Equality advocate and founder of Australian startup Cloudpeeps Kate Kendall has called for more demonstrable action by companies discussing the inequality of female founders in the tech space, saying they should “question their role in leading the conversation” if releasing a report without any associated recommendations.
Kendall’s comments come as a survey of 3000 global entrepreneurs, released today by 99Designs, reveals 28% of the men polled had raised at least $100,000 compared to 15% of women polled. This isn’t any new revelation, however, with a Harvard Business Review survey finding similar results, and a report from Fortune revealing female founders received just 2% of venture capital dollars in 2017.
“I wouldn’t use this survey data to extrapolate general trends in the tech sector to comment about women entrepreneurs not receiving enough funding. It’s not a conversation of productivity and positivity, and using a one-dimensional data point it isn’t healthy or helpful for creating change,” Kendall says.
Kendall says female business owners in surveys like this can often be small business owners or sole traders whose businesses may not be suitable for venture capital funding, and indeed the statistics from the report reflect that, with 68% of women surveyed running home-based businesses and 49% running sole proprietorships.
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The CloudPeeps founder is calling for more in-depth statistical analysis of the number of female startup founders and the amount of funding they are receiving, compared to the amount received by male founders. She says statistics such as the widely-touted 26% of VC backed Aussie companies with female founders can often only show the number of female founders being backed, rather than the actual investment amount they receive in comparison to male founders.
“We see so many articles about women not getting enough funding, and no new survey or report is going to make that change,” she says.
If 99Designs is looking to kick-off a conversation about a lack of funding for women, Kendall is calling for accountability on the company’s behalf.
“Are they coming up with funding initiatives for female entrepreneurs or launching new opportunities for their female creators? If they are not coming up with recommendations, they should question their role in leading the conversation,” she says.
“The Australian community needs to take these conversations one step further — discussing solutions instead of focusing on the problems, and celebrating progress when it happens.”
In a statement to StartupSmart, 99Designs chief executive Patrick Llewellyn defended the company’s position on female entrepreneurship and outlined the efforts the company was undertaking to promote women in business.
“As a global company, we feel it is our responsibility to represent our global community and support equality across the globe. That is why we felt passionate about joining the conversation on International Women’s Day to ‘press for progress’,” he said.
“To support IWD, we designed a campaign under a rallying cry of ‘Women in Business: The March Goes On’. Part of this campaign included a global survey intended to highlight inequalities between female and male entrepreneurs and using the global reach we have as a company to communicate them. While some of the survey results may be ‘old news’, we felt it important to continue the drumbeat message.”
The company also invited female entrepreneurs to its global offices and sponsored a meetup event for the Melbourne ‘Ladies that UX’ group and an event in Berlin with The Female Founders Book.
“We know International Women’s Day is just one day. We are proud to support female entrepreneurs all year round. Every month, we donate design services to organisations making significant social impact. Most of those organisations are founded by women,” Llewellyn said.
“We have donated our office space, our employees’ time and our dollars to female-led organisations like the Australia-based charity, The Global Women’s Project, and Super Stars Literacy in the US.”
In a blog post on the 99Designs website, the company outlined the results of the survey but also profiled a number of “remarkable female entrepreneur friends and clients” about what it means for them to be a women in business, and what advice they have for other female entrepreneurs.
The design startup also compiled this advice into a YouTube video, and encouraged female entrepreneurs to “go out into the world, start that business and make that dream of yours a reality”.
Female entrepreneurs exposed to different language from venture capitalists
One of the issues exposed by the 2017 Harvard Business Review survey was how the nature of questions asked of female founders by venture capitalists are starkly different to those asked to male founders. The report showed male founders were asked more questions about “hopes, achievements, advancement, and ideals”, while female founders were asked more about “safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance”.
Monica Wulff, founder of Startup Muster and former ABS analyst, believes female founders shouldn’t take that sort of line of questioning from investors. Instead, she’s calling for female entrepreneurs to “stick to your message” when pitching.
“Stick to your message. You know what an investor wants to hear, so whatever gets thrown at you, brush it off and focus on the core message of your brand and what they should be asking you about,” she told StartupSmart.
“Know what questions need to be answered and what ones need to be deflected. But most importantly, grill them as much as they grill you. The VC-startup engagement is a relationship, and sometimes there can be a power shift because money is involved.
“You’re interviewing them as well.”
Speaking to the findings about the amount of funding being received by female entrepreneurs, Wulff thinks the Australian ecosystem is “tracking above average” and praises the number of female-focused programs that exist locally such as SheStarts and Head over Heels.
But she calls the issue “surmountable” and believes its an opportunity for investors to actively diversify their portfolios and encourage more women to seek investment, across broader industries.
“I would love to see more of a focus on women who are doing STEM startups. Fashion and makeup and beauty is great, but just because we’re women, we don’t only do startups in that vertical. I want to see more women-led startups from places like medtech, big data, and IoT,” she says.
*This article was updated on March 8 at 2.20 PM to include a longer statement from Patrick Llewellyn.