It’s 2018. You would think we’d have overcome gender inequality by now. Yet we are still fighting hard to make a more gender equal world for all of us, and although steps forward are being made there’s still a long road ahead. In fact, the World Economic Forum has recently reported that the gender gap is widening.

On International Women’s Day, March 8, we feel it’s important to shine a light on the reality of the challenges that female entrepreneurs are facing. To that end, we surveyed our community of entrepreneurs to find out more.

We also want to celebrate the progress that continues to be made, so we collected the success stories of some of the amazing female entrepreneurs that we have here in our network and community. Join us as we celebrate the successful women of today and #PressforProgress for a new generation of entrepreneurs!

We surveyed both male and female entrepreneurs and here’s what we found

This year, in our second annual poll to our entrepreneur community, we found that men and women are approaching their business in many of the same ways. But despite this, the gender gap still exists for women when it comes to raising capital for their business. From our survey of over 3,000 entrepreneurs from around the world our data showed that men are almost twice as likely to raise at least $100K or more in funding than women.

Here are some of the insights from our survey that we found most powerful:

The funding gap remains

  • Men are almost TWICE as likely as women to raise at least $100k in funding: 28% of men raised $100k or more to start their own business, compared to 15% of women.
  • Although the overall numbers are up from last year’s survey, when the numbers were 12% and 6% respectively, the gap between men and women hasn’t improved.

Female-led companies tend to be smaller and run from the home

  • Men are TWICE as likely as women to have more than two employees (53% of men compared to 32% of women).
  • Women are more likely to run businesses out of their homes (68% versus 48%).

Motivations differ when it comes to reasons for starting a business

  • Women are more likely to cite “passion for or expertise in an area” (35% of women versus 29% of men) or “freedom / flexible schedule.”
  • Men are more likely to say that they’ve “always wanted to be an entrepreneur.”

There are also a lot of commonalities

  • Both men and women are starting their businesses across the same industries.
  • Men and women experience the same amount of guilt when it comes to time spent on their business versus time with their family.
  • Male and female entrepreneurs tend to cite the same fears.

The biggest inequality, however, is in the funding gap between male and female entrepreneurs. So why are women getting less funding than men?

One reason lies in the language used to describe male and female entrepreneurs behind closed doors at those all-important venture capital decision-making meetings. Female entrepreneurs have been found to be labelled with stereotypical qualities (“weak”, “worried”, “too cautious”) that are opposite to those considered important for an entrepreneur, while male entrepreneurs benefit from stereotypes that reinforce their entrepreneurial potential (“arrogant”, “aggressive”, “very driven”).

Men and women are also asked different questions, with female entrepreneurs getting questions around the potential for losses and male entrepreneurs tending to get questions around potential gains.

What effects could closing the funding gap have?

Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that this is an area where we need to #PressforProgress. Because closing this gap could have significant effects: The UK government has reported that boosting female entrepreneurship could deliver as much as £180 billion ($250 million) to the UK economy.

Studies in the US have also shown that women-led companies perform twice as well as those led by men and that female-founded companies create more than 60 percent more value for investors than those founded by men. Having more women entrepreneurs is also a vital part of tackling the pay gap and the funding gap that we are seeing between men and women.

Doing our part at 99designs

the 99designs team
Our CEO, Patrick Llewellyn, celebrates our $200M Designer earnings milestone at the 99designs Melbourne HQ with our awesome team.
Pam Webber and family
Pam Webber has an MBA from Harvard Business School, was a Director of Marketing at PayPal and founded her own business weeDECOR all before joining us in 2014 as CMO in Oakland.
999designs Berlin team leads
Eva Missling founded 12designer in 2009, which was acquired by 99designs in 2012, and has a team of all-female managers by her side in the 99designs Berlin office.

Here at 99designs, we are doing our best to create equal opportunities for women and men alike.

Throughout our ten-year history, 99designs has cultivated a global culture where women from around the world can develop their futures on an equal footing. We have dozens of female self starters and side hustlers within our own ranks, who are happy to share their advice on building their own businesses. Across our 120+ internal team we have a female-to-male staff ratio of 54% female to 46% male and Pam Webber does a fabulous job as Chief Marketing and Operations Officer. We have mums at every level across the business and our European team in Berlin is entirely female-led. 48% of our total management is female, but especially in the area of engineering where we have a 19% female to 81% male ratio, we realize that there is still a lot of work to be done to get us where we want to be.

And of course we are committed to giving a voice to female entrepreneurs and helping men and women alike build the businesses of the future where there are equal opportunities. That’s why it’s important to know that there is advice out there to support female entrepreneurs—and we’re here to spread the word!

Advice and inspiration from amazing female entrepreneurs

Women are founding and creating amazing things; from communities for women in IoT and wearable tech to online insurance communities, branding and design firms and social enterprises to help refugee women find work. There’s so much diversity of expertise and they’re steering their enterprises with incredible business acumen. They have vision. In fact, we know a lot of them at 99designs! So we invited them to share their stories.

Read on for advice from just some of our remarkable female entrepreneur friends and clients as they share their stories and how they believe that women in business can make bigger leaps forward in 2018.

 

Jennifer Fitzgerald, Policygenius

Jennifer Fitzgerald
Jennifer Fitzgerald is the CEO and co-founder of Policygenius.

Jennifer Fitzgerald runs a business called Policygenius, which is an online marketplace that helps consumers shop for and buy insurance.

“As a woman in business, I am most proud of building a company from the ground up that now employs 130 talented and motivated people who could all be working elsewhere, but choose to work at Policygenius.”

“When I look back at my career so far, I laugh about the early days of my company, when it was just me and my cofounder, sitting at a kitchen table, trying to figure out how to build a company from just an idea.”

Real-time advice from fellow entrepreneurs is better than any business book you can read!
- @jenlfitzgerald, CEO and co-founder of @Policygenius

“My number one piece of advice for women entrepreneurs is to find someone, preferably multiple people, who’ve taken the path you’re on, and are about 6-12 months ahead of you. They’ll have the best and most relevant advice for the challenges you’re facing today. Real-time advice from fellow entrepreneurs is better than any business book you can read!”

Marcie Carson, MIXT Studio

Marcie Carson
Marcie Carson is the Founder and Creative Director of MIXT Studio.

Marcie Carson is the founding Creative Director for two companies. In 1995 she started a graphic design firm called IE Design + Communications that grew to be one of the leading agencies on the West Coast of the US, garnering hundreds of design awards for clients like BMW, Mattel, Getty, UCLA, and The Academy Awards. Marcie left the firm in 2012 to launch a line of stationery and gift goods called MIXT Studio. MIXT products can be found in over 300 stores across the US.

“I smile that I ended up here. I jokingly refer to myself as ‘the bag lady’. I started MIXT Studio as a line of greeting cards and gift wrap, but had an idea for a Reusable Wine Bag. In order to be reusable, the bag couldn’t be made of wood pulp paper. I discovered Tyvek (which is used on walls as a moisture barrier in construction) and began using it for the wine bags. People loved them! They were carried at Whole Foods, The Container Store and Crate & Barrel. Since the Tyvek is water-resistant, requests came in for beach totes and gym bags. Now MIXT is 90% bags and totes… but I still love the paper goods.”

You have to be prepared for criticism and disappointments, but forget your ego and face these challenges head on.
- Marcie Carson, founder and Creative Director of @MIXTStudio

“I have two pieces of advice for female entrepreneurs:

1. Have thick skin. If you’re a strong, successful woman, many people will label you as a ‘bitch’ or a ‘go-getter’, while a man is just ‘successful’. You have to be prepared for criticism and disappointments, but forget your ego and face these challenges head on. Make thoughtful decisions that will keep you on track. And that leads to my second piece of advice…

2. Have a vision of what you want your life to look like. I think women business leaders are at a distinct disadvantage for so many reasons, particularly if they want a family. Working motherhood is an ongoing debate, that’s changing a lot now due to technology, but when I had my children it was very difficult to be a working mom. I left my agency and started MIXT Studio so that I could have more time with my kids. I made radical changes in my career to make my vision a reality—and it’s working!”

Marija Butkovic, Women of Wearables

Marija Butkovic
Marija Butkovic is the Founder and CEO of Women of Wearables. Photo credit: Kornelije Sajler.

Marija Butkovic runs a business called Women of Wearables, which is a global organisation that supports and connects women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, health tech, VR and AR.

“Before I started my business, I was terrified of quitting my day job. I was a corporate lawyer and had a law degree, so it was very scary for me to change my career and start doing something completely different. But I decided to give it a go and today, four years after getting into the world of tech and marketing, I wouldn’t go back. I love what I do!”

“Fighting imposter syndrome in a male-dominated world of technology wasn’t easy. Odds are against you, but this was exactly what gave me courage. I knew I could always go back to being a lawyer, but I just wanted to have my own business and my own entrepreneurial freedom.”

A lot of entrepreneurs give up too soon. There is no overnight success. You have to work hard and be consistent in what you want to achieve.
- @MarijaButkovic, founder and CEO of @Women_Wearables

“My number one piece of advice if you want to make progress this year as an entrepreneur is to believe in yourself and stay focused. A lot of entrepreneurs give up too soon. There is no overnight success. You have to work hard and be consistent in what you want to achieve. For us at Women of Wearables creating great content in a form of a blog posts and interviews, as well as growing our partners network was the key to growth. Now we have local chapters in Europe, USA and Asia, in less than a year. I’m so proud of that achievement!”

Mauria Finley, Allume

Mauria Finley
Mauria Finley is the Founder and CEO of Allume.

Mauria Finley runs a business called Allume, which is an on-demand personal shopping service that matches women with experienced stylists who help them find clothing and accessories that fit their body, budget and style. Allume’s personal shoppers talk directly with customers and shop the entire internet to find the perfect items. Customers choose what to order, and prices are never marked up.

“When I look back on my career, I’m so struck by how lucky I’ve been. I grew up pretty poor, in a small town. I didn’t even realize that someone like me could study computer science or become a product manager or start their own company. I feel incredibly lucky that I landed at Stanford, got to work at amazing companies, and most importantly, have a job that gives me great joy.”

Don’t be afraid to be bold. The day to day of execution is a lot of work and detail, but it’s so important to paint a big vision of where you are going—for yourself, your team, and your investors.
- Mauria Finley, founder and CEO of @allumestyle

“First, I’d pick a big market. It’s super hard to build a meaningful company. You are going to do a lot of work so pick a big problem. Second, don’t be afraid to be bold. The day to day of execution is a lot of work and detail, but it’s so important to paint a big vision of where you are going—for yourself, your team, and your investors. I think growth is the #1 thing to focus on early in your career. The best way to grow is to tackle really hard projects, get feedback on how your work performed, and repeat the cycle on the next hard project. Thus, I think the best way to empower the next generation of female workers is to give them stretch projects.”

Sneh Jani, Bread and Roses

Bread & Roses is a social enterprise addressing the social and financial isolation faced by refugee women in London as a consequence of unemployment.

Sneh Jani
Sneh Jani is the Co-founder of social enterprise florist, Bread and Roses. Photo credit: Lily Bertrand-Webb.

“Liv and I met on a fellowship in social innovation called Year Here. One of the phrases they have coined is ‘entreprelearning’, which means basically learning as you go. This is what we did. We arranged lots of meetings with organisations working with refugee women to better understand their work and the challenges they were facing, got a floristry tutorial from a friend and then recruited an amazing lead florist and have built a network of trusted advisors to support us along the way!”

My #1 piece of advice to help women entrepreneurs to make progress in 2018? Back yourself.
- @SnehJani, Co-founder of @breadandroses_

“Right at the beginning when Liv and I started Bread & Roses, we were running around like headless chickens the whole time, ‘flogging our flowers’ as we affectionately refer to it as. There was one particularly cold and miserable evening in the first few months and we were delivering flowers to a supper club in Clapton. It was absolutely chucking it down, we were soaked and just about managing to shelter the arrangements as we pegged it from the bus stop to the restaurant. It always makes me smile when I think about it—that’s really how we are still doing Bread & Roses, sheer determination and stubbornness!”

“My #1 piece of advice to help women entrepreneurs to make progress in 2018? Back yourself.”

Meryl Draper, Quirk Creative

Meryl Draper
Meryl Draper is the CEO of Quirk Creative.

Meryl Draper runs Quirk Creative, which is a creative advertising agency specialized in video-based campaigns for social, digital and TV.

I read recently that owning your business is the ultimate freedom. I couldn’t agree more.
- @MerylDraper, CEO of Quirk Creative

“As a woman in business, I’m most proud so far of being my own boss. I read recently that owning your business is the ultimate freedom. I couldn’t agree more.”

“My number one piece of advice if you want to make progress this year as an entrepreneur is … make it official. If you’re mulling an idea in your head, just get your company officially registered (there are cheap and fast options, like LegalZoom). Making your company official will help you to start taking your dream seriously and move you towards doing it full time.”

Sallee Poinsette-Nash, multi-passionate entrepreneur

Sallee Poinsette-Nash
Sallee Poinsette-Nash is a multi-passionate entrepreneur.

Sallee Poinsette-Nash is a multi-passionate entrepreneur who works as a brand builder, designer and speaker. She co-hosts a weekly YouTube show called Awake Ones which aims to raise the consciousness of our planet and is in the process of building an Awake Ones Academy. Alongside all of this, she founded Tall Guides Magazine, the world’s fastest growing magazine for tall women, with community at its heart.

“As a woman in business, I’m most proud of being able to create the ripple effect. By sharing my journey, my highs and my lows, I’ve been able to create a supportive and encouraging space for women all around the world to do the same. I just created the platform, the rest is down to the power of community and that is something that never ceases to amaze me.”

DO SOMETHING. Stop talking about it, thinking about it, waiting for that perfect opportunity…
- Sallee Poinsette-Nash, @SalleeSpeaks, entrepreneur & founder of @TallGuides

“My number one piece of advice if you want make progress this year as an entrepreneur is DO SOMETHING. Stop talking about it, thinking about it, waiting for that perfect opportunity… By taking one tiny step, you’ll be closer to whatever it is you’re aiming for than you’ve ever been before. What’s the worst that can happen?!”

Emily Casey, FEMNA

Emily Casey
Emily Casey, Co-founder of FEMNA.

Emily Casey is the co-founder of FEMNA. They create natural products for women to help them get through menstruation, PMS, fertility issues, menopause and everything in between.

“When I think about my career so far, I smile at all the absolutely crazy and totally disconnected jobs I’ve done throughout my life—from being a DJ, to running a property development company, to being a French tutor, to running marketing campaigns in Tehran, to being a yoga teacher.”

…see each fear you have as an opportunity to get through it, and you’ll only get stronger and stronger.
- Emily Casey, co-founder of FEMNA

“My only advice, if you’d like to make progress in any area of your life, is to embrace the fears that you have, get comfortable with them, and push through them—face each fear head on, see each fear you have as an opportunity to get through it, and you’ll only get stronger and stronger.”

Kelly Exeter, Swish Design

Kelly Exeter
Kelly Exeter is an author and the founder of Swish Design.

Kelly Exeter is the author of four books, co-host of two podcasts and runs a boutique web and graphic design business called Swish Design.

“Going into business, my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to generate as much income from my business as I did from the job I was leaving. How did I fight this fear? By reassuring myself that I had good safety nets in place.”

“When I think back about my career so far, I laugh about how I once thought that running a business would be 5-7 years of hard slog and after that point I’d have a business that just ran smoothly and never had any problems. I now know that’s not how business works. As the world and markets evolve, so too does your business have to evolve. And there will always be new problems to solve.”

The key to being able to go fast is making time to go slow.
- @kellyexeter, founder of Swish Design

“My number one piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to remember this one thing: the key to being able to go fast is making time to go slow. Going hell for leather from sun up to sun down every day is not ‘hustle’, it’s a great formula for burnout. And when you’re burnt out, you’re no good to your business. Carving out points in every day where you can slow down will help you run your business in a more sustainable fashion.”

Onwards and upwards

We’d like to thank all the entrepreneurs who took the survey and contributed to our understanding of this important topic, as well as continue to be part of a community we’re so proud to be able to service. We’d also like to thank all our inspiring female entrepreneurs for sharing their stories and expertise.

We hope 2018 and beyond brings progress for entrepreneurs all over the world and especially for women. We’re here to provide the resources, tools and advice that you need as an entrepreneur. So now it’s up to you. Go out into the world, start that business and make that dream of yours a reality.

Feeling inspired? Spread the word!
Embolden a budding entrepreneur among your friends to take the leap and get building.