Professor Maura McAdam poses for the camera, in advance of the InvestHer Summit
Image: Maura McAdam/boonsom/

‘Where are all the women?’: An entrepreneur’s drive for change

12 Jun 2024

Prof Maura McAdam discusses the early experiences that affected her entrepreneurial worldview and how finding your tribe helps you succeed in business.

Through the decades, traditional biases have impacted women in entrepreneurship, curtailing fair access to funding, mentorship and leadership opportunities. 

Undoubtedly, great progress has been made in recent years, with many companies actively working towards creating equal, diverse and supportive working environments. However, as research from the World Economic Forum shows, in 2024 women are still only receiving less than 2pc of venture capital funding. 

Maura McAdam is a professor of management and director of entrepreneurship at Dublin City University and in advance of her talk at the 2024 InvestHerSummit, she spoke to about how “it’s not women who need to change or fit in, but rather the systems that need to evolve”. 

“This is why the InvestHer Summit is so important as it aims to bridge this gap by providing a platform specifically tailored to women, increasing their visibility and opportunities in the investment community.”

Higher pursuits

Growing up in the North, McAdam saw early on that the application of hard work, innovation and drive reaped rewards. Watching her father run the bar he owned during the turbulent years of the Troubles and how diverse locals gathered despite the tensions of the time, enabled her to recognise the deeply rooted complexities of her community. 

“My upbringing wasn’t just about watching my parents run this business, it was about seeing how their actions reverberated throughout our community and made a lasting impact.”

These childhood experiences sparked an interest in McAdam, opening her eyes to “the challenges, rewards and ‘everydayness’ of owning and managing one’s own venture”.  She was encouraged to pursue higher education, earning an degree in business management and a master’s in technological change and innovation from Ulster University. 

Entering the manufacturing and production industry, she loved “the hustle and bustle of it” but ended up feeling “detached from the end user and wider community”, so she left this role to pursue a PhD in entrepreneurship at Ulster University. 

Armed with a PhD, her intellect and ambition, she was immersed in the world of entrepreneurship, but found herself asking, “Where are all the women”? Since this realisation and emboldened by a deeply ingrained sense of equality, finding an answer to this question has been a source of constant drive.

Binning perfectionism

As a professor, keynote speaker, author and entrepreneur, for McAdam, day-to-day work is certainly diverse, but in particular, she has tremendous pride in her mentorship of early-career academics and other women aiming to establish themselves. 

“My work explores the social, cultural, and institutional factors affecting women entrepreneurs, bringing attention to critical issues such as access to funding, mentorship and networking opportunities. The insights and strategies developed through my research aim to drive global systemic change, creating a more equitable and supportive environment for women in entrepreneurship,” she said. 

It is, however, critical that the barriers preventing women from reaching their potential are not considered a primarily female problem, with all responsibility for the destabilisation of inequality placed with women. Men, too, have an obligation to drive positive change in the promotion of gender equality. “Men who advocate for and support their female colleagues, friends and family members play a vital role in challenging gender biases and creating inclusive environments,” McAdam said. She notes throughout her life, the men in her sphere actively encouraged and nurtured her career ambitions “and still do”. 

Another challenge to consider is how women view themselves. As a group that is regularly held to a higher standard, women can sometimes be inadvertently complicit in perpetuating those unspoken rules.

“Don’t ask for permission,” said McAdam. “Women may typically feel that they need permission to start, build and grow entrepreneurial ventures due to a combination of societal expectations, stereotypes, cultural norms and personal experiences.

“It is important to be aware that you do not have to wait until you get a degree, gain 10 years’ experience, or reach some other self-prescribed milestone before you can be or are ready to be an entrepreneur.”

McAdam said perfectionism can often be a trap where women find themselves setting excessively high standards and ultimately feeling paralysed by the fear of failure. 

“For many people, a state of readiness might mean or consist of excessive planning. I know plenty of women, including myself, who feel that they need to have all their ducks not just in a row, but neatly in a row before they are ready to take the next step, whether that is applying for a job, promotion or starting a business.”

Moving forward

McAdam herself is highly accomplished, having won multiple awards for her work and even being ranked among the top 2pc of social scientists worldwide, but an aspect that many people outside of academia are not aware of is the layer of vulnerability that comes with putting yourself out there. 

“The process of submitting papers, presenting at conferences and applying for grants can involve tough reviews and often harsh critiques,” McAdam explains, but in time you recognise the value of constructive feedback and improved critical thinking, she thinks. 

For McAdam, “it does not just take a village, it takes an ecosystem” to succeed.

“Surrounding yourself with like-minded people, your tribe, is great for building your self-efficacy, in other words that ‘can-do attitude’. If you are surrounded by people who are doing fantastic things this will inspire you to do fantastic things.” 

Looking to the future, McAdam anticipates “entrepreneurial mindsets” regardless of career path will be more critical than ever. 

Her own journey, which was greatly impacted by early childhood experiences and positive academic exploration, has been deeply personal and she looks forward to continuing to make a “meaningful difference in the entrepreneurial landscape” with the emphasis “particularly for women”.

InvestHer Summit takes place in the Dublin Royal Convention Centre from 19 to 21 June 2024. Book your tickets to attend now.

Laura Varley
By Laura Varley

Laura Varley is a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic. She has a background in technology PR and journalism and is borderline obsessed with film and television, the theatre, Marvel and Mayo GAA. She is currently trying to learn how to knit.

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