Female Tech Entrepreneurs in Chicago Get a Lift from Google, Lefkofsky Family Foundation

When it comes to women in the workforce, we all know there’s a major gender disparity gap. Women, on average, earn 72 percent of the salary their male counterparts make. Though women comprise 56 percent of the professional workforce in the U.S., they only own 30 percent of privately held businesses, and just 20 percent of those with revenues over $1 million. And when it comes to Fortune 500 executives, a mere 11 percent are women.

When it comes to the tech sector, the numbers don’t get any better. Less than 13 percent of engineers at tech companies are women, and women own just 5% of tech start-ups. The good news is that women are starting businesses at 1.5 times the national average, a 20 percent increase over the last decade, thanks programs like Google’s #40Forward, and 1871, Chicago’s tech incubator, which has partnered with Google, the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, and the Motorola Mobility Foundation to create 1871 FEMTech.

The three organizations are investing a combined $500,000 to $1 million to launch FEMTech in the fall, with the goal of launching ten to 15 women-owned start-ups per year. "We know the percentage of women in tech hasn't improved, that it's hovered around seven to eight percent," said Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871. "There are a massive number of companies who want to make this sort of commitment, but we didn't have the mechanism to do anything."

For Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky and his wife Liz, this may be seen as part of their broader commitment to their hometown of Chicago (see our recent post on the Lefkofsky Family Foundation). For Google, it’s part of their initiative to increase the number of women in tech by 25 percent and launch 40 incubator programs for women in tech worldwide. And for Motorola Mobility, it’s an extension of other philanthropic work that has focused on empowering people and communities with technology. Also, Motorola Mobility recently moved to downtown Chicago, and probably wants to bolster the city's tech scene. 

Many investors are starting to recognize the value of women in tech start-ups—women-led tech companies achieve a 35 percent higher return on investment, and, when venture-backed, bring in 12 percent more revenue than male-owned tech companies--yet they still receive only four percent of tech venture capital. Part of this is because women just aren't going into STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, and math), with only 15 percent of women declaring STEM majors, compared to 29 percent of men. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the lack of female role models and gender stereotyping are also part of the problem.

With more programs like 1871 FEMTech, more women will be encouraged to go into these careers, and we'll be seeing even more female tech philanthropists on lists like this one.