Shattering the Glass Conversation

From the Women’s March to #MeToo, women are making headlines and making change -- while racking up mentions in the digital conversation. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the conversations taking place around female entrepreneurship. It’s tempting to equate more conversation with forward momentum, equality and progress. But, do we really know what is being said – and by whom – about women across the country shattering glass ceilings, leaning in and leading businesses?

Here's what we've learned:

  • Men tend to talk about men. More of the conversation around male entrepreneurs was from men, suggesting a "gap" where men could be spotlighting female accomplishments more often.
  • Conversation volume is becoming more balanced, but this is largely driven by #MeToo. In terms of pure volume, male entrepreneurs have historically been discussed more via social media until just recently. However, much of the recent discussion involving women is around sexual harassment, not the actual accomplishments of these women entrepreneurs. 
  • Women are defined by ... being women. While men are defined by their accomplishments, conversations around women are very different. Our dataset was social media mentions of specific female entrepreneurs; we did not include the words "woman" or "women." And yet, these were the most commonly used words when discussing these leaders. 

Let's dig in to the data. Geben Communication embarked on a mission to understand how men and women entrepreneurs  are being talked about online. We began by identifying two like-sized groups of entrepreneurial men and women across various industries, then we analyzed historical data from online social media conversations and news coverage to distill out some top trends and takeaways.

Men are talking about men


Mentions of male entrepreneurs
(by gender)


Mentions of female entrepreneurs
(by gender)

67 vs 33.png
54 vs 46.png

Men tend to talk more about other men, making up 67% of total online mentions of male entrepreneurs, compared to 33% of the male entrepreneur mentions coming from women. While women also tend to talk about women more, the conversation is much more balanced, with women accounting for 54% of total online mentions of women entrepreneurs and men filling out the remaining 46%.

Conversation volume is "evening out" ... but with a caveat

Even Out.png

Historical analysis shows that male entrepreneurs were almost always discussed more than female entrepreneurs. Even ignoring the mid-year spike, it’s clear that men held more share of the conversation than women. However, this ratio has shifted in recent months, with a fairly even split emerging between conversation around male and female entrepreneurs.

Women are being defined by being women 


When searching the names of female entrepreneurs without including the terms “women” or “woman,” we uncovered that the conversations happening around these accomplished leaders continues to call out the fact that they are women. Men, on the other hand, are largely referenced in terms of their accomplishments or the work they are doing alongside their companies.

Based on this observation, as well as the proliferation of the #MeToo movement, we can see that while attention on entrepreneurial women is steadily increasing, these conversations are still largely bypassing acknowledgement of the valuable work they are doing and the companies they have founded. Instead, the conversations remain focused on current social issues and praise or criticism of the female entrepreneurs themselves.

    When college students discuss entrepreneurs, they focus on males, as well.

    Conventional thinking suggests that younger generations will continue to become increasingly aware of gender issues and invested in fighting for equality. While this may be true, it’s not necessarily playing out that way in the current online conversation happening around entrepreneurs.

    College Conversation.png

    Students made up 11% of the conversation around male entrepreneurs, and just 6% of the conversation around female entrepreneurs.

    This disparity raises some questions:

    • Are students are more likely to study male entrepreneurs as they go through business classes or courses in other fields of study?
    • Are professors referencing male entrepreneurs more often than female in the classroom?

    It’s possible that this data aligns with the leaders students hope to emulate. Considering the finding that women are discussed less in the lens of their accomplishments, it’s also possible that they are being overlooked as examples of strong leadership within the curriculum.

    Moving the conversation forward

    The data offers valuable points of reference and insights into what’s going on in the entrepreneurial conversation. However, it’s just a set of numbers unless people are ready and willing to step up and take action.

    Where do we go from here? We have three key takeaways:

    1. Men need to do more to advocate for women 

    Not only do we need men to continue advocating for women in the workplace, but outside the workplace as well – online and offline. The recent launch of the #MentorHer campaign is an outstanding example of a group pushing men to step up and mentor women.

    2. We need to encourage discussion of women’s accomplishments

    While the #MeToo movement is vital to our progress as a society, it also reveals an unfortunate truth. The spike in conversation was not the result of celebrating – or even acknowledging – the entrepreneurial accomplishments of women. The only way the volume of female-focused entrepreneurial conversation could match the male volume was through a dialogue centered around sexual harassment.

    3. We must reach students with this messaging

    Closing the disparity gap in conversation must involve the next generation of entrepreneurs and thinkers. This will require reevaluating the examples students are presented with throughout their schooling, as these are the models they will reference as examples of successful entrepreneurs in their minds. College and universities must begin integrating more equitable numbers of case studies focusing on how successful women launched their businesses. In addition, integrating more female speakers at school functions will reinforce the real-world accomplishments of these entrepreneurs.

    Geben's Take: The data doesn’t lie. A shift is happening, but now is the time to consider what it really means and how we can take action to support the right conversations about female entrepreneurship. In order to do so, we must continue looking at what is being said, who is driving the conversation, and perhaps most importantly, how we can all play a role in helping direct the focus to what really matters: the accomplishments and contributions of women entrepreneurs, not just their gender.

    Methodology: Geben Communication began by identifying two like-sized groups of entrepreneurial men and women across various industries, then we analyzed historical data from online social media conversations and news coverage to distill out some top trends and takeaways. To learn more about Geben's data and insights capabilities, visit