Numbers don’t lie. 3% of global venture capital funding goes to women. In Sweden that number dwindles to just over 1%. And this funding goes almost exclusively to white women. How can we proudly position ourselves as frontrunners of innovation and entrepreneurship, while we still shut out women from accessing the capital they need to build and scale - more equitable and inclusive innovations? The innovation and entrepreneurship sector is stuck in a narrative that will stop us from reaching a more sustainable and equal world, while there is so much untapped potential in female-led social enterprises, or non-traditional founders for that matter.
So what can be done to close the bridge the gap between founders off the beaten path, and the capital that we know is out there?
In March, Reach for Change and Danske Bank Sweden kicked off our first #partneringforchange dialogue on social innovation and gender equality with an inspirational keynote by author and journalist Katrine Marcal.
Her intro was filled with astounding facts. Did you know that 80% of female companies are underfunded while 83% of European start-ups are funded by men? Or that 99% of public procurement contracts go to men (public procurement makes up one fifth of global GDP). And what does it say about our innovation if 80% of consumer decisions are made by women, but 90% of tech is designed by men?
To look for tactics to turn these statistics around we gathered experts from a wide range of sectors such as entrepreneurship, big business, investment, and philanthropy, to troubleshoot ideas on how we can catalyse female-led social entrepreneurship and close the gender gap in the entrepreneurship field. This is what we learned:
You cannot underestimate the power of role models
Role models are crucial. You aspire to become what you see. The more we make female owners, investors and entrepreneurs visible, the more we will encourage next generations to see the potential and change the current status quo. Social norms and patterns are cemented at an early on, so we need to change patterns at an early age. We all have a responsibility to become more inclusive storytellers.
Let’s cast our net wider than the “tech unicorns”
Tech is an important lever of scale, and we all dream of the unicorns that can change the playing field. But can we take some lessons from social entrepreneurship, and from other sectors such as care, health and well-being - where female founders are more common? At the moment 80 % of female-led businesses with growth potential are underserved. Does it really make sense to let all that potential go to waste? How can we connect these low-tech sectors with tools, tactics and networks to scale? A compelling case can be made for encouraging new alliances where VC, public capital and philanthropy come together in order to create new complementing pipelines, mitigate risk, and promote new solutions to address critical social issues we have today. These alliances also play an important role in looking beyond the traditional founder.
Unconscious bias can be reprogrammed
Research shows that 7 out of 10 jobs are found via networks and contacts. And it’s very common that our network contains like-minded people. If we want a more equal ecosystem, we need to be aware that we all carry unconscious biases. If we keep surrounding ourselves with the same type of people, we won't be able to see new opportunities and hear about new types of ideas. To meet this challenge it’s time to examine our own networks and preconceived notions. And what has once been learned, can also be re-learned.
Language matters, words matter. When not reaching female talent, we need to look under the hood and uncover the structures embedded in our society and ask ourselves why we do not reach those high potential female and minority led entrepreneurs? Are we speaking the right language to attract them? Are we asking the same questions to female and male led entrepreneurs? By changing the way we reach out, how we look and talk to the entrepreneurs, we can create a diverse and exciting pipeline.
Reach for Change has had to change the words that we use to be able to reach groups that we were not reaching before. This does not mean focus groups, this means embedding diverse cultures, backgrounds and experiences into our teams, so that we can learn from each other, and develop our language and open our eyes to new customer groups, creators and founders.
We need systemic cures - not short term Band-Aids
In many ways, we are stuck in a system that shuts women out. Putting a Band-Aid on a broken system won’t last for very long. We need new norms and a new logic. In order to make this happen we all have to come together in our fields to change the system and the way of operating - what do we teach at University? What behaviours do we encourage in early ages of girls? What regulations do we follow? Public authorities also have a key role in allocating funding for research so that we can make informed decisions, in educating the teachers who form our students, and in working with legislators. We all have a responsibility to work with long term initiatives instead of short term fixes.
Sofia BreitholtzReach for Change CEO
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