Engagement in the Workplace

By Maggie Cely

At Plum Alley, we have long believed in the benefits of women founding and investing in companies. Now, there is evidence to say that women remaining in those companies as part of the leadership is beneficial for the bottom line.

“A highly engaged workforce means the difference between a company that thrives and one that struggles. When employees are engaged, they are passionate, creative, and entrepreneurial, and their enthusiasm fuels growth.”

Gallup’s article Q12 Employee Engagement concluded with this resounding statement on the correlation between engagement and financial growth. It makes sense – employees that receive acknowledgment for their triumphs, have open communication with their superiors, and are encouraged to grow are productive members of their team and, therefore, company.

One would presume that American companies would be partial to this variety of leadership to drive profits, encourage growth, and improve efficiency.

Statistically, the managers with the highest level of engagement are women; however, women only make up one-third of all workplace leadership roles in the U.S. Apparently, efficiency is no match for gender bias.

Entrepreneur magazine summarized findings from a series of Gallup studies regarding the state of managers and employees in the workplace, finding that women excelled at 11 of 12 categories of employee engagement over men. They broke down the information into 5 digestible ways women employ these engagement tactics to improve employee performance, number one being that women are generally more engaged themselves. Inspiring personnel development, offering regular feedback and praise, and an overall strong moral compass were additional reasons named.

Gallup also looked into who worked best under whom – does a male work most effectively under a man or woman?

It turns out that men and women varied most at engaging their own gender, yet the co-ed teams were relatively consistent. Men engaged their male employees at a rate of 25%, and females at a rate of 35% with female employees. These figures are a bit puzzling, given that the most engaged team dynamic, a female boss with female employees, is the least prevalent.


Another strong note was the study of preference and how attitudes have changed over the past 60 years. In the 50’s, an overwhelming majority (two-thirds) of Americans preferred a male boss, 5% a female boss, and 25% claimed ambivalence. In 2014, one-third of Americans preferred a male boss, 20% preferred a female boss, and the majority (46%) had no preference.

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In regard to preference, working underneath a specific kind of human no more shows a gender bias than choosing to work at a startup shows a size prejudice. It’s merely preference, what works for you as an employee.

The major issue is that having a female boss is substantially less likely than having a male boss, so employees are forced to work within the confines of structural inequality that stems from promotional bias. In other words, you can have a preference, but you can’t really have a preference.

Notwithstanding these findings, progress is on the horizon. COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg just unveiled a training program to recognize and challenge unconscious bias in the workplace, beginning with her own team. Dozens of organizations that promote women in tech and other male-dominated industries are growing in popularity and prevalence (see Tech Ecosystem Infographic).

How do we continue the trajectory towards change? Literature on the subject alone is not enough to change perceptions. Rather, infusing women’s entrepreneurial ventures with capital, encouraging women to invest and to be involved in investment decisions, diversifying teams, and promoting staff with the credentials to perform and the ability to engage are imperative initiatives to change the landscape and stimulate growth, financial and otherwise.

Ecosystem Header

The Ecosystem for Female Entrepreneurs

There are many graphics that show the power of the male networks that supports male founders. There have been articles about the powerful and exclusive boys club. Men connect by doing business, sharing deal leads, playing sports, providing funding, and passing the hat around the table to support their buddies. It is human nature to hang with people you know and like and are similar to you. You feel comfortable and you don’t have your sense of self or ideas challenged by anyone. All of this is understandable even when it has adverse consequences.

Women of all ages are looking for ways to advance and champion each other. There are some established groups that were trailblazers as well as many new organizations springing up with purpose and commitment to open access and funding opportunity. We need all of this and more.

We have identified the organizations that have a primary and demonstrated commitment in one or more of these areas: women entrepreneurs; women building tech; women angel investors and women professional venture investors.

All of the companies and organizations in our graphic spend their time and money in the pursuit of equal access and opportunity for women and outstanding companies. This is a new age of action oriented initiatives where you use your influence and money to change things around. We did our best to include the companies we know but there are probably more to include. If you know of any additions please contact us at info@plumalley.co. Keep in mind that they have to service one or more of the 3 categories above and this has to be their primary focus. Thank you.

Deborah Jackson

Ecosystem Raising Capital

Ecosystem Support Women

Sources of Economic Hope

Rising To The Challenge

The Motivations of Female Entrepreneurs

The third infographic of our series based on data from the Kauffman Foundation’s report Sources of Economic Hope: Women’s Entrepreneurship explains why entrepreneurs don’t quit.

The hurdles are many when launching a business or venture. What keeps entrepreneurs going is the creative potential in pursuing their wildest dreams. The most common reason for starting a business is the founder’s desire to capitalize on an idea.

Entrepreneurs identify factors that have contributed to their success to varying degrees. However, the most important factors consistently involve learning from the past.

Lessons learned from previous success is tied with prior industry work experience as the most common success factor in startups.

What is notable is that learning from past mistakes is a very close third. 88.2% of respondents state that learning from wins is important, while 87.3% agree that learning from failures is also so.

Those who are truly motivated will turn “failure” into an advantage–seeing it as more of a growth map than a defeat. Founding a company requires immense determination. Those who are successful turn setbacks into opportunities to refine their goal.

The last part of our infographic explores how failure is experienced by women and men. Short summary: women value hard work whereas men trumpet self-confidence.

Sources of Economic Hope

Hard But Worth It

The Challenges of Being A Female Entrepreneur

Our second infographic in this series based on data from the Kauffman Foundation’s report Sources of Economic Hope: Women’s Entrepreneurship illustrates the hurdles of launching a venture.

Not surprisingly, having enough time and money is seen as the biggest challenge in starting a business. Next up is acquiring capital: 72.1% of people feel that finding funds is challenging. What’s even worse is that acquiring early stage funding such as venture capital is harder for women than men.

Men are more confident than women in asking for money from their networks of close friends and business acquaintances. Women need to step up that part of their game. But also, money flows more easily to men. Male founders are 3x more likely as female founders to access equity financing through angels or VCs. A funding gap turns into a growth gap and then an outcome gap.

Apparently, the least challenging aspect of starting a business is lack of industry knowledge. Only 6% (the lowest number) of respondents feel that this is extremely challenging.