Updated 21 April 22
In 2019, only 9% of the total amount of pounds invested into UK startups was given to female-founded businesses.
Whilst it’s been a hot topic for a few years now, and one that continues to receive plenty of coverage, the progress of changing the gender imbalance across our industry continues to be slow. A recent study by Beauhurst shows Scotland are leading the table having the highest proportion of companies in the UK with a female founder at 33%, if you look at female ‘only’ founder(s) that number drops to 24%.
So why is there such a huge imbalance? We asked 4 influential figures within the industry their opinions on how we can address this and encourage more female representation across founding teams and the industry in general.
Naomi Timperley, Cofounder of Tech North Advocates and Head of Growth Programmes at rradar
We need to tell our stories, the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s be honest with each other and tell it how it really is; it’s not easy, it takes hard work and determination, but it can bring so many rewards and opportunities. Having role models, real ones, that share their experiences are vital for getting more women in the tech startup industry.
Some of my tips for female founders;
- Get networking, surround yourself with great people and seek to make good connections (use your listening skills).
- Learn from others, from your mistakes. Keep learning.
- Be part of the tech ecosystem in your area.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Don’t be scared to fail.
- Get a mentor. Mentoring is really powerful and it holds you accountable and challenges you.
- Collaborate, see how you can work with others.
- Be tenacious.
- Be agile and bootstrap.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment.
- Know your market and your customers.
Daisy Stapley-Bunten, Founder and former editor of Startups Magazine
To balance the gender scales in tech startups I believe the solution is threefold: education, inspiration and investment. Firstly, while the percentage of female graduates with core STEM degrees is steadily growing, the split is still just 26% (STEM Women), and within the STEM workforce this split is just 22% - so while we are experiencing positive growth here, more students need to be encouraged into STEM subjects early on to continue this.
Secondly, we need to inspire both students and working professionals with strong female role models in the tech startup industry – but also with the opportunities within the industry for innovation and success, and also the benefits of setting up or working in a startup – the space to play with and create positive workspace cultures, cultivate engaged teams and develop innovative solutions and products which solve real-world problems.
My proposed third area to investigate is investment. According to the British Business Bank’s ‘UK VC & Female Founders Report’, all-female founder teams receive less than 1p per pound of VC investment, mixed-gender founder teams get 10p – while all-male founder teams get 89p. Provoking more feeling of injustice is the fact that for all-female teams to reach even 10% of all deals that UK VCs make will take more than 25 years (until 2045). To rectify this, not only do we need to encourage – or rather demand – that VCs are at least taking more meetings with all-female founder teams and not discriminating based on gender, but also that more women are encouraged into the VC-space, to get more women investing in women. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but just a few approaches for how we can encourage more women into the tech startup ecosystem and get those startups invested in.
Flavia Richardson, Vice President at Silicon Valley Bank
We are operating in an ecosystem where the vast majority of investors are men, it means that from the very start we have to overcome personal biases and experiences.
It is, of course, a lot more complicated, as most investors look for confident, potentially experienced entrepreneurs with skill sets skewed in favour of technical expertise. Women in the UK and Europe alike are less likely to have leadership or the technical expertise required, mainly due to the educational system which channels girls to different pathways. That is not to say that we do not have equally skilled and experienced women entrepreneurs. We certainly have them but in fewer numbers.
As investors and ecosystem stakeholders, it is our duty to design initiatives and programmes which enable us to eliminate biases and to help level the playing field for men and women entrepreneurs. We are at the beginning of that journey, and we should be thankful for Diversity VC and many other organisations who have done the research to support us understand the extent of the situation.
Olivia Greenberg, Chief Growth Officer at NOVA
It’s a sad fact there is a lack of women studying STEM subjects at a young age. As a result, fewer women have the engineering skills to get their own startup off the ground in the first place. Lacking the technical know-how can be a big deterrent for women to found technology startups. Furthermore, studies have shown that feelings of self-doubt, or imposter syndrome, impact the actions of women more than men.
There are a lot of really positive initiatives that encourage more women and girls to get into tech, such as government-led programmes to promote STEM subjects, and independent programmes and communities including InnovateHer, Code First Girls and Women of Wearables. Which are all helping to address the imbalance by providing education, employment and community support initiatives across the tech sector.
We are also seeing more startup programmes, such as our own, where founders aren’t required to have the technical development skills required to self-code their startup idea. I’m confident that things are starting to move in the right direction, but in truth it’s likely to be several years before we see the true impact of the systemic change that’s happening to significantly impact the numbers across the industry.
I’d encourage female founders and women considering entering the industry to research and take advantage of the support networks available. And businesses already within the industry, whose own numbers may also reflect an imbalance, need to support these networks and programmes through attendance, sponsorship, promotion and knowledge sharing to help accelerate their success.
The insight and opinions above have offered us some understanding of the challenges and opportunities for change. As a company in the industry we acknowledge that we have a part to play too, last year 29% of our startup investments went to female founders, and 71% to male. This year we’re committing to close this gap. If you have any additional thoughts, advice or suggestions to help us achieve this then please share them in the comments below.