The plight of the female founder

When I mentioned the title of this piece to a male counterpart, he found my choice of the word ‘plight’ somewhat amusing! But, upon reflection it is rather apt, and I for one can most certainly vouch for that.

Being a woman in business can at times be dangerous (I did once work in the City😉); is very difficult and when you look at the facts below, we find ourselves in 2022 in rather an unfortunate situation.

History has been blessed with strong female business leaders; Madame Clicquot took the reins of Veuve Clicquot in 1805; my own great grandmother Edith Bailes was an equal business partner with her husband; Dr Prenna Jones, who features in our ‘Queens of Biz’ video, talks about her mother, one of the first women to be accepted to Medical School. These women were the exception to the norm for their generations, true pioneers.

Yes, we have come a long way since the time of our foremothers, but we cannot rest on our laurels when there is so much further to go. Globally, women occupy circa 31% of top roles, a new high, but just 14 of the Fortune 500 companies (3%) and 8 of FTSE 100 companies (8%) have a female CEO.  Government and industry stubbornly fail to grasp the benefits of a more gender equal economy, citing a possible period of over one hundred years to achieve this goal – surely, we can all do better than that. Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue.

A McKinsey Global Institute Report found that $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 ‘simply’ by advancing women’s equality.

Regardless of gender, all businesses require funding. And this is the unfortunate bit, we find ourselves in a situation in 2022 where there is a very clear funding gap between male founded and female founded businesses.

The scantness of venture capital that goes to women-owned businesses is pretty appalling and that needs to be turned around. Since 2017 as a demographic, female founders have only scooped up 1.3% of all VC funding in Europe.

Reports show that in the UK women start out with on average 53% less capital than men and that 40% of female entrepreneurs do not seek scale up loans as they expect to be turned down; so less female led businesses are scaling up and reaching their potential.

In the UK male entrepreneurs are 86% more likely to be VC funded, which is strange when you consider that it has been shown that women show a higher return. This situation is clearly not based on the maths! Women’s ability and track record is recognised; there are enough reports out there, yet we still are not treated on a par with our male counterparts.

Women meet unconscious bias and stereotypes in education and society from an early age, so it’s easy to blame the female mindset. How many times have I heard the excuse that ‘women don’t ask’ Actually we do, it’s just that we are not always heard.

Yet despite all of this, there are strong female entrepreneurs out there, doing business every day. With so many hurdles, what drives them, what gets them out of bed in the morning. That’s what interests me.

It is a proven fact that roles models are important to inspire and give us confidence to take that entrepreneurial leap. Certainly, there are no shortage of male business leaders constantly being promoted – Bezos, Buffett, Gates and Musk to name but a few, but what about their female counterparts? Those women business leaders are there – Sarah Blakely, who doesn’t have a pair of Spanx; Denise Coates, Bet365; Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global; Charlotte Tilbury, Charlotte Tilbury Beauty; and one of my personal role models is Helen Swaby, CEO and founder of the De Montfort Fine Art Group, a UK leader.

A recent survey found that 48% of female entrepreneurs cited a lack of mentors and advisors as a restraint to professional growth. A role model does not have to be a global name, they just need to do what they say they do on the tin!

Only by sharing can we help and inspire those who stand beside us today and those who will follow us tomorrow. It is our job to empower each other through the sharing of knowledge and mindset.

I took a moment to sit down with some of my fellow female founders to find out amongst other things what motivates them; call it a quick dip into their mindsets. I captured this in a short video which I hope you will enjoy as we celebrate International Women’s Day. And perhaps one of these fabulous women might become your role model and encourage you to take that leap or to continue along your entrepreneurial path.

I would like to thank House of St Barnabas in Soho for allowing us to use their beautiful building for filming. HOSB is one of the Soho based charities that we, at King of Soho, actively support; headed by CEO Rosie Ferguson, its work and in particular its Employment Academy helps break the cycle of homelessness that too many unfortunately face.

Alex Robson

Alex Robson is the co-founder of West End Drinks Ltd, and brand owner and co-creator of the King of Soho Gin.