Under the magnifying glass: Female entrepreneurs in the MINT field

Women are underrepresented in entrepreneurship. The reasons for this are diverse. Too few role models, difficult access to financing options, unfavorable political framework conditions. But self-employment in particular offers women numerous advantages – also and especially in the STEM field. A topic dossier.

Whether computer science studies, metal technology training or physics course - many STEM disciplines suffer from a lack of female junior staff. The current figures from the Federal Employment Agency speak for themselves: only 15,4% of employees in STEM professions are women. With a view to the ever-increasing gap in skilled workers, it becomes clear that enormous potential is being lost here. The female perspective in relation to MINT and entrepreneurship for our entire society is also lost.

It is by no means the case that girls and women are less interested in MINT topics. At school, girls are at least as good at STEM subjects as boys. But many girls have less confidence in their own abilities when it comes to STEM - triggered by very different reasons. This lower self-confidence of the students has an effect on the choice of advanced course, training and study. In an earlier topic dossier, zdi.NRW Cultural history of women in science under the magnifying glass to get closer to an answer to the question about the lack of self-confidence of talented STEM-interested girls. In the current article, the topic is considered further with a view to the entrepreneurial independence of STEM women.

Impart STEM knowledge, strengthen self-confidence

The zdi networks and zdi school labs are actively tackling STEM work for girls. The lecturers not only teach the participants MINT skills, but also confidence in their own abilities and a healthy self-confidence through creative and practical work in a team.

The visibility of female STEM role models plays a central role in supporting young women on their way into the STEM professional world. As long as women in the MINT field are not a visible normality, the choice of a MINT profession is associated with overcoming boundaries. This can be a deterrent to girls and young women. A few years ago, zdi.NRW launched the zdi heroines October brought to life.

zdi-Heldinnen-Oktober is a communication campaign that focuses on women in STEM. Since then, well over a hundred women from a wide variety of MINT disciplines have registered on the zdi portal and in the Social media presented. Year after year, they share their experiences and tips, their wishes for the future and their dreams with the STEM community and show that it is not uncommon for STEM to be both a job and a calling. This year the zdi heroines October is entering its third round. It starts on October 1st, 2021.

Not only does zdi.NRW, as a nationwide community offensive, actively support the promotion of girls and women in MINT, important impulses are also given at the nationwide level, as is currently the case with the MINT network point Germany, MINTvernetzt for short, which started work in May of this year. An important part of MINTnetwork is the transfer of scientific findings from gender research into practice.

STEM entrepreneurs are in great demand

The young women who decide to study STEM or STEM training rave about great colleagues or fellow students, a meaningful and diverse job and a good salary. STEM professions are largely practically oriented, which rarely causes boredom. 

One way to delve even deeper into the MINT world and to realize yourself is to become self-employed. Whether as a roofer, as a textile technician or in the IT sector, whether in MINT education, as a technology consultant or as a freelance mathematician - the MINT sector includes numerous exciting professional fields in which self-employment is an option. And in which well-trained and motivated specialists are urgently needed. Be it as the founder of a new MINT company or as a successor in an existing company.  

>> In zdi-heldinnen-October we post one here every week Entrepreneur from the STEM field in front. In interviews and discussions, they tell us about their impressions and experiences with self-employment. <

In Benefits of being self-employed cannot be dismissed out of hand: More flexibility with regard to the place of work and working hours and thus a better compatibility of work and family, the implementation of one's own ideas and the possibility of independent decision-making and personal responsibility.

Despite all the advantages, fewer women than men find their way into self-employment. Only every third company is managed by a woman, and according to the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, there are even fewer in the STEM field. The associated invisibility of women and entrepreneurs in the MINT field is one reason why many women do not have the topic of self-employment in the truest sense of the word in mind.

If no MINT entrepreneurs are visible, the image of the entrepreneur remains present in the minds of the MINT youngsters, not that of the female entrepreneur. For this reason too, many women in the MINT field do not consider the option of founding a company. But self-employment in the MINT field is worth it: According to the Handelsblatt, 41 of the 50 fastest growing medium-sized companies in Germany belong to the MINT field.

Open questions find answers

But how do I successfully start my own business? Where can I get start-up capital? Can my own company be reconciled with my family planning? Who can help me if I don't know what to do next? Women who are interested in entrepreneurial self-employment are confronted with open question marks and complain about suboptimal conditions for starting a business. From the bureaucratic and time-consuming financing process to the problematic search for investors - women often lack support when starting their own business.

For this reason, numerous initiatives and companies have been founded in recent years to support women on their way to self-employment. "The potential of female founders in Germany is far from exhausted," the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy also complains about the lack of female entrepreneurs and in 2014 started the "WOMEN enter into business" initiative. The aim is to show women the way to self-employment and to introduce girls to the job description of an entrepreneur. The core element of the initiative: making role model entrepreneurs visible, offering role models, providing mentors.

Germany-wide the Association of German Women Entrepreneurs (VdU) has been campaigning for more women to become self-employed and to give women entrepreneurs a strong voice in society and politics for almost 70 years. zdi.NRW is also connected to the VdU: they work together to get more girls and women interested in MINT and entrepreneurship.

Get excited about MINT early on and show the possibility of self-employment

In order to show girls at an early stage that women are normal in the MINT field, cooperation between schools and extracurricular learning locations in NRW is a good idea. The zdi networks have been working closely with hundreds of companies for years, some of which are led by women. Girls and young women get to know the entrepreneurs in zdi courses or at events. The entrepreneurs report on their careers and their everyday work and show training opportunities in their company. MINT specialists pursue very practical activities that lead to a specific result. Apprenticeships in the MINT field are of particular interest to girls and women, for whom meaningful work and a positive effect on society are important.

The zdi networks are always looking for regional companies with whom they can implement exciting MINT courses. Are you an entrepreneur in the MINT field and want to be a role model for girls and young women?

Here you can find zdi networks in your region.

Many of the zdi networks offer STEM courses and STEM workshops for entire classes. In the zdi-Heldinnen October, more gender-sensitive courses will be offered in order to attract girls in particular to the offers.

The offer of gender-sensitive STEM courses and the visibility of female role models are central building blocks to encourage girls and women in their interest in STEM and their desire for independence. Diversity in MINT leads to a strong and sustainable society with diverse perspectives.

That's why we at zdi.NRW have been supporting girls and young women in the MINT field for more than 15 years.  

Here you can find out everything about how zdi.NRW is committed to more girls and young women in STEM: www.zdi-portal.de/zdi-heldinnen

Here you will find information on the literature used and recommendations:

Federal Employment Agency (2019): focus on the labor market. STEM professions, PDF.

Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (2019): WOMEN do business, Link.

Tandrayen-Ragoobur, V. & Gokulsing, D. (2021): Gender gap in STEM education and career choices: what matters? In: Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, before publication.

Schulte, Andreas (2020): These are Germany's 100 fastest growing medium-sized companies, in: Handelsblatt, Link.

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