By Arwen Smit, Head of Growth at Rebel Minds
It’s 2016 and women are still infamously underrepresented in tech. According to the Wall Street Journal, LinkedIn is leading with a meager 30% of women in leadership positions. However, with the rise of innovative business models, technological change and cultural shifts, a new demographic is thriving: female founders.
Sometimes the reality of being a female founder can be ugly. Punches are being thrown at your head such as “it’s so nice when a housewife has an idea” and “can’t your husband just give you a loan?” (I am not kidding, these quotes appeared in Forbes). I think we can universally agree that this should change. Here comes the good news, it is.
It has been argued that in order to shift this paradigm we all need to improve in four categories: Education, Advocacy, Capital and Association. Firstly, we need to fill the pipeline (Education), then we need to focus on shifting paradigms and enabling change (Advocacy), next we need to follow up with investments (Capital), and lastly we need to reinforce this loop through networking and mentorship (Association).
1 | Education: fill the pipeline through nurturing interest and encouraging transparency.
There are numerous initiatives focused on getting more women involved in tech. Learning to code has never been easier with programs such as Mums in Technology (a child-friendly coding school), General Assembly and CodeAcademy.
These newly acquired skills are nurtured through communities. New blogs are popping up every day (e.g. Female Entrepreneurs Institute, Women 2.0 and Dot.Everyone), championing inclusion of, well, everyone.
Educating the market on the status quo through transparent policies and data is an integral part of fueling these initiatives.
2 | Advocacy: multinationals and influencers help shift paradigms.
Companies such as Google are weighing in to change the ecosystem. In Tel Aviv and London, Google Campus runs the world’s first baby friendly startup school: Campus for Moms. It’s not just the tech industry that is contributing, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Education First support Code First: Girls, which develops, nurtures, and advocates coding skills for girls.
Recently, industry leading conferences such as the WebSummit joined the conversation. The Commitment to Change initiative invited 10,000 female leaders to the annual conference in Lisbon for free. It was recognized that for women to be part of the conversation, they would need to physically be there in the first place. These initiatives are further supported through the Google travel grant which reimburses travel and accommodation costs for selected conferences.
3 | Capital: money talks louder than words as more funds flow to female founders.
In 2015, TechCrunch announced that the first female-led company, Houzz, joined the unicorn club. This is an increase from 0% to 2.4% in comparison to 2014. Yes, on the last list there were no female CEOs. The percentage of unicorn companies with female co-founders also increased (from 5% to 10%) and including the likes of EventBrite, The Honest Company, CloudFare and FanDuel.
The investor landscape is also changing. More than one in four angel investors are now women and more than one in four angel-backed companies are women-led, a respective 12.3% and 8.8% CAGR over the last 10 years. Venture capitalists such as BBG Ventures and the Female Founder Fund exclusively invest in women-led technology companies. Also, female founders are better represented in later fundraising stages. CrunchBase data shows there was a strong increase in the representation of female founders raising Series A capital for their startups, from 10% in 2014 to 14% in 2015.
4 | Associations: pay it forward from networking to mentoring.
Active communities are necessary to reinforce the rise of female founders, providing support, networking opportunities and advice.
Associations can take a variety of form, such as MeetUps (e.g. Women who code and London Female Founders Group), female founder office hours (e.g. Ignite100), female-only mentoring programs (e.g. Angel Academy), events (e.g. Girls in Tech UK and Blooming Founders) or more exclusive networks (e.g. Ada’s List).
If you are a women in tech who dreams of building a big company, now is the time.
So, what is necessary to tip the scales? Women need to dream bigger. Women tend to pitch smaller than men do and tend to rely more on number than the big vision. Also, ask for more. As Geri Stengall from Forbes observed, “it’s not just about asking for money, but also for introductions.”
Women-owned/led firms now account for 13% of middle-market firms (companies with revenues between $10 million and $1 billion). While the number of middle-market firms grew by 4% between 2008 and 2014, the number of women-owned/led firms increased by 32%.
While we have a long way to go and I believe we will get there. A crowd sourced list with all resources for female founders would be a good start. If you are interested in contributing please let us know in the comments. Good luck to all aspirational founders!
Arwen Smit started in the tech industry working for companies such as Facebook and Google. She now works at the tech startup Rebel Minds as Head of Growth. Rebel Minds conceptualises, designs, and builds bespoke websites, apps, and software. She also advises startups as a Mentor at Virgin StartUp, and is Supervisory Board Member at AIESEC International.
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