Shattering the second glass ceiling faced by female-led businesses - Jill Arnold

Championing equal rights is a topic that has dominated column inches for decades. While progress has been made, economies worldwide have still yet to fully appreciate and harness the significant potential of diverse businesses.
Jill Arnold, Head of SIS VenturesJill Arnold, Head of SIS Ventures
Jill Arnold, Head of SIS Ventures

The 2019 Rose Review highlighted that one in three business start-ups was founded by a woman. This difference equates to one million fewer female founders than their male counterparts. Closing this gap would account for four years of economic growth, potentially adding £250 billion in GVA to the UK economy.

So, in a diverse and modern society, why are we not seeing more entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups? Put simply, in the case of gender, seeking investment and growth capital is often described as the second glass ceiling for many women entrepreneurs; creating an additional barrier.

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Stereotypically, the investment industry has been dominated by men. Recognising this imbalance, the sector is taking steps to become more diverse across its committees, boards, and fund managers, with the aim of creating a more accessible industry reflecting the world we live in. However, there is more we can do to create an environment which supports and nurtures female-led businesses.

Turning the tide on the use of male-dominant language on pitch panels is one step we can take to make panels more accessible and less intimidating. This isn’t about dumbing down: this is about encouraging all entrepreneurs to shine and maximise their potential by asking founders (irrespective of gender) to tell their stories and share what makes them different – rather than asking about investor decks and USPs.

Women are naturally drawn to addressing societal issues and are often at the helm of tech-driven, mission-led businesses. Shireen Davies at SOLASTA Bio, and Jo Halliday, the founder of Talking Medicines, are fantastic examples of female-led scale-ups creating a positive impact on society.

But how do we encourage more? Role models are so important; not just females who are CEOs of big corporates, but relatable individuals at various stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Converge, Scotland’s largest company creation programme for the University sector (for which we are a strategic partner), provide mentoring and networking support via their alumni, elevating innovative spinouts into viable and essential businesses. Its recent Conversations for the Curious event series tapped into the issues facing female founders – providing a ‘safe’ forum for women to collaborate, share and grow. The Stewart Review will also provide insightful recommendations to help women overcome the barriers faced in business and entrepreneurship.

As we start to see more organisations and investment firms welcoming more female founders into the fold, our ways of working will adapt, eliminating the stereotypes and “rules” that have gone before.

In the investment community, change is beginning to take shape with more organisations making public commitments about their portfolio goals. Pragmatically we must recognise that we can’t change things overnight. But we are seeing the sprouts of change; organisations (including our own) are prioritising diversity across the organisation all the way to the board.

We are all on a journey to be more inclusive, and it is heartening to see others, especially in the investment community, following a similar path.

Jill Arnold, Head of SIS Ventures

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