Diversity in startups is better, but still too far gone
In our pursuit of more women at the top, we still have a long way to go. Despite numerous studies showing that mixed teams perform better. In the world of startups and funders, we are also far from there. For example, over the past twelve years, some ninety percent of the growth money spent in the Netherlands went to startups with only men at the helm. Fundright wants to improve that situation, NOM wants to help.
First, a startling statistic. Of all the companies that NOM helped obtain a loan or equity capital, 89 percent have a board composed entirely of men. ''That percentage came as quite a shock,'' says NOM director Dina Boonstra. ''When I started my career 40 years ago, I already noticed the shortage of women in senior positions. And now, in the investment world, the problem is still there. We have to do something about it.''
The figure raises several questions. Are there too few capable women entrepreneurs? Are women less likely to knock on the door of financiers? Or does it have something to do with the bias of investment managers? And perhaps most importantly, how bad is the figure really?
Fishing in half a pond
''I don't want to talk about a problem. It's a missed opportunity,'' says Ellen Ploeger. She is coordinator of Flinc, part of NOM that helps innovative entrepreneurs get funding. ''Diversity makes teams better. It's as simple as that. Good for innovation power. Investors are now essentially fishing in half a pond, namely the male part. The accessibility to these funds is not optimal for founders of a different gender or background.''
Dina Boonstra adds. ,,If you were to ask me whether we would benefit economically if there were more women in senior positions in companies, I would say yes! More generally, I'm all about diversity. Other cultures are just as important, people with disabilities, people who think differently. Why? Because it makes you look at things differently and more broadly. And also because the diversity among your clients is also great. The other day I was visiting a company that makes products for women. And guess what? Only men in the most important positions. That's weird.''
It's not about giving women priority for funding. They just need to be given a fair chance. And they still often enough lack that. For various reasons. Pointing the finger is useless. Realizing that there is a challenge does help. Fundright wants to make parties aware. The fact that Founded in Groningen and Founded in Friesland are participating is a sign that it works.
Dina Boonstra: "The whole ecosystem has a role to play. For example, girls should be introduced to entrepreneurship, to technology much earlier in life. This is a task for schools, which are often already aware of this. Companies could also put more emphasis on diversity in their HR policies. You can see that improving as well, but there is still more room for improvement.''
Trouble is that choosing male executives and entrepreneurs is usually not a conscious choice. So is not choosing women. Ellen Ploeger: ,,Everyone has prejudices, investment managers too. Women are softer, too risk-averse, you name it. Very subconsciously you have more in common with someone who looks like you. We should be more objective. Then you see that someone who is different can actually add something. It would be a big step if investors recognize that they too have unconscious prejudices.''
Point is, however, that many more "male" parties apply for funding than female or mixed. Ellen Ploeger: ,,You want to invest in a club you believe in, regardless of the gender of the founders. Positive discrimination is not the solution. Ensuring that more startups of a different persuasion apply is what we need to do. How? By shouting from the rooftops that it can be done, by using role models, by actively looking for promising startups, by inviting young entrepreneurs to contact us.''
The world is not a unitary world. Founders of startups don't have to look alike, either. Rather not. Inclusiveness and diversity are worth much more. Dina Boonstra: ,,That is why Fundright is such a good movement. It not only identifies the issue, but also comes up with concrete ideas to narrow the gap. We are happy to participate in that.''
TechLeap and 25 investment funds launched the movement Fundright in the summer of 2019. Their goal: to dramatically improve diversity within the startup ecosystem. Among other things, by looking more consciously at the gender distribution within the startups to which funding is provided. Meanwhile, all regional investment funds and lots of Venture Capitalists joined.