Networking can be a crucial part of the entrepreneurial experience, helping us gain access to a wider range of leaders, expertise and opportunities. Emerging female founders, however, often encounter the “old boys’ club” in networking circles, filled with implicit and unconscious bias, microagressions and sexual harassment.
As a result, women’s professional networking groups, which sometimes offer better and unbiased opportunities for growth and support, have become a popular option for female business leaders. According to recent research, women who rely on close-knit networks of other professional females to share career advice and insights are three times more likely to succeed and achieve high-ranking leadership positions.
Female entrepreneurs who join these women-led networks can benefit from far more than the end goal of leadership, though. Along their entrepreneurial journey, these networks can offer women leaders three key advantages that could mean the difference between business growth and stagnation.
Better Access to Funding
Every startup needs money to grow. However, female founders in the United States still continue to receive only 2.2 percent of VC funding for early-stage startups. Harvard researchers discovered there’s a bias among investors as women tend to be judged on performance while men are judged on their future potential. Additionally, there are also fewer women in venture capital, limiting the influence that they have with the startups they fund. In 2017, the largest round of funding was given to the all-male executive team at WeWorks with $300 billion while the largest round of funding for a female-led team went to Moda Operandi with $165 million.
Women-led networking groups can help female founders turn this reality around by teaching them how to more effectively find investors and pitch them. SheWorx is one female-focused networking group dedicated to helping women-led startups raise funds. Entrepreneur and former gymnast Lisa Wang established the network in 2016 after experiencing challenges while fundraising for her Silicon Valley startup.
Wang says, “Most women’s groups I attended focused on inspiration and problems, rather than tangible skills, solutions, and most importantly access to capital. Out of my own desire to be surrounded by ambitions, high-growth female entrepreneurs, I founded SheWorx to give women access to the tools and networks that would allow them to build relationships with top investors in a safe space.”
Today, the network boasts over 20,000 female entrepreneurs globally and is driven by the mission to close the funding gap through collaboration, not competition.
Sara Tateno, the founder of the Happity app, is a SheWorx member who has benefited from this mission. She was introduced to the network’s Ignite accelerator at an event and was able to hire a team and increase exposure through the $52,000 she received in funding.
Digital Business Exposure
Many female founders credit women’s business networks with helping their companies gain exposure and grow their profiles. Many female-driven networking groups hold a strong online presence through their social media accounts, and it’s these social platforms that help women connect and collaborate, sharing information about events and workshops.
NYC-based female networks like Ellevate and Blooming Founders help women connect through Facebook and WhatsApp, offer advice to members and help raise business profiles by sharing links to members’ companies and social media accounts. When startups join these networks, they get more access to some of the most inspiring female-led businesses and resources in the country.
The global female network, Ellevate, helps members gain business exposure by promoting female founders for their efforts, celebrating members’ success stories and spotlighting female-led businesses.
Similarly, Blooming Founders can help drive business exposure and provide valuable resources for female entrepreneurs. Paula Haunit, a founder of Sheer Apparel, says that the strong relationships she has built within Blooming Founders have helped her business form collaborations including pop-ups, events, shared blogs and promotions. The network even helped Haunit source a staff of high-quality specialists to work for her company.
Support and Connection
For years, women were excluded from men-only networks, which hindered them from rising to the top of their industries. While male industry leaders have welcomed more females into their networks, these male-dominated groups often don’t give women the support they need and mentors they can relate to.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, and meeting other women who understand you, both personally and professionally, can make a difference to your company’s success. Women tend to gravitate toward collaborative environments where they can openly discuss the unique challenges faced by women in business. Luckily, women-led networks are offering the space for emerging female founders to grow.
Female networks like Ladies Get Paid and OKREAL help to foster this sense of connection between female founders. OKREAL offers a mentorship circle that helps connect emerging entrepreneurs with veteran female founders, giving them the advice and direction they need to navigate male-dominated industries.
“Female networks help to highlight opportunities to entrepreneurial women who might otherwise find that this field is unwelcoming and not for them,” says Sara Tateno.
Business industries across the globe have a long way to ago until we reach true gender equality. Until we get there, female networks can help give women entrepreneurs the support and encouragement they need to succeed.