Women in Entrepreneurship

Last week I met with a group of 20 women – alumnae, faculty, students, and local business leaders – to discuss the growing role of women in entrepreneurship. They were an engaging and challenging group and have left me thinking about the entrepreneurial world our female graduates leave PhilaU to enter.

As a fifty-something male, there are some areas of this conversation I’m less qualified to address, and ones where I defer to members of our faculty like Dr. Natalie Nixon, Director of the Strategic Design MBA Program, and Dr. Sue Lehrman, Dean of the School of Business Administration. Both Natalie and Sue are dynamic thinkers influencing and informing the female entrepreneurs currently in our student body.

What I am qualified to speak to are the demands of starting and owning a business, of the creativity and flexibility necessary to 21st Century entrepreneurship. Here, we find examples of women leading with distinctive and diverse skill sets, and with exceptional results.

The face of this workforce is changing – in 2010, women became the majority of the U.S. workforce for the first time in the country’s history. 57% of college students are now women. While men continue to hold the majority in executive ranks and corporate boardrooms, women are making inroads in these areas as well, in some particularly high-profile ways – Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Ginni Rometty at IBM, Meg Whitman at HP, Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Marillyn Hewson at Lockheed Martin – female CEO and COOs are leading innovative Fortune 500 companies.

There will be those who will over-generalize or compartmentalize men and women into crude gender stereotypes: to say that women lead as empathetic consensus-seekers and community builders, men as decisive leaders capable of bold and daring risks. To do so misses the point. Much more can be learned from the nature of the companies choosing female leadership than the supposed qualities women bring to the table.

A 2008 study from Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland sited in Hana Rosin’s Atlantic article on this subject found that, in 1,500 U.S companies studied from 1992-2006, “[f]irms that had women in top positions performed better, and this was especially true if the firm pursued what the researchers called an ‘innovation intensive strategy,’ in which, they argued, ‘creativity and collaboration may be especially important.’” Innovation intensive, creative and collaborative – those are words the PhilaU curriculum exemplifies.

Our students are being prepared to be professional leaders of innovative, forward thinking companies of the 21st Century.  All of this requires a nuanced and pluralistic understanding of the world. I am grateful for the strong female members of our faculty, staff, alumni and student body who contribute to the culture of our community. I am also excited to watch the ways our female students, in particular, influence the face of the corporate world. The curriculum and faculty of PhilaU have given them the tools for success. I am eager to watch them achieve it.

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