The Female Founders Forum launched in 2016 to address a key issue: why too few women-led businesses scale to the same economic levels as those reached by male-led counterparts.
The project was founded by the entrepreneurial think tank The Entrepreneurs Network and is backed by Barclays. It carries out research to shine a light on the barriers that women in the UK face when it comes to growing businesses to their potential. Natural HR’s COO, Sarah Dowzell, visited the House of Lords in December 2022 for the launch of the 2022 Female Founders Report – One in a Million. In this blog, we recap the events of the day and pick out some of the key findings from the report.
The Female Founders Forum surveyed women who founded successful, high-growth businesses, which are defined as companies which have raised at least £1m of equity finance.
Speakers at the launch included Baroness Anne Jenkin, Minister for Women Maria Cauldfield MP, Head of High Growth & Entrepreneurship at Barclays, Katherine Morgan and Aria Babu, Head of Policy at The Entrepreneurs Network and Head of the Female Founders Forum.
Addressing one of the key talking points from the findings, Aria Babu said: ‘The idea that there are, in 2022, couples that aren’t splitting their chores evenly, seems alien to me. But the data shows how naïve I am.’
The ‘chore gap’ and how it’s holding female founders back
This is in reference to the report revealing that 39% of women who work full-time in opposite-sex couples in the UK said that they split household chores evenly, while 38% said the woman does the majority of the housework. On the other hand, only 9% of men working full-time take the brunt of these responsibilities.
Given the growing scarcity and cost of childcare in the UK – the most expensive childcare system in the developed world, according to the Female Founders Forum – the outlook for aspirational, career-driven women is pessimistic. Women are disproportionately impacted by childcare responsibilities, and the childcare crisis this country currently finds itself in has already seen an increase in women leaving the workplace in comparison to previous years. Coupled with the disparity in the burden of household chores between genders, opportunities for female founders to scale their businesses are hindered.
Discrimination in fundraising
One of the key takeaways of the report is how disadvantaged women feel in relation to securing financing for their businesses. In fact, 72% of female founders believe it would have been easier to raise finance if they were a man. 59% went as far as to say they felt discriminated against due to their gender, which stands to reason given that only 16% of equity finance goes to companies with a female founder. This is up 1% from the previous year, but there’s still a long way to go.
Female Founders Forum member Hannah Feldman described her own experience of this, revealing how she was asked “on more than one occasion who was looking after my kids” while she attended meetings with a view to attracting investment to her company, Kidadl. “I struggled to imagine a male founder being asked [that question],” Feldman told The Times.
What is the outlook for female founders and women in leadership?
The UK has long been seen as an attractive setting for start-ups. It’s the top destination for venture capital in Europe, and London, alongside New York, is regarded as the second-best location on Earth to launch a new business, second only to Silicon Valley.
Despite this, in comparison to similarly-sized economies such as the USA, Switzerland and Canada, the UK is lagging behind in terms of its number of female entrepreneurs. In Switzerland, for instance, nearly half (47%) of entrepreneurs are female, as opposed to just 32% in the UK. But what can be done to address this?
The Female Founders Forum has laid out a set of recommendations for both government and founders alike. At a government level, the FFF is urging more recognition of the Investing in Women Code, with the aim of encouraging new signatories, sharing best practices and insights, all giving female entrepreneurs greater access to funding.
The childcare crisis should also be a focus for the government, while drop-off rates in science, technology and engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields among women, at all levels from school through to senior leadership, need to be addressed. Minister for Women, Maria Cauldfield MP said: “This government’s ambition is to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by half by 2030 – that is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for women, their families, for UK business and the country’s economy overall.”
The report’s recommendations for female founders and women in leadership themselves include:
- Reach out. Many of the founders that were interviewed felt that male entrepreneurs’ confidence allows them to ask for more favours. Female entrepreneurs should have the confidence to ask their networks for introductions to the people they need to meet.
- Proactively seek an even gender-split for household chores. Our culture automatically defaults to women taking on a greater share of household responsibilities. It takes proactive work to make sure that you don’t slip into a mother–as–default parent role, if you don’t want that.
- Take control of your brand. There are extra media opportunities available to female founders. Founders should clearly understand what story they want to tell about themselves and seek out opportunities that best serve their brand.
- Recognise your value. While there are disadvantages to being a female founder there are also clear advantages. Depending on the context of a founder’s business and character, she may be able to offer extra insight into her customers and employees. Female founders are proving to be incredibly successful at serving hitherto underserved markets. For example, FemTech is largely a new sector created by women for women and is growing year on year.
There’s much work to be done and a lot of challenges to navigate, but it’s great to see so many great people endeavouring to make change happen and we’re proud of Sarah for being a part of it. You can read the full 2022 Female Founders Report here.