Monica Hernandez, CEO & Founder of MAS Global Consulting, a technology services and nearshore Agile software development firm.
There are more women in tech roles today than ever before—from coding to the C-suite—and many stories of brilliant women entrepreneurs who advanced quickly. But when you consider that women run 40% of U.S. businesses and fewer than 3% receive venture capital, it’s clear that there is significant room for improvement.
Previous generations pioneered many of the opportunities women in business have today, and we’re in a position to continue to build on this progress for the next generation. Diversifying the entrepreneurial landscape to include more women, Black and Hispanic founders lends itself to new ways of thinking and innovating.
So, how do we ignite an ecosystem that recognizes women entrepreneurs early, helps open doors, funds them and puts the infrastructure in place to help more women win? Let’s take a look at lessons learned from my own professional and personal journeys.
1. Find entrepreneurs early and everywhere.
I grew up in Medellin, Colombia, watching my mother sew uniforms for local companies. She had the grit and unstoppable work ethic of an entrepreneur but not the educational background or opportunity to grow. Fortunately, I inherited her drive and benefited from her vision for me to attend college. But I also got something so few girls ever see: a real-life example of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship can be a huge wealth generator with the capacity to change lives and rebuild communities around the world. While tech has made advances in hiring diverse talent, the industry needs to adopt a global approach to finding leaders from the widest possible range of geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds. In the short term, we’ll see more diversity, but something far more important will result in the long term: a more robust infrastructure of women entrepreneurs already attuned to finding talent.
2. Improve career path modeling—you can’t be what you can’t see.
Young girls from underserved communities grow up believing they can do anything, but this belief tends to fade. The shift often occurs around age seven, when they realize there aren’t enough examples of women from their communities pursuing careers in software engineering, product development or other tech-related fields.
Those who do pursue less traditional or more family-focused paths often choose caregiver careers in fields such as medicine or nursing or roles in the legal profession. While these are great career choices, we also need to enable and encourage girls to become innovators. That means connecting them with successful working women and entrepreneurs from various backgrounds so they can begin to see entrepreneurship as a viable and realistic path.
3. Change the way we teach entrepreneurship.
Mainstream education prioritizes traditional learning paths: Doctors study medicine; lawyers take the bar exam. However, there isn’t an equivalent for entrepreneurs or widespread study options within the educational system until college. My 11-year-old takes part in BizTown, her school’s initiative to teach schoolchildren about business. It’s a good start, but this type of focus needs to follow kids throughout their education.
To really fuel future innovation, we must start early and make critical changes to the way young women first discover, and then follow, an entrepreneurial path.
• Expose middle school girls to the idea of starting a business.
• Coach high schoolers on the essential building blocks of entrepreneurship: problem-solving, ideating, turning an idea into reality, funding it, planning operations and writing a business plan.
• Teach college students complementary business skills, such as communication and resiliency.
• Connect all students with women entrepreneurs at every step of the learning journey.
• Offer financial support early for students from underserved communities and for whom entrepreneurship can be a long play at a time when they feel obligated to earn money and support their families.
4. Support an entrepreneur’s journey.
Connection is key for young women entrepreneurs, and we can support these connections. For example, consider partnering with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, a national nonprofit that provides women-owned businesses with a key business certification, greater visibility with large corporations and volunteer opportunities to help women entrepreneurs through their business lifecycles. Hispanic women business owners might consider joining the organizations that work to advance Hispanic leaders in technology through scholarships, mentorship, networking and development resources—or those that help Hispanic entrepreneurs scale through educational programs with top colleges and universities.
As women business leaders, we can more intentionally support the next generation of tech innovators. Help someone in your family start a business or pursue a career in technology as a starting point. If your business grants employees time for volunteering, consider a company-wide alignment with the many nonprofits that support women in business. Or start a nonprofit to help, as I did. I became a software engineer thanks to a scholarship, and that enabled my entrepreneurial success. The nonprofit helps girls in Colombia gain access to education in technology. Working with the foundation has been one of the most significant highlights of my life.
However you choose to personally support an entrepreneur, know that every door you open plays an important role in their professional and personal journeys. By giving back today, you can support the women entrepreneurs of tomorrow.