When we asked young people in the UK and France to name a female entrepreneurial role model whose values and ambitions aligned with their own, only 2% said they could. In Germany, this dropped even further to just 1%. The statistics speak for themselves - there is a chronic lack of female entrepreneurial role models in Europe. Sadly, this is also the case across the globe.
These figures are not just disappointing but damaging too, with profound implications for the type of future we want to build. Successful female role models do more than just inspire younger generations of females to become the business leaders of tomorrow - they are key to driving change within the industries in which they are under-represented. What’s even more of a shame is the fact that today’s younger generation feel more ambitious than their parents’ generation and are much more entrepreneurially-minded, according to our global investigation.
In areas such as tech, where it’s abundantly clear that females are under-represented, it’s likely that young female talent is being lost due to the lack of visible champions available. Young men with similar entrepreneurial aspirations can look up to the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin and Evan Spiegel for inspiration to achieve their dreams. But for young girls, there are far too few with the same visibility. In the start-up world, the field is acutely lacking in female leaders and role models. But unfortunately, this is perhaps unsurprising given that women often receive a smaller share of funding from investors when they do decide to found their own company.
Female founders can change the world for the better
According to our findings, ambitious young women in today’s world are less motivated by monetary gain and more by the desire to make a positive impact on the world; building their own company is more likely to see them achieve this. When asked, twice as many 18-30-year-old women said they believed start-ups and new businesses were more likely to make positive changes in the world than government. Ambition on this scale is hugely valuable to society.
As proof, two medtech start-ups founded through Entrepreneur First and co-founded by women demonstrate just how valuable female tech expertise can be to wider society. Founded by Dr Dora Sabino, Blazar was borne out of her cancer research expertise and designed to use machine learning in assistance to cancer research. Similarly, Vine Health is pioneering in behavioural science and AI to increase the survival rates of cancer patients.
Without fair representation, we risk letting down the next generation of entrepreneurial young women
Improving representation is essential for inspiring other women with similar ambitions to Dr Sabino, and Vine Health co-founders Dr Rayna Patel and Georgina Kirby, to achieve their ambitions of making a real difference in the world. Looking at the current media representation of female entrepreneurial leaders in tech, you’d be forgiven for thinking that such women simply don’t exist. But as we can see, this isn’t the case with female founders creating not just successful start-ups but globally important businesses. The media has a vital role to play and a major responsibility when it comes to championing these women who are transforming the status quo and driving change across a whole range of tech sectors. The failure to make today’s female founders seem more relatable and aspirational risks letting down the next generation of young women who have the talent and potential to have impact. If we don’t, the world will continue to miss out on some of its best founders and, most importantly, the companies they have the potential to build.
Efforts to upskill women and improve gender diversity in the tech talent pipeline are both admirable and effective. These effects certainly should not be ignored. But the fact remains that when it comes to promoting women in tech, it’s about changing what we see as normative, expected and aspirational.
We must recognise the importance of visibility of successful women and how they are represented in both the media and the broader cultural conversation. We all have a duty to contribute towards driving that change.
Alice Bentinck MBE is co-founder of Entrepreneur First, an international talent investor.
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