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Female entrepreneurs hindered by lack of confidence, report suggests

Thursday, 28 February 2013 | By Michelle Hammond

A lack of confidence and an “unconscious bias” could be holding back female entrepreneurs, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest Australian Social Trends report.


The Australian Social Trends report series draws on a range of data, sourced from the ABS and other agencies. The latest quarterly report focuses on a number of topics including women in leadership.


According to the report, women in Australia have more employment opportunities and are more educated than ever before. However, gender equality at senior levels has yet to be achieved.


In senior leadership positions, men outnumber women across the public and private sectors, the report said.


In addition to family commitments, the report suggests women are held back due to a lack of confidence in their abilities.


“Whereas men are willing to put their hand up for a role where they may not tick some or all of the boxes, some women may only apply for the job if they feel confident they are a good fit for the job,” the report said.


“It has been suggested that women tend to be uncomfortable with self-promotion. Being more hesitant to promote themselves and their accomplishments may come across as a lack of confidence in their own abilities.


“Ironically, the very qualities that hold women back from putting themselves forward for higher roles – being cautious and risk-adverse – may also make them better in those roles.”


Yolanda Vega, chief executive of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, told StartupSmart she agrees with the findings.


“It’s true. And that applies across the board – as in it’s not just women at the senior level but women at all levels,” she says.


“They are less inclined to put up their hand and less likely to promote or highlight their ability.”


Wendy Simpson, chairman of women-only accelerator program Springboard Australia, suggests women have a greater fear of rejection than men – an issue that needs to be addressed.


“Whether you get selected [for our program] or not, you’re getting value along the way and you’ve got to stop thinking, this is about winning and losing,” she says.


“I think the challenge is how women perceive feedback when they’re told, ‘Have you thought about this or thought about that?’


“We’ve got to think about how we have that conversation so it isn’t a rejection.”


The notion of “unconscious bias” is another barrier for women in the workplace, according to the Australian Social Trends report.


“The glass ceiling is a term that is often applied to women being unable to progress from middle to senior management,” it said.


“One reason for this may be due to unconscious bias towards leaders of a certain age, gender and race. Unconscious bias is not a concept that can be measured, but it is seen as a barrier.”


According to Vega, gender bias can only be addressed by changing the way we think, which needs to start at an early age.


“We have to make significant changes that go way back [to childhood],” she says.