The majority of females who founded their own business have faced sexual harassment while looking to secure business funding, according to a poll commissioned by The Independent.
Two-thirds of female entrepreneurs said they had ‘certainly’ been subjected to sexist behaviour, while 85% of 100 female respondents said they had either ‘definitely or probably’ experienced sexism during their business journey.
A male-dominated business world
Farah Kabir, the founder of sexual wellness company HANX, told The Independent that during her business’ early stages that she had faced remarks such as:
“This is a man’s job; This is a male-dominated industry; What do you little girls want? It’s a man’s world; Sexual pleasure is about men; The sex tech industry belongs to men.”
“Never have I felt this bias more. As a woman from a Bangladeshi Muslim background, I find myself challenging preconceptions every single day.”
Only a small portion (6%) of CEOs in the FTSE 250 are currently women, while there are reportedly as many male CEOs with the name ‘John’ as there are female CEOs, illustrating a substantial gender funding gap.
In 2022, it was reported that companies founded by women received below 1% of overall capital invested in European startups. Although this year has seen some growth, with total capital at 1.6%, the figures indicate there is still a long way to go.
Women have also spoken of the change in reception at times, when they have been accompanied in the boardroom by male colleagues. With Farah Kabir commenting:
“On the few occasions I’ve been accompanied by a male advisor, the difference in their attitude towards HANX has been palpable.
“In 2023, we shouldn’t need a man on our side of the table to get investors on board.”
While CEO of Creative Nature Superfoods, Julianne Ponan, shares a similar experience:
“When fundraising, I was told to bring my white male colleague to meetings to come across ‘stronger in a pitch’.”
Julia Elliott Brown, CEO of Enter The Arena, who conducted the research on behalf of The Independent, said:
“Our industry talks a good game about embracing diversity, empowering women, and supporting those who have founded their own businesses, but this means nothing if women don’t even feel safe to walk into a pitch without being confronted with sexism.”
Record rise in female-founded companies
Despite the clear need for progress, there has been a positive breakthrough in female founders, with news earlier this year revealing a record rise in the number of companies launched by women during 2022.
Alison Rose, who led the research under the Rose Review, said the rise was “a testament to the resilience and entrepreneurialism of female founders”, marking the importance of increasing the scale of support available to female entrepreneurs.
Just under 200 financial services institutions have so far pledged to enhance opportunities for female leaders as part of the Review, by signing the Investing in Women Code, a policy committed to improving female entrepreneurs’ access to tools, resources, and finance.
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