Published on 24 January 2019

At a time in which only a small percentage of entrepreneurs in the French Deep Tech sector are women, Université Paris-Saclay is committed to promoting gender equality and to supporting female students who want to start new ventures.

It is estimated that a company founded by a team of women and men is 63% more efficient than a single-gender company. Yet, in 2017, only 10% of French startups were led by a woman, and only 3% of female entrepreneurs chose to start a business in the scientific and technological sector. This is not due to chance: it is the result of a school environment that does not encourage girls to pursue a scientific career. (In French first grade textbooks, for example, only 3% of professionals in this sector are represented as female.) As a result, men continue to dominate scientific and technical fields; 93% of high school students with a science and technology major are male. Few women, meanwhile, pursue a career in research: France currently ranks 95th worldwide – between Kenya and Tanzania – for its percentage of women researchers. And when women enter the professional world, they often do so with less self-confidence and a less extensive network compared to their male counterparts, which creates additional challenges when they decide to start their own venture. Now, is this changing? Absolutely. As the 2016-2017 edition of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study shows, the number of businesses set up by women has increased by 10% worldwide compared to the previous edition of the study, published in 2014-2015.

Supporting female doctoral students

At Université Paris-Saclay, an inclusive university, supporting female entrepreneurship is a high priority, particularly in the Deep Tech sector. Several support systems can help them in their journey. One essential element of support is the Equality-Diversity-Disabilities Mission (“Mission Egalité-Diversité-Handicap”). The University’s Training Department has been advancing this mission since 2015, demonstrating the University's long-term commitment to inclusion. Among the projects supported by the department is the Femmes & Sciences (Women in Science) mentorship program. Intended for female doctoral students, this free program aims to support young women in a critical time, early in their career. The students are guided by experienced mentors (female or male) and are given access to professional development workshops, thus becoming part of a community of young female scientists who share common concerns.

Fostering entrepreneurship

Another flagship program is the call for projects WILLA Boost for Women in Deep Tech, launched in October 2018 by IncubAlliance, the technological incubator on the Paris-Saclay campus, and WILLA (formerly Paris Pionnières), an initiative to increase gender equality in the French innovation scene. Also free of charge, this program is intended for students in their second year of a masters’ degree program in applied economics, as well as for doctoral students and researchers who wish to test an innovative concept in the Deep Tech sector, estimate the commercial potential of their technology and evaluate their ability to embark on a business venture. The participants are guided through an intensive three-day training. In addition to workshops and individual coaching, female entrepreneurs give talks and share experiences on self-confidence, influence, B-to-B negotiation, team building, elevator pitch and lean startup culture. The program is meant to inspire and empower its participants while benefiting society in the long term: according to the OECD, France could gain 0.4% in annual economic growth if gender equality were achieved among successful entrepreneurs.