A Need for Mentors

By Deb Perelman  |  Posted 2008-05-15 Print this article Print

A need for mentors

Mentors, those that work as expertise-sharing counselors to women looking to launch their own ventures, have also been both correlated with successful entrepreneurial endeavors and a challenge for women who can't find them.

"Women tend not to have as many mentors, because there are fewer women out there running technology companies," said Mercuri.

Women who have mentors they can turn to for guidance have said that these relationships were a big part of their early success-one more way that successful women entrepreneurs inspired more in the field.

This is something that stands to improve over time-should more women join the ranks of entrepreneurs.

"Most haven't seen a whole lot of women before them succeeding in this, and this is especially true for the 30- and 40-somethings. However, the 20-something age group we've talked to are fearless about pursuing venture capital, and they've had a lot more people before them-such as their own mothers-modeling that success," said Vosmek.

Some feel that a lack of women already in technology businesses becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, thereby prohibiting the recognition of new ones that want to join.

"My theory is that because we're underrepresented in tech in general, there are fewer of us launching IT companies. Also, there probably is some hiring bias. I know that sometimes my company gets overlooked in favor of a male company. Tech folks tend to dismiss women as lightweights even though we're not," said Mercuri.

The data backs this up, showing that having women already at the table helps get more women to it. 

Fewer female venture capitalists at the table

Myra Hart, a retired Harvard professor of management practice, found in a 2002 report that was part of The Diana Project, a larger research effort about women entrepreneurs, that although women's participation in new-venture creation had been at an all-time high for over a decade, they'd received a disproportionately low amount of the venture capital available in the United States.  

"They found that venture firms that had women at the partner level were significantly more likely to have women-owned businesses in their portfolio. Having a woman at the table changed the dynamics but it wasn't the women bringing it. The men were more used to having women as peers," said Vosmek.

The Diana Project also found there was low participation. In 2000, women represented only nine percent of management-track venture capitalists, as well as high turnover among female-venture capitalists.

Sixty-four percent of the women in the venture capitalist industry in 1995 were no longer in it in 2000. Because of the high turnover, the report concluded that few women gained the experience needed to make it to the partner level, and the entrepreneurs had fewer first-degree connections with the 'gatekeepers' (mostly men) who would hire them.


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