Gender in business: Why do women found startups less often than men? Interview with Ms. Dominika Kowalczyk, chairwomen of onesano

Gender in business: Why do women found startups less often than men? Interview with Ms. Dominika Kowalczyk, chairwomen of onesano

What causes the lack of promotions to higher positions for women?

Stereotypes. And prejudice. One of the recent studies from 2022, by scientists from MIT, Yale and Minnesota Universities, states that women are less likely to receive a promotion by a 13 percent margin. The same study concludes that the lack of promotion is not connected with their work evaluation, which is often scored higher than that of their male counterparts. Other research prove also that people have hard time imagining a woman as a leader, because traditional traits of an effective leader, such as assertiveness, competitiveness, ambition and focus on execution, are also stereotypically associated with men. When you close your eyes and think of a LEADER, what do you see? Usually a man, a tall one at that. It is a glass ceiling. Our own limitations, rooted in mentality and social factors, have a huge impact on the position of women on the career ladder.

Is it much harder for businesses led by women to secure investments?

That is the conclusion drawn from analyses performed on a wide range of world’s markets. After gender and pay gaps, we are also facing a funding gap, which is based on the same foundations. Men and women are worlds apart in that regard. Globally, the percentage of potential funding that goes to women-led startups still amounts to a single digit. Of course, now we see investment funds created by women and directed at women, which are trying to fill this gap. However, businesswomen presenting public pitches are still subject to stereotypes and misogyny. No investor would ever consider declining investing in a startup, because a man could potentially start a family soon and focus on raising children. And that is the kind of feedback that women often receive. (Study by K. de Laat, Brock University).

Why do women decide to build a startup twice less often than men?

Because it is more difficult for them to attract sponsors and ensure everyone that they know what they are doing. Women are less likely to follow this career path also because it is so rare to see other members of their sex achieving success. They lack the role models. Again, we are talking about decades, maybe even centuries of gender-based role division in the society. This is slowly changing. We now have many examples of women succeeding in business. We are focusing on promoting these leaders, but we can’t forget that there are countries in the world (around 40 percent) that still have regulations in place that limit the proprietorship rights for women.

Is the pay gap real and if it is, where is it the most obvious?

We shouldn’t waste time on asking whether it is real, but only how to close it. Comparing knowledge gained by countries that implemented the obligation for reporting salary discrepancies between men and women, we stumble upon yet another gap, the one we mentioned before – most women were employed in lower positions. Because of that, the overall pay in the organisation for women and men was drastically different. Pay transparency, clear promotion requirements, structured salary scales for different positions – these are the necessary tools for dealing with the pay gap. A change in the way of thinking in the executive staff is also needed. If we won’t work hard towards changing the image of women as employees, the chance for a better future for upcoming generations will get slimmer. Gender cannot be a decisive factor when it comes to promotion, hiring executive staff or determining salaries.

Is the stereotypical, conservative social role division based on gender still in place?

When I look around, I must admit, to my disappointment, that it is still going strong. Not to build the case solely on my subjective observations, according to the 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, the world needs about 132 years to completely eradicate the gender gap. Looking closer at some of the aspects of our social life, that perspective moves even further away. Let’s remember that our generation was conditioned to maintain this structure. Projects set to open up career doors for women in IT, heavy industry and other sectors traditionally reserved for men where first created as an answer to that gender-based social conditioning. Little girls, who are now in their thirties, where raised in an entirely different set of values than their male peers. Our way of thinking and the way we raise our children evolves – now girls are finally allowed to dream of becoming an astronaut and are less likely to become discouraged by those close to them. Still, we have our share of defenders of the traditional order, not only among men but also, sadly, among the conservatively conditioned women. Just look at the aisles in a toy store: a broom and a doll for girls, a rocket and a car for boys.

What are your thoughts on gender quotas? Do they help women or are they unnecessary?

Taking into account only skills and capabilities of women, quotas are totally unnecessary. I believe that women can handle themselves and achieve success in a competitive environment, functioning in the spirit of social justice, without any external support or handicap. However, social justice is the key here. If we remove it from the equation, gender quotas are a must. They should be treated as a waypoint for those – men, as well as women – who are unable to see the gap, because of the centuries old traditions and upbringing models. Gender quotas can help an open-minded chairman see the value of promoting a woman to a higher executive position in the organisation. Without it, probably surrounded by a group of male managers, that chairman would have no chance to learn about the potential he is squandering.

Will a man, if he is the one deciding on who to promote, rather choose a fellow man, because he finds him easier to communicate with than a woman?

Fortunately, as a woman I don’t have to put myself in a position of a man, who bases promotions solely on a subjective ability to “get along” with members of the same or opposite sex. And I wouldn’t dare to try. That is way I won’t lose track of real talents, people with crucial skills to the organisation I am leading – the soft ones, as well as the hard ones – regardless of them being men or women.

Are women being too timid when competing for higher positions? Maybe they are unaware of their own professionalism?

According to studies, women are less inclined to push for a promotion during their career. They are less likely to consider resigning and avoid unnecessary confrontations with their superiors far more often than men. I believe that calling it “being too timid” is unfair. We were raised to be modest, while our brothers were taught to shout out their successes to the world, even those that aren’t necessarily real. Here’s an example. A following stereotype is still common: a man is cooking his own dinner. ‘What an achievement!’, ’Such an independent man!’ When a woman does exactly the same? ‘It’s natural for her.’, ‘What’s so special about that?’ We all have to eat. And learn to cook. Women are not born with the skill written into their DNA. As you can see, stereotypes have power to sell or bury any feat.

How do women build their social capital and utilise their network of contacts during their careers? Are they less focused on looking after those connections?

Indeed, we observe that the access to networking for women is limited. It can be induced by the so called “old boys club” phenomena or some other restrictions, obligations or appointed social roles. These are the conclusions I’ve made based on my own observations. There is probably nothing stronger than a mutual support of women. Empathy, communication skills, diplomacy, patience – these are the traits that allow us to build good and stable relations, contact networks. They are also more prominent in women. Now we have to learn how to build “sisterhood” in business. But our leaders are already on it.

Which character traits did you display during your school years? Were you on the students council or a class president?

I was the president of the student council. I was always active. And I often received a bang on the head for it. My headmistress organised the vote very wisely. Everyone had to present himself in different fields – ‘What are your ideas?’, ‘What do you want to change?’ The candidates were evaluated objectively and so were their ideas. Their gender stayed in the background. My parents had always encouraged me to be active and, in my opinion, upbringing and motivation are crucial here.

During your career, did you happen across a kind of mentor, someone who helped you become who you are now?

I would like to say mentoress. But no. Unfortunately, it was a man. And he repeatedly told me that being a woman is an advantage. He encouraged me to use it and not be afraid of competing with men. Taught me not to feel inferior to men. He always sticked to his own advice and really promoted the best, regardless of their gender.

Are women open to new technologies? Are they well-versed with them?

If we look upon the studies and analyses, for example those conducted by the EU, we learn that women are less open to new technologies and are less comfortable with using it. Researchers point out that the lack of inclusiveness in technology design and, what’s more, lack of tests on female users, are the reasons for wariness towards novelties. For example, the Virtual Reality (VR) devices can be potentially unsuited for the physiological structure of female eyes, which causes dizziness. That is why I am thrilled whenever I learn about new initiatives and innovations made for women, by women. At least then we can be certain that it was made to answer real needs. I am also convinced that future generations of women will soon forget about such disproportions in access to technology, because their input into the digital growth is getting more noticeable by the day.

Do women benefit from the fact that the most important traits of a good leader, such us empathy, compassion, social approach to organisation, are associated with their sex?

All these attributes are crucial in the modern economy. Along with creativity and intuition, their importance will grow even further, especially in times of intensive transformation.

AI handles analytics or finances well but lacks the emotional intelligence. Does it mean that the future of leadership belongs to women?

When considering decision-making models – data-driven and data-informed – the former allows data to directly impact our decisions. The latter treats data as a starting point, which is later filtered by our experience and intuition. Effective use of emotional intelligence sharpens this. It allows us to set up new pathways, instead of treading the old ones. It helps us make breakthrough discoveries and simply discard the ineffective or unprofitable solutions, replacing them with something new, something better. The future of leadership belongs to women not because the AI lacks emotional intelligence – maybe it will evolve enough to code it into its algorithms. It will happen because, even in strongly patriarchal societies, we observe an innate power of women to take action and have a meaningful impact on the decision-making process. These are “the necks that turn the heads of the family”. History taught us to act in conditions of inequality, limitations and restrictions. We were steadily fighting for our rights, demanding equal treatment, through legal means. Let us imagine that the equality is finally real and women have all this knowledge and experience of generations that came before them coded into their DNA. Nothing will stand in the way of their growth then. That will be a force to be reckoned with.

Dominika Kowalczyk

The chairwomen of onesano. Graduate of the University of Warsaw in the field of political sciences. She possesses strong qualifications and wide range of experience in terms of managing organisations subject to commercial law. An expert in social communication, public relations and crisis management. During her professional career she carried out projects of strategic counselling for clients in energy, finance, construction and pharmaceutical industries. A board counsellor for many polish companies, dealing with matters of product and internal communications, building relations with the media and public authorities. She acted as a spokesperson for, among others, The Polish Chamber of Physiotherapists, Minister of Finance and PGE Group. She took part in creating the IPO communication strategy for PGE S.A.

Last Updated on July 18, 2023 by Anastazja Lach