Ex-Plexal CEO to support female founders struggling with investment

The lack of diversity and inclusion in tech is not just an in-house issue but also one exacerbated by investors, as female-led businesses struggle to get investment.

It has been found that the investment in female-led businesses remains "stubbornly low". UK startups with at least one female founder saw total investment fall by £1 million in 2017, according to a report by The Entrepreneurs Network and Beauhurst.

This evidence supports the fact that the gender gap in tech is failing to shrink because not enough female founders are being supported.

"One of the things that keeps coming back to me is an extreme example where we live in a world that will accept the behaviour of Donald Trump, but we have struggled to accept the competence, personality, and style of Hilary Clinton," former CEO of Plexal, Claire Cockerton, told Techworld. "The range of behaviours that we will tolerate from male leaders versus what we expect of female leaders is so different."

Cockerton, a well-known entrepreneur in the industry, founded a number of projects such as Level39 and Innovate Finance. She recently made a decision to leave Plexal, her most recent project, to develop new ventures to support women leaders in tech.

This idea came from Cockerton's 10-years experience of being a female founder herself, who became aware of the difficulties women face as business leaders.

While at Plexal, she launched Plexiglass – an accelerator programme for female founders which is among the few initiatives available for women heading their own startups. However, Cockerton believes there needs to be more done on a societal level.

"I think we need to expand what it means to be a female leader, expand our consciousness and understand that you can be at different ages, different cultural backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds and that you can have different styles and I think we treat female leaders almost like archetypes," she added.

Read next: Some of UK's fastest growing tech startups founded by women

Where do we begin?

The fact is the change starts with culture. The UK tech industry faces a cultural challenge around embracing women in tech so perhaps it is no surprise there is also a lack of support in investment.

Whether in recruitment, investment or even by including women in the board of directors in a business there are different ways that the gender gap can be reversed.

Although there are more and more initiatives being set up to support women onto boards, such as AccelerateHER, The Scale-up Institute and more, words from the wise [women] say it is not just about women helping women, but also men standing for change.

Read more: Diversity vs inclusion: What tech firms need to know about the differences

"I think fundamentally we have a cultural challenge and then we have the challenge of those that hold the capital, those that hold the power, those who sit on the boards like government, but also those that hold money and decision-making authority," Cockerton said.

"Those sitting on boards, the directors of these large corporations are men and they're predominately from a very narrow slice of our society. I think introducing women into those environments has been challenging, and I once read a quote that said 'allowing women into a boardroom can feel almost like oppression'.

In other words, equality may seem like oppression for those already in the position, due to a sense of gender privilege.

"Sharing can feel like oppression if you've been dominating for a very long time, all of a sudden allowing others into your field of power makes you feel like something is being taken away from you, but in actual fact it's not," she added.

Rather, what should be understood is that gender diversity in business leads to greater value not just for the business itself, but for the overall economy It could add 26 percent to annual global GDP in 2025, according to research cited by Mckinsey & Co.

"When you're a large organisation like Google and Microsoft, you have the budgets and you can pay the recruitment firms to find you a balanced list of candidates but when you're a smaller company it's more challenging to find and get 50 percent men and 50 percent women. There's a gap in the market that needs to be filled," Cockerton said.

Cockerton has started working towards ventures that will support female founders and also boost awareness for investors to make more investments in female-led businesses.

"I think the time is ripe to devote some real focused thinking into solving some of the problems that I've witnessed. I want to take the learnings that I have over the last 10 or so years to more international projects, to other Olympic cities, and to other major redevelopment projects," she said.

"An innovation centre is an incredibly powerful tool to spark a new community, to get investors interested and to define a new sector in the technology field."

Cockerton has not confirmed when the ventures will take off but told us they are currently in the research and development stage.

This story, "Ex-Plexal CEO to support female founders struggling with investment" was originally published by Techworld.com.


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