We kicked 2023 off with some news that was long overdue. On Jan. 1, five more women assumed the top leadership role at Fortune 500 companies. This brought the total number of female CEOs to 53. That’s just over 10%, up from 8% in previous years.

True, the gain is a small one, but worth noting in light of research showing the positive impact women leaders have in the workplace. In addition to having more diverse workforces, companies with women at the helm see higher stock performance and experience 226% greater returns than those led by men. Still, however, from the C-suite to the factory floor, glaring gaps between men and women still linger in the business world — from wage disparities to underrepresentation on corporate boards.

In many ways, these gaps mirror the conditions that female entrepreneurs face. In 2021, companies founded by women received just 2% of the total capital invested in venture-backed businesses despite owning 38% of American businesses. The percentage rose to almost 16% when a male co-founder entered the picture, a sure sign that an entrepreneur’s gender affects how the marketplace views her new product or service.

The solutions to the long-standing inequities female entrepreneurs face are equally complex. But one idea is emerging as a prime opportunity for all students, regardless of gender, to learn the skills needed to thrive in the modern economy. High school entrepreneurship education programs, such as the INCubatoredu classes I teach are a vehicle for propelling more young women into entrepreneurship and business leadership roles. This is especially important since more than half of Gen Z, people born after 1997, plan to start their own businesses at some point in their lives.

  1. You need to see it to be it. In identifying potential industry partners and mentors for an entrepreneurship program, be intentional by finding women that may help expose girls to possible career paths that they might have assumed were closed to them, including STEM fields or in the C-suite.
  2. Build-in features that boost the confidence of young women. Studies show that women feel less knowledgeable and less prepared to start their own businesses.
  3. Make concerted efforts to enroll female students in entrepreneurship and business programs sooner. Most students who enter the workforce or attend college after graduating from high school remain unsure what career path to choose.

Read the full article about cultivating female leadership by Christy Pierce at Getting Smart.