Jim Duffy: How to help female founders get fair treatment

I recently interviewed a woman who was running a new start-up on her capacity to be 'all in' as running a new start business is all-encompassing.

Workers must get fair treatment writes Jim Duffy

I rather smugly pointed out that I had been up since 6am and hadn’t left my laptop since then, as I was so busy. I further added that I would be here until 7pm, still tapping away on the keys.

The female start-up owner then stated with some conviction, “I’ve also been up since 6am, I am still here working in a serviced office space and I have dealt with two children under five in the meantime.” How silly did I feel? But I was delighted with her answer as with that attitude she has an improved chance of making it in startupland. But, why is there bias or perceived bias there and is it harder for female founders or female entrepreneurs to get ahead? I started to look around and to be frank the evidence is all plain to see and paints a picture. Babson College, the number 1 for entrepreneurship in the USA consistently, conducted a study on venture funding and whether or not females were getting an equal slice of the cake.

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Well, how about this for a statistic! “For the ten-year period from 1988 to 1998, women-led businesses received only 3.5 per cent of the total venture capital invested in private companies.”

It would appear that historically, startupland favours the boys and while the situation is improving, there is still a bias that prevents female founders or teams with females in them from getting ahead. And with all the news coming out of Silicon Valley around sexual harassment, we begin to see what has been happening.

Only last month, it became clear that even those running programmes in startupland were not averse to using their positions of power – as men in, well, not a nice way. 500 Startups is a big USA business acceleration vehicle that has had lots of press. It appears to have been very successful and I have used video footage from it in talks I have done while at Entrepreneurial Spark. Many founders and start-ups worked hard to get on to the programme led by Dave McClure. He has been idolised by many for the work he does at 500 Startups. But he has fallen from grace as he has been outed as not being a very nice chap when it came to females around him on his programmes. In his own words, “I made advances towards multiple women in work-related situations, where it was clearly inappropriate… I put people in compromising and inappropriate situations.” He has since been removed from running 500 Startups. Quite right too.

So, what is to be done to change this and indeed make sure it doesn’t continue to manifest itself in startupland? Especially as more and more female-led businesses and those with females in the leadership teams emerge. Well, the answer is that it will not happen overnight. As the complexion of angel syndicates and VC funds changes to include more females, then this will help. But it should not need more females as investors to have more females making it in startupland. What it needs is us blokes to stop thinking like blokes and stereotyping females as less capable than men. Couples have families,not women. I hear it all the time – she’s about to start a family or she’s having a baby. What we mean to say is they are starting a family and they are having a baby, him and her or indeed her and her.

As I interview many new founders over the next few months, I will be even more aware of any gender bias that goes through my head. I consider myself fair-minded and to be honest gender does not really figure in my conscious thoughts when making decisions on female founders. But it may be in the sub-conscious that all us blokes need to watch out for. Don’t let the old boys networks and golf club anachronistic thinking colour your judgments.

It’s 2017 and it’s time to encourage more female founders into startupland and make sure they get a level playing field.

l Jim Duffy is co-founder of The Moonshot Academy and author of Create Special