We women talk a great talk about supporting other women in business. We gather in rooms to share or listen to stories of female entrepreneurs overcoming the odds; we march for gender equality and have witnessed the rise of great organisations doing their best to boost women’s economic empowerment. But for all this effort, we women don’t actually invest in other women. Let’s put it even more bluntly: women are often not putting their money where their mouth is.
Supporting women in business means addressing three things: access to finance, access to education, and access to networks and mentors. We’re doing well in terms of networking — on any given day or at any given time you can join a meetup and make connections with women (and men). We’re even getting there with education, informing women that it is possible to lead in the boardroom (even if only 5% of FTSE 500 chief executives are women at the moment) and showing what it is possible to achieve throughout her career. Lack of female entrepreneurship is not the problem, lack of female funding is.
This issue is partly the result of a male-dominated venture capital industry. I’m the founder and chief executive of fintech business Oval Money so I’ve done the fundraising roadshow. It’s shocking how few female investors I meet. We hear it time and again but Diversity VC, a non-profit partnership promoting diversity in venture capital, reports that still only 27% of the venture capital workforce is women.
But a lack of women in venture capital is a drop in the ocean compared to the bigger problem: women are not supporting other women
It’s something I’ve experienced first hand. When crowdfunding last year I reached out to my personal network of women to ask for their support (at just £10). Those ladies wished me good luck for the venture but didn’t choose to financially support me.
We know that women play the long game and are more risk-averse when it comes to doing stuff with their money. At Oval Money 30% of our 350,000 users are women and I’ve seen first-hand the ‘guarded’ relationship many women have with money. Women prefer to save for a rainy day rather than recognising the long-term value of investing. In fact, they represent only 13% of our investor base. I’m not alone in seeing this. A 2018 YouGov Omnibus survey found that 52% of women have never held an investment product, compared to 37% of men. Furthermore, just one in five women (21%) currently hold an investment against over a third (35%) of men.
This is having a detrimental effect. The good money is going to the men and we will never move the needle in terms of equality in business and see more women in the boardroom if we don’t support each other. This is not about asking you to dig deep into your pockets to support your fellow businesswoman — you don’t need to give away the whole rainy day pot. For all the grandstanding about making the world a fairer place, for helping our ‘sisters’ in business, maybe we should try it once in a while. Not just by being there at the end of the phone or email, but by investing something, anything, that says, “I believe in you, I believe in your business”. And who knows maybe it will pay off in the longer term!
Benedetta Arese Lucini is an Italian entrepreneur and the chief executive of Oval Money, a finance app for users to track their spending, savings and investments. The company has raised €12m and investors include Eurizon Capital and Neva Finventures. Previously she was the general manager of Uber in Italy.