Why I'm sick of hearing the call for more female founders.
We need more female founders!This phrase has been coming up automatically for years when talking about the German startup ecosystem. Hardly a week goes by when I'm not invited to an often all-female panel to talk about the lack of female founders. One after the other, all stakeholders have spoken on the topic, and numerous studies now prove that more diversity is not only good for the economy, but also benefits the balance sheet: Not only in terms of gender, but also in terms of age and cultural background, mixed teams demonstrably lead to better results.
So you might think that the penny has dropped, because after all, the topic of "Female Founders" is being discussed up and down. But that's my point: we talk a lot while failing to get real action on the street that will have a tangible impact. So the awareness of the problem among those responsible is superficial at best. If it comes to implementation, then - at least in my perception - not much has happened yet.
Yes, there are individual VCs that now even commit to supporting female founders in their bylaws - better ventures, for example. But unfortunately, that's an exception. Women (teams) at the helm of startups continue to be a rarity and in the short term it will remain so. Not because they can't or don't have the right ideas, but simply because they get less capital. Instead of going on and on about the importance of female founders to the economy, we - politicians, VCs, entrepreneurs:inside as well as parents - need to finally let actions and results speak for themselves.
"Sticky habits and deep-seated biases.
Patterns of thinking that one has been socialized with or structures that one has grown into cannot usually be changed overnight. What I would like to see, however, is that we make an effort to look behind the scenes of these mechanisms in order to discover our own blind spots. For example, it has been proven that people like to surround themselves with things that they can assess and that are familiar to them. Logically, because this minimizes risks in many respects. It's also one of the reasons why investors instinctively prefer to fund founders who went to the same university and come from the same network, politicians prefer to pursue "general" (but in reality male-driven) agendas instead of women-specific ones, and parents of young children often follow the well-worn ruts in parenting they've presumably experienced themselves.
Because any initiative for more women on boards or on founder teams is doomed to fail if we don't bring the men who make the decisions with us.Dr. Sophie Chung, Founder Qunomedical
The result then is that our startup ecosystem remains male dominated. That issues such as reintegration into the job market after having a child or the corresponding salary structures remain systemic hurdles for women. And that even in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg, where swimming against the tide is actually part of good manners, girls continue to be pretty and well-behaved while the little boys become brave and strong. We need to recognize these deep-seated biases at their core so that we can then eliminate them: By having women not only think or have a say in all decisions, but also, as platitudinous as it sounds, by getting men on board. Because any initiative for more women on boards or on founder teams is doomed to fail if we don't bring the men who make the decisions about it on board.
Trend-setting decisions and a "leap of faith"
Instigating change that shows tangible results means effort, friction and also conflict. Sure, because if the issue were settled with a single switch, we would have flipped it long ago. The resources and measures that must necessarily be raised are not so much of a financial nature, but on a mental and organisational level - and they lie with each and every individual. And that is why I would like to see an end to the meta-level discussions once and for all. Germany has so much potential that is simply not being used because one(s) is too comfortable at the key points and may not even actively advocate the need for change.
It's up to everyone here. Because in order for us to stop paying lip service, we can't always pass the buck. Politicians, VCs, accelerators, universities, schools and parents must work together to ensure that the framework conditions guarantee equal opportunities. Last year, the #stayonboard initiative set the ball rolling and ensured that the topic of parental leave for board members was discussed and dealt with anew by law. Not every woman has to run a DAX company or found a company, and not every girl has to be able to program perfectly at the age of 13. But if that's what they want, then they shouldn't have to go to considerable expense to clear the social and legal hurdles.
Fortunately, there are already some movements that very specifically address structural problems: For example, the 2hearts initiative, which advocates for more cultural diversity and gives underprivileged talent a chance to develop their skills through a mentorship program. Or the educational platform Startup Teens, which aims to awaken the entrepreneurial spirit at a young age and ensure that innovation is not hindered by social barriers.
But these initiatives are not nearly enough; at best, they are a start. What we need is a school system that places a higher value on entrepreneurial education and nurtures talent early on. We need laws that do not only apply to female executives, but that consistently stand up for equal rights at a much earlier stage. We need balanced reporting in the media. We need more female investors who invest in a greater variety of topics.
So let's finally take our hearts into our hands and also hold those around us accountable. Let's question our choices and break out of old ways of thinking - even if it is unfamiliar and unusual. We all have to dare this leap of faith. Each:r individual of us must truly resolve to do our own part to make the economy and startup ecosystem more female and diverse - small or large. Otherwise, we'll still be talking about it 20 years from now without having done anything about it.
Female Founders Week 2021
This article is part of our special on female entrepreneurship in Germany.
Want to learn more? Download the entire Female Founders Report 2021 here:
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