When VCs are criticised for failing to invest in female-founded startups, they often counter that they are pushing their portfolio companies to promote more women into management positions.
But Michaela Berglund, founder and CEO of female investment network turned VC fund Feminvest, tells Sifted that this isn’t moving the dial either.
Many reports, like the one from the Peterson Institute, have shown that women in C-level positions translate to better financial performance for companies — but not necessarily more financial upside for those women.
Less than 1% of the ownership in Swedish listed companies is held by women in management, according to the 2021 Allbright report — the rest, 99%, is owned by men.
“Everybody knows that diversity at a workplace pays off, and VCs know this too,” says Berglund.
“But while women in management positions may get some employee options, it is only a tiny portion.”
A capital issue
All-women founding teams raised just 3% of all dollars invested in 2023, according to Atomico’s latest State of European Tech report. Mixed gender founding teams took 15%, leaving 82% of dollars to flow to founding teams that are all men. That number has only nudged up by a single percentage point since 2019.
Some think the solution to the problem is to increase the number of female investors in VC; others think female founders need more mentorship — while plenty of female founders say all they really need is the damn money.
But so far, none of these strategies have done much to change the status quo.
“Capital is key to this issue. Men invest in men and a more diverse investment ecosystem [with more women investors] will result in a change of status quo,” says Berglund.
“Without equal rights to taking risk, women don’t have the same conditions as men.”
One reason that makes it difficult to push for more investments in mixed or female-founded teams is the lack of data available to demonstrate that they return the same level of dividends to investors.
The latest report by BCG, which Berglund says shows that women-led companies have double the returns than male-run companies, is from 2018. “We need more data on this,” she says.
She believes this will begin to change as more female founders raise money and take the helm of successful companies.
“The next Klarna will have a woman fronting it,” she says.
Focusing on women’s right to own
Berglund is hoping to help make that change.
Last week, Feminvest — an education and events platform for women, which has 50k registered users, and a 400-woman strong angel investor network — was approved by the Swedish financial supervisory authority FI to raise a 100m SEK (€8.8m) fund to invest in Nordic startups which are majority owned by women.
“In comparison to others, we have a demand for female ownership,” she says.
At the point at which Feminvest Ventures first invests in a startup, women must own at least 50% of the company — although Berglund accepts that that stake might be diluted over time as the startup goes on to raise subsequent rounds.
Feminvest Ventures will invest 2-5m SEK (€175k-440k) into early-stage startups, with the possibility to invest larger cheques as follow-ons.
Berglund hopes that the Norwegian and Swedish state funds will decide to double the amount once it has reached its goal.