4 In 10 Female Founders Say They Frequently Encountered Gender Bias While Running Their Startup

Unilever Foundry Diversity Report
Image: Unilever Foundry

Unilever Foundry, a platform for startups and innovators to engage and collaborate with Unilever’s brands, has released new research that finds 46% of startups believe there is a gender bias problem in the industry. The study found that women experience bias at all stages of a startup’s lifecycle. 4 in 10 female founders said they frequently encountered gender bias while running their startup. 

‘Scaling up Diversity’ was launched today at 4YFN, as part of Mobile World Congress 2018, by Unilever EVP Global Marketing and Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Aline Santos. The research, which surveyed 685 founders from global startups, examines gender bias in the startup space, charts where bias exists in a startup’s lifecycle and examines the steps needed for change.

To drive this positive change, Unilever Foundry has today announced a partnership with UN Women and its Global Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC). This unique alliance with 22 partners seeks to advance gender equality; create a set of innovation principles; and promote positive role models for women.

Unilever Foundry has also announced a global commitment for half of all startups it partners with to be female-founded within the next five years.

‘Scaling Up Diversity’ examines gender bias across the four stages of a startup lifecycle: ideas stage; starting up; growth; and scale up.

Key findings:

Ideas Stage

The research found that 61% of women in startups do not think there are enough female role models.

The study identified that men and women begin their startup journey from different starting positions. Gender perceptions affect men and women at a young age and there’s still a problem with men and women not being encouraged to enter roles or industries that stereotypically are not associated with their gender.

Starting up

42% of female founders reveal funding was one of the most challenging barriers when starting up.

Delving deeper into the funding barrier, gender bias is the biggest discrimination factor, above ethnicity and age, with almost a quarter (24%) of female founders reporting that investors have been less willing to invest in 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.”


39% of female founders frequently encountered sexism whilst running their startup, with the main issues including marginalisation in meetings (83%); and poor treatment when standing up for gender inequality (80%). 82% of women agree that to avoid looking uptight, they let inappropriate statements slide.

Scaling up

42% of female founders believe gender discrimination will stay the same as they scale up. Those that scale up feel they remain a minority, and that a lack of role models remains an issue:

“When you don’t see a lot of women executing at higher levels, you may not even think you can reach that level.”

Full Report: https://foundry.unilever.com/blog/-/blogs/diversity-in-the-startup-space-almost-half-of-startups-believe-there-is-a-gender-bias-problem




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