Unilever Foundry and UN Women to fight gender bias female-led startups face

A new report from Unilever’s startup-collaboration arm has revealed that founders consider gender bias to be a serious problem, which is why it has partnered with UN Women.

Unilever Foundry and UN Women to fight gender bias female-led startups face

It’s hardly a secret female founders face challenges male entrepreneurs don’t. Fortunately, several initiatives have recently been launched to tackle this issue. And when AllBright, the female-centric funding and business-support network, was launched at the end of 2016, co-founder Debbie Wosskow revealed why these initiatives are so important.

“The statistics on women-led business are just so crap. We felt like we needed to do something to change the conversation,” she said.

And now the conversation has received renewed support as Unilever Foundry, the startup-collaboration platform, has revealed its plan to work alongside UN Women to stop the gender imbalance.

Having surveyed 685 founders from global startups, Unilever Foundry has shown that 46% of global startup founders feel the industry does suffer from a gender bias problem – something female bosses experience across all stages of developing their companies.

Additional results show that 42% of women think gender discrimination will remain during the scaling process and 39% said sexism is a frequent occurrence. Moreover, the report also revealed that just 17% of startups are founded by women.

Proving the value of funds like AllBright, the study from Unilever also revealed 42% of female founders feel securing investment is one of the main barrier preventing them in the early stages of launching a business and 24% said investors have been less prepared to support women.

“Investors questioned me a lot more about whether I’d be able to manage a company on top of raising my two children, which isn’t something that men get asked about,” said one survey respondent.

In a bid to turn these alarming figures around, Unilever Foundry has aligned with UN Women and its Global Innovation Coalition for Change. This alliance of 22 partners – which includes heavy hitters like Facebook, JPMorgan Chase, LinkedIn and PwC – aims to make gender equality more prevalent. The goal is to ensure half of all startups it collaborates with are run by women.

This global commitment will be achieved over the next five years with a set of principles and female role models to set the standard, which will certainly be welcomed by the 61% of women in startups who feel that they severely lack examples to look up to for inspiration.

However, Unilever Foundry isn’t stopping there. It has also proposed measures to eliminate gender bias in startups, the first of which is to acknowledge the issue rather than pretending there isn’t one.

Other suggestions include pay gap transparency, redefining discrimination, offering accessible role models and mentoring for women in startups and also training younger people who are said to face gender bias even more than older peers.

Commenting on the initiative, Aline Santos, global marketing and head of diversity and inclusion at Unilever EVP, said: “We know that when we embrace diversity and inclusion in larger organisations like Unilever, we unleash the best in creativity, ideas and innovation – it’s business critical for us.”

She added: “Through this report we can see a major gender-diversity issue in early stage companies – from the low numbers of female founders, to the lack of support women experience across the lifecycle of their companies. So we are committed to leveraging the power of Unilever to make sure we shine a light on this issue and increase the opportunities for talented people to lead the startups of tomorrow.”

Given that unlocking the potential of female founders could add £10.1bn to the UK economy by 2020, initiatives like this are more than welcome.

Zen Terrelonge
Zen Terrelonge

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