Lisa Wang, Co-founder of SheWorx, is launching the collective in the UK and has been in London for a short period of time doing market research and setting up her first event in the capital
Female founders go through myriad issues beyond the already demanding responsibilities of building a startup. A recent survey verified the unique challenges women face, from interview questions about marital status and family planning, unwanted sexual advances, lack of trust in their leadership capabilities, to derogatory comments and lack of eye contact from male investors or colleagues.
Time and again, women have been told things will change. “Just give it time. Not yet, but soon. When women get the right education, the right training, the right work experience, and the right aspirations—to succeed at the highest levels of business—then we’ll see parity.” Yet on average, only 18% of VC-backed companies have a female founder, and less than 3% have a female CEO.
Without the right support networks, the entrepreneurial journey, especially for women, can be incredibly lonely; however, while we can’t ignore the issues, creating parity in the startup ecosystem cannot be achieved by just sitting around and discussing them. The last thing we have time for is yet another disorganised happy hour meetup.
We founded SheWorx because we realised the only way to move forward was to take action: to learn the right skillsets, to acquire the right mindsets, and to meet the investors, mentors, and other serious female entrepreneurs who could push us and our companies to the next level. With an unwavering mission to help other women build successful businesses, SheWorx has grown to a global community of over 1,000 women in New York, Singapore, Tel Aviv, and now London.
While the structure and mission of SheWorx remains the same around the world, unsurprisingly, each local ecosystem presents a unique set of challenges for women. As a New Yorker arriving in London two weeks ago, a few things have stood out to me:
The diversity discussion is overdone.
“When I use the word ‘diversity’ people automatically put their guard up,” one investor recently told me. It’s true, diversity in tech is a hot topic especially in a city as international as London. Events abound that address questions like, What is it like to be a minority in tech? How egregious is the gender pay gap? Can women really have it all? The truth is, anyone coming to a diversity event already cares about it, and these are not the people we need to educate. What’s more effective? Shifting the conversation away from diversity and towards empowerment and action. What have women and minorities achieved? Who is doing it right and how can we learn from them? Who are our role models? How can we celebrate the successes and how can we continue to become stronger, better entrepreneurs? These are the questions we should be asking.
Investors tend to be more conservative.
The first week I arrived, I was in a roomful of investors discussing the state of seed funding in London. As one investor described an early stage company she was vetting out – the company had a couple hundred users, a few months of notable traction, and was tackling a clearly underserved market – another nodded along thoughtfully until the other finished, and without hesitation asked, “What is their exit strategy?” Puzzled, I wondered why it was realistic to even ask about an exit strategy at this stage. They get acquired in five years? In ten years? Honestly, who knows?
In Silicon Valley, they ask about the team, the potential. “Bet on the jockey, not the horse,” they say as they look for your hockey stick curve. No monetisation? No problem. Show me your users love you. In New York, founders receive markedly more questions on their business model and financials. Are your margins realistic? In London, investors seem to be focusing too much energy asking for a carefully laid out plan for a future that cannot feasibly or realistically be laid out. What is your exit strategy?
Risk aversion has led to a dearth of female founders.
There are three stages people go through when transitioning into entrepreneurship:
- Stage one: Intrapraneur with an idea. “I’m working at a large company, and I have an idea for a startup, but I don’t really know how to get started or if I’m ready.”
- Stage two: Early stage entrepreneur without a tangible MVP. “I’ve made the leap from my steady job, and I’m still testing out my idea.”
- Stage three: Fully-fledged founder. “I’m full-time building my company, and am either actively fundraising or expecting to in the near future”
In London, I’ve found there are significantly more women in stage one. Why? An admitted tendency towards risk aversion, a broken pipeline that hasn’t historically encouraged girls to pursue interests in STEM, and not enough celebrated local role models. As one female entrepreneur noted, “It’s funny – In London, tech founders are not held in the same esteem as they are in the US.”
Even with these points in mind, it is clear that London is a city brimming with potential to become one of the strongest startup ecosystems in the world. Thus, the purpose of pointing out these observations is to take a hard look at areas of improvement so we can ultimately become a stronger global community together that encourages more passionate founders – regardless of gender, race, sexuality – to pursue their dreams.
Lisa Wang and Yin Lin are the Co-Founders of SheWorx, a global collective of 1000+ ambitious female entrepreneurs redefining leadership. On Wednesday June 15th, 6:30pm, the SheWorx100 Fundraising Summit will bring together 100 UK female entrepreneurs and 15 leading VCs and accelerators from Passion Capital, Balderton Capital, MMC Ventures, Spring Ventures, Force Over Mass Capital, Playfair Capital, Dawn Capital, Index Ventures, Connect Ventures, Columbia Lake Partners, Forward Partners Flight Ventures, LocalGlobe, Techstars, Founders Factory, and 500 Startups. The SheWorx100 is a dynamic and unconventional evening conference focusing on building meaningful relationships between mission-driven entrepreneurs and investors. RSVP for SheWorx100 and build the relationships that will drive your startup to the next level. Men and women are welcome.