How can we secure better representation for women leaders and entrepreneurs? |

How can we secure better representation for women leaders and entrepreneurs?

By Laura L

Updated March 8, 2023 Updated March 8, 2023

Women and marginalised groups are still underrepresented in leadership and entrepreneurship, although that representation is slowly increasing. With many barriers and biases involved when it comes to diversifying the playing field, studies show that women still underestimate their leadership skills, affecting access to funding and perpetuating the existing prejudices shown from investors. 

Katty Hsu is senior researcher and start-up facilitator at the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship (ECE) in Rotterdam. Katty co-runs an initiative called SHE LEADS that helps to create an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem for the next generation of female entrepreneurs and leaders. 

Through research, insights and creating connections within the network, SHE LEADS encourages discussion and progress in securing better representation for women in business. spoke to Katty about securing better representation for women leaders and entrepreneurs. 

Diversifying the conversation

The power to secure better representation for women and marginalised groups in business and leadership starts with conversation and connecting people from more diverse backgrounds, according to Katty.

From her research, she’s found that negative stereotypes can be broken simply through intergroup connections and communication, and that tight networks with access to role models and mentors can help to overcome current challenges.

“It’s important to look to the leadership of an organisation to determine whether different perspectives and recognised and taken into consideration,” said Katty.

"It’s also important to question whether the leaders are homogenous and have similar characteristics: to be able to question that opens up space to have conversations with those with more diverse perspectives and lived experiences, so that we can overcome the biases we all have.”

Though, it’s a consideration to be taken seriously at all levels of the business not just within the executive team. Katty said: “I really believe that through conversation and making safe spaces for those conversations, we can start to break down the very complex and intricate challenges of otherness and unconventional leadership.”

Increasing confidence with entrepreneurial education 

Through SHE LEADS, Katty and the team recognise the crucial role of entrepreneurship education to increase the confidence of women in their own entrepreneurial capabilities and help them to overcome the perceived challenges of entrepreneurship.

With an MBA, executive MBA or entrepreneurship programme, future female leaders can tap into an ecosystem of knowledge and expert insights, mentorship and cross-industry networking.

“For incoming entrepreneurship or MBA students, it’s really important to tap into your network,” Katty said. “Is there an entrepreneurship centre within the university that can help you to further develop your ideas and confidence? It’s about having an ecosystems perspective and reaching out to your community to maximise your opportunities.”

Katty grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Her parents started a company selling consumer goods and through her education, including a master’s degree at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Katty learned to help them scale and grow their business, contextualising their ecosystem in South Africa, after moving from Taiwan 30 years ago. 

“It’s something I also had to navigate in the early stages of my career,” said Katty. “When moving to the Netherlands, I had to build my own network and adapt to the Dutch culture for my success in this new ecosystem.”

Unconventional entrepreneurship

Insights from SHE LEADS research show that female and minority entrepreneurs are still operating in a white, male-dominated marketplace that’s focused on conventional entrepreneurial ventures. “In reality,” Katty said, “entrepreneurship has the potential to be a diverse and inclusive space.

“We hope to see a steady rise in more unconventional groups of entrepreneurs like immigrant entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs with a physical or cognitive disability, older entrepreneurs, refugee entrepreneurs and many others.” 

According to Katty, this mainstream conventional approach to entrepreneurship forces women and marginalised groups to “man up and adopt an assertive, overconfident leadership style.”  

McKinsey's Women in the Workplace 2022 report found that 'for every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave their company.'

“We must make space for unconventional leadership. We must understand that there are different layers of intersectionality to take into consideration and at SHE LEADS, our mission is to help the world through our expertise and insights and bring together the different marginalised groups to understand and unpack these nuances. 

“If we look specifically at women, for example, there is ample research indicating that female entrepreneurs are more likely to value social impact, whereas conventional entrepreneurs are more likely to focus on profit and revenue. Balancing those differences across all industries could have a big impact on the challenges we face in the world today,” Katty said.

“Everyone has their own leadership styles and lived experiences to draw from. There shouldn’t be one type of entrepreneur or leader. It’s important for the future of the entrepreneurial ecosystem to start welcoming and valuing different leadership styles.”

The importance of role models 

Being able to visualise women in entrepreneurship and leadership positions across all industries is of paramount importance for “helping the next generation of leaders believe they can do it too”, said Katty.

“Without having someone to look up to and to motivate you, it’s difficult to push yourself through the challenges you’ll face in your entrepreneurial journey. Better yet, having a mentor who can help you with your doubts and explain how they got to where they did can break down your future into concrete and actionable steps.”

So how can women within leadership and entrepreneurial positions bring other women up with them and create a more intersectional network? Nobody was able to rise to the top without help from others, says Katty.

“We all have our own journeys, challenges and ecosystem to lean on, so when women have found their way into leadership and entrepreneurship, it’s important to consider how they can create that ecosystem for the future generation.

“Intersectionality should be top of mind and to think critically of the people you’re interacting with inside and outside of the organisation. Does it look homogenous? How can you change that? It’s important to think about the people you’re impacting in the business and wider community.”


The SHE LEADS Dashboard 2023 dives into the key trends and themes around female entrepreneurship and highlights 50 inspiring entrepreneurial female role models leading in areas such as social impact, health and wellbeing, technology, scaling up and serial entrepreneurship.

This article was originally published in March 2023 .

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