøien, founder of Comlight. To find out more about these and other speakers or to register, head over to the Technoport 2014 website.