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Female Entrepreneurship in The Netherlands: Are we equal yet?

In this op-ed - originally published in Silicon Canals - Lucy reflects on the lay of the land in The Netherlands when it comes to female entrepreneurship.

A recent McKinsey report on gender equality reveals that even in The Netherlands, a country which scores well on many indicators of gender equality, “women’s potential on the labour market remains significantly untapped.”

Not only is there a distinct lack of women in leadership positions, there are even scarcer numbers of female entrepreneurs. While women make up 52% of the total population in Europe, only 30% of all entrepreneurs are female.

As a woman building a business, and a foreigner living in The Netherlands, I wanted to find out more about the lay of the land - and how to navigate it. So, as part of ACE Collective, an entrepreneurial community I’ve built during my time in Amsterdam, I invited three women leading the charge to share their lessons learned. I wanted to know: what obstacles do women face, at what point in their career, and how to overcome them?

Sharing insights and experience with an intimate audience at Your Space Amsterdam, the night featured Nancy Poleon, founder of personal branding programme BrandedU, Rixt Herklots Operations Director from The Next Women, a global network of female entrepreneurs, and Mariska Nunes, an intrapreneur and Co-Founder of single-parent focussed travel service Maris Life.

Nancy kicked off the event outlining her personal mission and motivation for her work. She said: “Women make up 50% of the population, and my job will not be done until we achieve 50% female leadership!”

‍This week, Nancy released a whitepaper on female leadership focussing on five levels of leadership speaking with five Dutch women. On the night, she shared some of her key insights across the board:

“You’ve got to go out there and tell your story so you can be visible. And you’ve got to tell it in a way that’s confident. Because the truth is: without confidence you will miss opportunities.

A Hewlett Packard internal report found that men apply for a job or promotion when they meet 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100%. So most women don’t even have the confidence to try!”

Rixt then gave us a dose of realism when it comes to funding and scaling your business in The Netherlands. She said:

“We are in the fourth feminist wave where it’s no longer about getting equal rights, but creating an equal culture - and that’s one of the biggest challenges in The Netherlands. The Dutch don’t believe we have a bias!”

On scaling up your business, she told us: “The funding gap is real. A total of 1.6% of venture capital in The Netherlands goes to women, compared to a staggering 91.4% to all male teams. A total of 80% of women self-fund their businesses.”

Mariska Nunes then talked about her challenges in the early stages of building her business within an existing company. She spoke about gaining the confidence to pitch her idea and “just do it.”

“When I told people about my idea, they said, ‘you’re crazy!’ And, even though I was scared at first, eventually I worked up the confidence to ignore them.”

Her key lessons? Learn to “brag” and share your successes, listen to your gut, and don’t be afraid to ask for a raise.

One by one, participants in the room then started to share their stories about bias, intimidation, stigma, and fear. It became apparent that while we live in an “equal” society with so much comparative privilege and emancipation, there is still work to be done.

However, morality and ethics aside; here’s the thing - leaving women behind is bad for business, McKinsey estimates that women could add over €100 billion to the country’s GDP if they joined the labour market at the same rate as men. On a global level, working women worldwide are massively untapped. CSO Solidaridad notes that the “global female economy is estimated to have more than twice as much growth potential than the markets of China and India together.''

The good news is that the ecosystem for female entrepreneurs is growing rapidly, with networks, collectives and support groups popping up. Through my business, I'm trying to do my bit; working to shift the dial by helping more women to amplify their voice as thought leaders.

The City of Amsterdam has this high on their agenda too. Reflecting on this event and the lay of the land, Semra Celebi, Foreign Investments Manager at The City of Amsterdam told me:

“The City of Amsterdam is connecting with the key stakeholders to discuss how we can maximise our impact. It’s important to invest in women to create a fair and equal playing field. As entrepreneurs, women bring so much to the table, and yet as a society, we are still not tapping into the full potential of this.”

If nothing changes the World Economic Forum confirms it will take 217 years to close the gender gap worldwide. Yes that's right, if business as usual continues we will be waiting for equality until the year 2236!

That's absolutely mind-blowing. And far too long for any of us to sit around and wait.

To learn more about ACE Collective and stay posted for upcoming events see here.

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