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Over 40 attendees joined the "Challenges and Rewards of Pursuing a Career in Entrepreneurship: A Woman’s Perspective" roundtable, which took place on Tuesday, 14 June 2022. The online event was moderated by Ann Ziegler, an ESCP Master student, and Amiel Kornel, adjunct ESCP professor, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist. Attendees posed questions and added their comments throughout the interactive forum.

Ziegler, a student of the MSc in Sustainability Entrepreneurship and Innovation programme, and other peers had hoped to hear more female perspectives in a course on entrepreneurial finance, an area largely dominated by men. With their initiative, and the broad network of Prof. Kornel, the idea of a roundtable came to fruition. “In this class, the topic of female underrepresentation in entrepreneurship came up often. Seeing the statistics really encouraged me to not only explore those numbers, but also to seek out stories from female entrepreneurs to see why the situation is how it is,” said Ziegler.

The roundtable featured five women with diverse experiences in and approaches to entrepreneurship: 

  • Evoléna de Wilde d’Estmael, Co-founder and CEO of Faircado
  • Félizitas Lichtenberg, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at SumUp, and ESCP alumna
  • Mariem Mhadhbi, Founder and CEO of Valuecometrics
  • Diana Garcia Quevedo, ESCP Doctoral Candidate in Eco-entrepreneurship and gender norms
  • Alisa Sydow, Co-founder and CEO of Nampelka GmbH and Assistant Professor at ESCP Turin Campus

Michael Katzovitz, one of Ziegler fellow students, appreciated “how dynamic of a discussion the roundtable turned out to be. It reminded me that we all have different experiences and perspectives on overcoming institutional barriers, but that despite our differences, it is essential to recognise and uplift women entrepreneurs.”

Over 90 minutes, the panelists discussed their personal and professional histories as it related to entrepreneurship, which included launching multiple start-ups, corporate innovation, consulting, and academia. A common theme in their backgrounds were upbringings in which they were not typecast into certain areas of interest, and having worked in disproportionately male sectors such as construction, IT and finance before coming to more entrepreneurial roles. Upon reflection, the women, for the most part, had not perceived that their gender held them back in their careers.

According to Félizitas Lichtenberg, however, it’s critical for those in privileged positions to be aware of the biases and mental models of men and women that exist across cultures and society. “We are all biased, we all tend to prefer people who are similar to us. It’s important to raise awareness of the biases in these systems and how ‘the game’ works, in order to overcome them.” 

Continuing the discussion, an ESCP student asked about how to draw more men to the conversation around gender equity in society and business. Answers ranged from putting forth the business case for diversity (larger pool of talent, multifaceted viewpoints) to instituting quotas as a means of transitioning to a more equitable world to appealing to a vision for a shared future that works better for everyone.

On the topic of advice, the speakers shared what has been most useful in their careers:

  • Build your network and seek out mentors based on personal connections and similar career experiences or goals
  • Be true to yourself, and in particular, don’t feel the need to adjust to male expectations of leadership
  • Push yourself outside of your comfort zone to not only grow but identify your unique purpose

Although some pointed out that the conversation around female entrepreneurship can at times focus on the complexities and problems, the panelists consistently emphasized the joys and rewards that come with such a professional path. “For the women out there interested in a career in entrepreneurship, don’t be afraid of jumping in, letting potential future adversities and challenges stop you. It’s an incredible job that is so rich in many ways. Start wherever you are", said Evoléna de Wilde d’Estmael.