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Is Sexism Stifling Startups?

According to a new study, almost half of startups believe there is a gender bias problem, with 4 in 10 female founders frequently encountering discrimination. The Unilever Foundry, a platform for start-ups and innovators, surveyed 685 founders from global startups to discover 39% of female founders frequently encountered sexism. Previous research has shown that female entrepreneurs are fighting an unconscious bias when it comes to the pitching room.

"There is a massive disparity between the funding that men get and the funding that women get.

Men get more deals, they get more cash, and women get fewer deals and less money. There’s a gender bias at pitching, and there’s also a lack of women at venture capital firms." – Sophie Javris, Female Founders Forum

This is not an issue confined to the UK; a report by Democratic staffers of the Senate small business and entrepreneurship committee found that although women owned 30% of US businesses, for every dollar of small business loans they received, another $23 went to men. A survey by American Express Open found that female-owned businesses employ 9 million people and generate $1.6tn a year in revenue. With female lead business having such an impact on the economy, a lack of funding could be having a detrimental effect on the economy. According to The Federation of Small Businesses, Britain is missing out on more than 1.2 million new enterprises. With the right financial support, Deloitte estimate that assistance for female founders could provide a £100 billion boost to the economy over the next 10 years.

Research conducted by Harvard Business School, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the MIT Sloan School of Management, uncovered that backers of startup companies would rather invest their money with attractive men over any women, even with identical pitch proposals.

"Our paper provides concrete proof that gender discrimination exists in the context of entrepreneurial pitching," - Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School

The Unilever Foundry has partnered with UN Women to launch the Global Innovation Coalition for Change, a collective of 22 partners looking to advance gender equality, who have proposed the following steps:

  • acknowledge the issue: both men and women desire change and it is important to encourage and develop the conversation;
  • be transparent about gender equality by publishing pay gap statistics;
  • revisit and re-define discrimination: women remain wary of identifying their experiences of gender bias as discrimination, even when it impacts their ability to do their job;
  • provide accessible role models by establishing mentoring programmes for women in start-ups;
  • create programmes across disciplines and sectors to help women, in particular, feel confident across all areas of a business, in any sector;
  • create training programmes for younger people, who typically experience gender bias to an even greater degree.

You'll often find lawyers and business professionals at the forefront of the fight for equality in employment and human rights across the world. Find out how a legal qualification or business degree can help you make a difference.