An issue that I am personally interested in is increasing the number of women in the startup ecosystem, specifically as a woman entrepreneur and investor. The lack of women in these areas is considered a systemic challenge in the United States. There are countless articles, academic research, and personal anecdotes that support the need for more women entrepreneurs and VCs.
So it was definitely interesting to explore this issue in Turkey’s ecosystem. During our week’s worth of meetings with various stakeholders, we discovered that the same issue exists in Turkey, but with some notable differences. While more still needs to be done in the U.S., at least this is a recognized issue…by the majority of sane Americans. On the other hand, the discussion about needing more women in startups is often glossed over.
We don’t even have good entrepreneurs, so why would we consider the lack of women in entrepreneurship a problem? This was a frank response to a question I asked a Turkish VC about what percentage of their deal flow comes from women founded startups given the government funding that has gone to support women entrepreneurs. Though I understand the immature stage at which the Turkish startup ecosystem is at the moment, I had hoped that the Turkey could begin addressing and taking more action around this challenge so that it would not develop into the same situation that the U.S. currently is in.
Diving deeper into the underlying causes of this, what exists in Turkey is a cultural mindset about women in general. A few months ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke at an international conference on justice and rights for women where he stated that men and women cannot be placed on equal footing. Furthermore, Turkey ranks 125th out of 142 countries on gender equality as assessed by the World Economic Forum in 2014.
Clearly the lack of women in the Turkish startup ecosystem stems from much larger issues bout the perception of women in the country. But things, as we saw, are slowly changing. When we spoke to a CBS alumna at a well-regarded consulting firm, she mentioned that the women in the workplace are very ambitious and she had not faced any challenges. We also met a woman entrepreneur who founded a VC backed startup on our last day. She was positive about more women in startups as she is constantly asked to provide mentorship to other women entrepreneurs. There is a lot to be positive about when there are such incredible role models for others!