APU Business Original

STEM Women: Creating Their Own Businesses Despite COVID-19

By Dr. Novadean Watson-Williams
Program Director, Information Technology Management, Information Technology and Computer Technology

and Dr. Daniela Messina
Associate Professor, Natural Sciences

Many women are being forced to start their own businesses, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries, because of limited opportunities for employment in these fields. For example, the information technology (IT) industry has delivered a lackluster effort in employing women.

Learn more about the B.A. in entrepreneurship at American Public University.

The information technology industry does not currently hire a large percentage of women. According to writer Sam Daley of Built In, “26% of computing-related jobs are held by women.” The percentage of women in this sector of the workforce has fluctuated between 25% and 27%, from 2014 until now.

In their article, “Women Are Nearly Half of U.S. Workforce but Only 27% of STEM Workers,” Anthony Martinez and Cheridan Christnacht with the United States Census Bureau added, “Despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, women are still vastly underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce. Women made gains – from 8% of STEM workers in 1970 to 27% in 2019 – but men still dominated the field. Men made up 52% of all U.S. workers but 73% of all STEM workers.”

Furthermore, an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Innovation at Work article noted that “in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of female hires dropped across industries from 46.94% to 44.86%, with significant backslide in the technology industry, according to a recent LinkedIn study.”

Why Are There Lower Percentages of Women in STEM Workplaces?

Several reasons exist for the lower percentages of women in STEM workplaces. Those reasons include the lack of the right degree, discrimination in the recruitment and hiring process, mentors, retention, workplace culture, and leadership.

Additionally, women have experienced added challenges with the advent of the pandemic.  According to Statista 2020 data, women have been impacted differently as a result of COVID-19:

  • 50% of women are newly working remotely versus 54% of men.
  • 40% of women experienced increased pressure to be productive versus 31% of men.
  • 31% of women have to balance work with familial burdens versus 29% of men.
  • 24% of women are worried about their job security versus 27% of men.
  • 19% of both women and men have had income or benefit cuts.
  • 9% of women have experienced no change versus 11% of men.
  • 8% of women have been laid off or furlough versus 5% of men.

These differences amongst men and women have presented more compelling reasons for women to launch their own businesses. However, launching a STEM-related business or any business can be a difficult undertaking for most people, particularly when resources are restricted.

Women Are Starting Their Own Businesses and Debunking Conventional Business Myths

Myths about women business owners are pervasive throughout the business world. But women are becoming startup owners while debunking conventional business myths such as:

  • You have to be able to do every job in your business.
  • Business success is all about having a winning idea.
  • You have to pay big salaries to get top-notch help.
  • “Staying small” is a positive strategy for your business.
  • Sharing your business ownership increases the risk.
  • More money would solve all your startup problems.

Women are achieving the remarkable and addressing the lack of representation in the STEM industries by simply starting businesses and producing measurable results. To reinforce the impact of these results, Fundera has these statistics for women-owned businesses:

  • The U.S. has 12.3 million women-owned businesses.
  • American women-owned businesses generate $1.8 trillion a year.
  • 40% of U.S. businesses are women-owned.
  • Women started 1,821 net new businesses every day last year.
  • 64% of new women-owned businesses were started by women of color in 2020.
  • Latina women-owned businesses grew more than 87%.
  • There are 114% more women entrepreneurs than there were 20 years ago.
  • 62% of women entrepreneurs cite their business as their primary source of income.
  • Private tech companies led by women achieve a 35% higher return on investment (ROI).
  • Women-founded companies in First Round Capital’s portfolio outperformed companies founded by men by 63%.
  • Just 25% of female business owners seek business financing.
  • Women-owned businesses added half a million jobs between 1997 and 2007.
  • Women receive just 7% of venture funds for their startups.
  • Women have a 69.5% success rate of crowdfunding for their businesses, while men have a 61.4% success rate.
  • 57.4% of the loans from the Small Business Association’s microloan program went to women-owned or women-led businesses.
  • Female entrepreneurs ask for roughly $35,000 less in business financing than men.
  • Overall, men receive an average loan size of $43,916 while women receive an average loan size of $38,942 – almost $5,000 less.

Clearly, these statistics suggest the benefits of investing in women-owned businesses and offer a glimpse of the changing tide of employment and representation of women in STEM and other industries. In fact, the positive dividends for supporting women-owned businesses are further strengthened by the findings shared by Allyson Kapin with Forbes Magazine, who provided the following case for investing in women-led startups:

  • They are more capital-efficient.
  • Women-founded companies in First Round Capital’s portfolio outperformed companies founded by men by 63%.
  • In a study of over 350 startups, Mass Challenge and BCG determined that businesses founded by women deliver higher revenue—more than two times as much per dollar invested.
  • Despite the severe funding gap, startups founded and cofounded by women actually performed better over time.
  • “Women-owned businesses are growing much faster than all businesses. From 2007 to 2018, women-owned businesses grew by 58% in terms of the number of firms and 46% in terms of revenue,” according to American Express research advisor Geri Stengel.
  • According to Golden Seeds, many women-led startups are led by serial entrepreneurs bringing a wealth of experience to companies that need to scale quickly.

Good Leadership Is Key to Any Successful Business

As with any business, one of the key requirements is to have good leadership. There are several key practices needed for a business to operate successfully with effective leadership.

Well-known authors James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner of the book “The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen Organization,” offer the following five practices of exemplary leadership:

  • Model the way
  • Inspire a shared vision
  • Challenge the process
  • Enable others to act
  • Encourage the heart

These practices are essential and reveal minimal variations in leadership, whether it is a female or male leading the business. According to a PEW Research Center report, women and men in top positions are better at:

  • Being honest and ethical
  • Providing fair/pay benefits
  • Mentoring employees
  • Negotiating profitable deals
  • Being willing to take risks

Regardless of the disappointing growth of women in STEM industries, women have the opportunities to achieve business success; however, that effort starts with self-actualization and adopting good leadership practices. Women must persevere and continue to make changes in STEM industries even if they have to first start and succeed at owning their own businesses.

About the Authors

Dr. Novadean Watson-Williams is currently the Program Director for the undergraduate programs in Information Technology Management, Information Technology and Computer Technology at American Public University. She serves an aggressively growing department and has over 20 years of experience in the information technology field. Dr. Watson-Williams holds an A.A. in Computer Studies and a B.S. in Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland University College, a B.S. in Social Science Education from the University of South Florida, an M.A. in General Counseling from Louisiana Tech University, and a D.B.A. in Information Systems from Argosy University. 

Previously, she published several blog articles on topics such as “Countering Cybersecurity Attacks through Accountability,” “Creating a Personal Brand through Using the Internet,” “Leadership Using Effective Nonverbal Communication,” and “Inspiring Self-Improvement through Technology Education, Collective Intelligence and Soft Skills. She has also co-published several other articles, including “RFID with Real Implications,” “Artificial Intelligence in Information Security” and the “Evolution of Information Security.”

Dr. Daniela Messina is an Associate Professor and full-time faculty member with the Natural Sciences Program at American Public University. In a previous capacity, she has served a seven-year term as a Faculty Director for other School of STEM programs such as Information Technology, Mathematics, Electrical Engineering, and Environmental Science.  Additionally, Dr. Messina has experience in the dental industry as well as direct patient care experience in integrative healthcare settings. She holds a B.A. in Multidisciplinary Studies from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, a Doctor of Chiropractic from New York Chiropractic College, and an M.S. in Acupuncture from New York Chiropractic College/Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture.

Previous publications include the blog article “Citizen Science: The Water Testing and Awareness Project,” a National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Science and Children journal article, “Marvelous metals matter! (A STEAM lesson for fifth graders incorporates the Engineering Design Process), and the Society of Wetland Ecologists (SWS) Twitter Symposium, “Building Environmental Science Data Collection and Analysis into the Online Curriculum: Understanding Water Quality.”

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