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Damning report reveals 'sobering' lack of women running UK tech startups

Less than two thirds of startups have even one woman in an executive position. Photo: Monkey Business Images/REX/Shutterstock

More than a third of UK tech and health startups still have no women in executive roles despite efforts to promote female leadership,  according to a report released on Wednesday.

The Women in Technology Leadership 2019 report by Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), shows startups are actively seeking to increase the number of women in executive positions, but progress just isn’t happening fast enough.

The report is part of the tenth anniversary edition of SVB’s Startup Outlook Report, which is based on a survey of 1,400 technology and healthcare startup founders and executives primarily in the US, UK, China and, for the first time, Canada.

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It shows that while there has been some overall progress in the last year, just 56% of startups currently have at least one woman in an executive position, and only 40% have at least one woman on the board of directors.

In the UK, the number of startups with at least one female director shot up an impressive 13% to almost half (47%). However, the number with at least one woman in an executive position fell by by 2% to 57%.

Why so many startups end up male-dominated

SBV said this disparity is largely because founder gender determines women’s roles at companies. 

Just 5% of startups with only men on the founding team have a female CEO, and they are much more likely to have women leading HR and marketing departments, its data shows. This is particularly limiting for women as only 28% of startups have a woman on the founding team.

Despite this, 59% of startups claimed they have programs in place designed to support gender diversity. This is the highest percentage seen since the report’s inception in 2014.

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A lack of proactive targets for female leadership

When it comes to gender-based hiring goals, 24% of startups have company-wide hiring and promotion goals, 7% have goals for executive positions only, and just 17% have goals to add female board members.

Greg Becker, CEO of SVB, said: “We have measured gender parity in startup leadership since 2014 and the numbers continue to be sobering. We must do better.

“There is, however, a bright spot in that startups are recognizing the pressing need to be more proactive; 59% now have programs in place to help close the gender gap. While there is still a great deal of work to be done, we believe that the innovation economy is making progress and sees that increasing gender diversity as an important way to attract skilled talent, one of the biggest challenges facing startups.”

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Barriers to raising capital for women

SVB also found raising capital is slightly more challenging for companies with female founders. Almost nine in 10 (87%) companies with at least one female founder described the fundraising environment as “somewhat challenging” or “extremely challenging” compared with 78% of all-male founding teams.

The bank asked startups to describe the programs they have in place to support gender diversity.

The most common programs included creating a flexible work environment, recruiting/interview techniques and leadership development.