This Women’s Day, I speak up

Taking a stance on inequality in the workplace. 2021 edition.

This International Women’s Day, the hashtag is #choosetochallenge. This means choosing to challenge the status quo, and to openly speak about the issues that tip the balance of gender equality.

Now, over the years I have been in many social groups focusing on gender equality, as a rather passive observant. I have always been busy with my numerous day to day tasks, ploughing through the pile of work, and never finding enough time to reminisce and comment on the status quo.
This year, I feel like speaking up. Backed by the power of data.

Firstly, let’s address the elephant(s) in the (board)room — the (typically) male colleagues who somehow have not quite seen the issues that women face.
These men would argue that there’s an issue at all, often saying that “it’s a woman’s choice” not to go for a managerial position, or that, it’s a level playing field for everyone. 1 woman out of 10 people on the board — well, that’s a coincidence. Just 2.3% of VC funding has gone to female-led startups in 2020— well, they don’t need the money!

These men will tell you “do your research”. I wonder if they’d ever think that perhaps it is time that they did their research… I am a huge fan of data, so I have provided some great reports by leading organisations in which you’ll be able to dig into some numbers. But, forgive me if I cannot devote my life whole article on facts and figures to be proving the obvious to the very few who doubt it. However, as the world has proven by now, when do facts and figures shut the real sceptics up?

Women in leadership

McKinsey’s Report on Women in the workplace, is a great place to get a recent summary of female representation in the workplace by seniority level.

McKinsey 2020 report on Women in the Workplace

What this shows, is that still just 22% of women are C-suite executives (with just 3% being women of colour), but these numbers have been improving since 2015.

However, the report talks about a symptom called “broken rung” which is a reflection of common unwritten practices that are still holding women back:

Despite gains for women in leadership, a “broken rung” in promotions at the first step up to manager was still a major barrier in the past year. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted — and this gap was even larger for some women: Only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted. As a result, women remained significantly outnumbered at the manager level at the beginning of 2020 — they held just 38 percent of manager positions, while men held 62 percent.”

. Source: The Economist. Blue = OECD average

This Economist’s glass ceiling index shows “improvement in some areas, but not enough”.

“On average, just one in three managerial positions across the OECD’s 37 members is occupied by a woman. A recent study by SIA Partners, a consultancy, found that in Britain bias against women in senior corporate hiring remains systemic, with job ads for high-ranking positions using more “masculine” words that make them less appealing to women.”

A LinkedIn study suggests that, while women are more hesitant, and apply for less jobs than men (various opinions on the topic why that is), they are more likely to be hired having applied.

Women in a post-pandemic world

So, how is the professional industry looking during the pandemic, and how will it look in a post-Covid world?

Generally, not so great news. The very same September 2020 McKinsey report on women in the workplace, found that “as much as 30% of working mothers are considering leaving the workforce. This could throw equality for women back 10–20 years” (quoted by Crunchbase).

Source: The Economist

This analysis of women’s earnings relative to men post-child suggests that it is very difficult for women to reach the same level of earnings as prior to childcare, creating a large gap in earnings.

Will this change in a post-pandemic world? While the answer may be in flexible working conditions, it is also up to the companies to take action.

Women in the startup world

Now, an area where gender (and many other types of) inequality is larger than normal, is startup funding. This is an area I have experienced with literally blood, sweat and tears, and will go into more detail in my next article. Here, I will provide a summary of what the problem actually is.

TechCrunch, one of the largest resources in the tech startup world, openly states that “venture capital is not a level playing field”. They openly admit that “Start up fundraising is the most tangible gender gap”, stating that “ The average deal size for female-founded or female co-founded companies is less than half that of only male-founded startups. This is especially concerning when you consider that women make up a much bigger portion of the founder community than proportionately receive investment (around 28% of founders are women).

The good news is that women-founded startups generate 78% for every dollar invested, compared to 31% from men-founded companies, as per study by Boston Consulting Group.

While gradually up to 2020, more dollars in female-led startups, Crunchbase data show that not only did total funding to female-led startups fall this year, but the proportion of dollars to female-only founders also declined, to 2.3 percent, compared to 2.8 percent in 2019.

Published by The Academy of Management Journal on Research Gate

Then why are not VCs investing more money in female-founded companies? Did the emotional side overcome the analytical side? A study by The Academy of Management Journal called “We Ask Men to Win and Women Not to Lose: Closing the Gender Gap in Startup Funding” revealed that investors tend to ask male entrepreneurs promotion-focused questions and female entrepreneurs prevention-focused questions.

This is an observation that poses a lot of questions about bias, and I would love to go into more detail about it in another article. In this article, the gender economist Katica Roy talks about the cost of gender bias in the startup world.

A solution

The sceptics are now clicking frantically trying to find arguments to disprove the facts. (Sceptics, you can leave now).

There is rarely a simple solution to a complicated problem. There’s no need to be a gender economist to get the fact that finding ways to tackle bias might be the easiest way forwards.

I have amalgamated two resources to summarise them into a 3-step simple approach.

The combination of these strategies can make a big difference. These approaches should be taken by all sides of the equation, regardless of the gender the person identifies with.

First, start by discussing openly any bias that you notice with your colleagues. Most of the times the issue actually is that they don’t notice the bias, because most of us don’t! We all think that, because we are aware of the problem, we don’t fall into the trap of bias. In fact, some studies suggest that some of the most liberal people, deny showing bias at all.

Secondly, as an underrepresented person, make sure to establish how you are perceived by yourself, and the others. Value your own accomplishments. Communicate them, do not hide them away. Get allies to help you do that, friends and colleagues that can always vouch for you and put you first as as needed (they do exist).

Lastly, and equally important (and this is for everyone) — make sure you analyse the facts in the most objective way as possible. Make lists of accomplishments, include quantitive information about the person. When you “have a gut feeling about someone”, you are most likely to act on emotion (and bias) rather than make an objective decision about them.

My story

Coming up soon, in my next blog, is my personal story in the tech startup world. I have some stories to tell — by far not the worst, but worth mentioning. The thing is, in a way, I have been lucky to meet impact-focused investors, and to work in fairly progressive companies (only small companies!).

But, while I think, we the trajectory is upwards, there’s still a way to go to get close to eliminating the gender equality problems. The evidence is there, in personal stories, in statistics, in opinions. Look wherever you want, multiple issues of gender equalities will hit you in the face.

Only we can do something about it. If we act together. If we speak up.

Anna is a co-founder of TIKI and Dual Good Health.
Having worked in the tech startup industry for 5+ years, Anna is familiar with the lack of gender diversity that the industry still suffers from.

Entrepreneurship | Product design | Co-founder of @dualgoodhealth & @mytiki.