Collaboration is key to changing the ratio for female founders.

The client’s boardroom was lavish. A beautiful oak table took pride of place in the centre of the room and expensive artworks hung from the surrounding walls. I took my seat beside the GM and was preparing for the meeting when an uncomfortable feeling rose up within me. I had been mistaken for the GM’s secretary and looks of wonder and confusion blanketed the faces of those present. Why was I sitting there? Why was I not scuttling around making coffee?

I was, back then 20 something. I was bright and enthusiastic, had a million ideas to share and thought the world was simply at my feet. Surely I needn’t be concerned over being treated any different to my male counterparts. I was wrong.

Unfortunately, this was not a solitary instance in my corporate career. After having my second child I ventured out on my own. I was my own boss, an entrepreneur, but the same problems followed me. This time they were a little more subtle, but no less frustrating and considerably restrictive.

Only 4% of all funded startups are founded by women. Why? Various reasons, but most have one thing in common. Access. Access to knowledge, access to mentors, access to investors and access to funding. In order to get noticed by an investor, you need a personal recommendation via a close friend or business acquaintance of that person.

Problem is, most VC firms are made up of men; in fact the average make up in top tier firms is 92% male. That’s just a fact. And by default, a good proportion of the circles they move in are occupied by men. It is not a conspiracy, nor is it a deliberate plan to keep women out. It just is.

This makes it harder for women to find their way in to get under the noses of these investors. To confound this problem, female entrepreneurs are far less likely to be considered for investment if they do not hold a technical or engineering qualification – a fact that does not jeopardise a male entrepreneur’s chances of receiving funding.

What should we do about this and why should we care? We should care not only because equality matters, but because the statistics show that female led companies generate on average more than 12% higher profits than those led by males.

We should care because around two thirds of all those surveyed in a large worldwide study responded that the world would be a better place if men thought more like women. We should care because this same study extrapolated that the essence of a modern leader is feminine in nature, possessing qualities such as patience, passion and an ability to build a consensus and get things done. One of the most compelling pieces of data, however, was that collaboration, a traditionally female characteristic, was one of the key driving factors today in achieving career success, with around 80% of respondents agreeing.

This brings me to what we should be doing about this. While I don’t necessarily disagree with Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘lean in’ philosophy, I do believe that it is more about ‘leaning on’ rather than ‘in’ and using this collaborative force to tip the balance back towards an equilibrium.

The ‘lean on’ doctrine suggests that instead of telling women that they need to change what they think and how they map out their career path, that women seek out meaningful connections that will help them to reach their career aspirations. Collaboration being the key.

Furthermore, it is about a shift in consciousness within our organisations, to embrace those characteristics that make women great leaders rather than trying to change the very nature of what makes women indispensable in the higher echelons of business.

It is this collaborative approach to fully equipping women with the skills, knowledge and connections that they need in order to launch and more importantly scale their businesses.


Lou Donnelly-Davey is Head of Marketing at SaaS tech company Timely.


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