Currently, more than 200 million women entrepreneurs across the globe are establishing or operating new businesses. But 67% of women say they need more support building confidence to feel like they can be leaders. So how do women gain confidence in areas like asking for sponsors, seeking mentorship, accessing senior leadership, pursuing job opportunities and requesting a raise or promotion?
In an entrepreneurial ecosystem rife with barriers for women-led startups, accelerator programs, designed to provide self-starting go-getters with investment, training, and network access, could be the answer. The real dilemma lies in choosing the right kind of accelerator program to ensure success. Given the unique attributes and challenges of female leaders, when it comes to accelerators, is there a benefit to choosing a female-only niche?
“Any time women come together with a collective intention, it's a powerful thing.” - Phylicia Rasha
Female-only accelerator programs are uniquely positioned to help build confidence and change women’s perceptions about female leadership.
1. Eliminate Censorship
When outnumbered by men, women are 75% less likely to speak in a group setting. In a female-only accelerator, women are given a certain license to speak and act freely, without the need for self-censorship.
2. Encourage positive role models
86% of women report when they see more women in leadership positions, they believe they can get there themselves. A female-only accelerator recognizes high-performing women, and showcases the incredible work they do.
3. Create a strong professional network.
The majority of women believe access to and networking with female leaders will help them advance in their career.
“To inspire greatness is to empower those around you and to give them the confidence and opportunities to succeed.” Suzy Whaley
In a roundtable discussion with SheWorx and Stephen Plumlee, COO of R/GA, women stated that they struggle to access adequate funding, build meaningful support networks and balance business and family life. Learning how to navigate these challenges in an empathetic, female-only environment can build self-confidence and help to reduce the feelings of isolation often experienced by women when setting up a new business in a male-dominated industry.
"Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” – Stephen R. Covey
The major downfall of all-female accelerators is they can create the kind of exclusive and excluding public spaces that feminism once fought against. Mixed groups are more inclusive, and encourage allies to try to understand the obstacles that women face so that they can advocate for them in the future. There’s also a reason why diversity and inclusion efforts are so pronounced in business. Gender diversity pays off for investors and companies. So why shouldn’t the same be expected for an accelerator?
While a female-only accelerator isn’t the only option, it may be worth a second look, at least in the beginning stages of entrepreneurship. Women who have been through the corporate wringer and survived can bring a wealth of expertise, as it relates to women pursuing big wins, to the table.
Question what it is you hope to get out of an accelerator program. What will motivate you to thrive? Then you can start asking the more practical questions. When was the accelerator established? What credentials do advisors have? Who are the investors? What does the curriculum look like? How many months will I need to be in residence?
The ultimate goal is to find an accelerator that will suit every one of your needs, regardless of gender.