A call to advance women entrepreneurs

When I joined Google more than a decade ago, I was one of the only working mothers at Google Tokyo. I spoke with other women at the office, and was surprised to find that for many of my female colleagues, the cultural stigma of being a working mom was still hard to overcome, even at a company as supportive as Google. I was especially struck by conversations with younger women who had yet to start families, but who had already decided that when the time came, work and family would be too hard to juggle. 

I became an advocate for encouraging women in the workplace, both within and outside of Google. I wanted women to know they can choose what is right for them. It means a lot to be able to say that, today, 100 percent of women at Google in Japan come back to work after maternity leave.  

Making space for women and diverse voices means more creative ideas and solutions. But you don’t have to take my word for it—the benefits of investing in women entrepreneurs in particular are substantial. Experts have said that closing the entrepreneurial gender gap could boost the global economy by up to $5 trillion. This is even more important as economies around the world strive to recover from the challenges of COVID-19. 

Today, on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, Google’s Women Willinitiative is launching a global report called Advancing Women in Entrepreneurship, which takes a look at some of the factors behind the entrepreneurship gender gap, as well as potential areas for intervention.

The report, which surveyed women in Asia-Pacific (Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam), Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Mexico) and Sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa), finds that:

  • Self-confidence is ranked by women as one of the top three skills most critical to successfully running a business in most countries in Asia. However, aspiring women entrepreneurs are less confident (compared to men) across all of the twelve countries in our research.

  • Less than half of women surveyed said they had access to mentors or supportive social groups.

  • About 80% of both current and aspiring entrepreneurs were interested in learning and improving their skills.

Building a culture of support, confidence and learning is important for women entrepreneurs to grow and thrive. Just a few weeks ago, I kicked off the first session of the Google for Startups’ Immersion: Women Founders program for Asia-Pacific, an eight-week, mentorship program for female founders. We’ve already heard that access to mentorship and the chance to form a community have been highlights for the participants. Hanna Kim, the founder of Grip, a live-streaming e-commerce platform in Korea, said, “It’s been really helpful to get insights from the mentors, like practical business and HR insights. I’m also so inspired by everyone in the cohort. It makes me dream even bigger!” 

Another initiative we hope will make a difference is a series of six  webinarswith UN Women’s WE EMPOWER campaign, focused on on topics like adapting through COVID-19 and developing leadership skills.

We’re looking forward to building on these steps with more initiatives to encourage women entrepreneurs in Asia Pacific and around the world. We hope you’ll take a look at the report, and join the online conversation on the Women Will Instagram channel.