International Women’s Day (#IWD) is here again and there will be much discussion on gender pay gap, the lack of women in leadership, and the continued unconscious bias against women in many areas of the work landscape.
What of the gender experience for female founders and business owners?
Many women choose to start their own business for a sense of freedom and to remove themselves from the bias in the workplace.
I know I did — sick of the lack of flexibility in corporate life — wanting to be both a parent and have a full and interesting career, I started my own business when my children were two and four.
My own journey has not been without its challenges … but that is for another time.
I found myself in the fortunate position that I could become involved with the startup community including many initiatives to amplify women founders. I was one of the first to put up my hand and participate in Scale Investors (investing in female founders), Heads Over Heels, a female founders support network, and I’ve contributed to many others from Springboard, EY Winning Women, University of Melbourne Business & Economics Alumni – Women’s program and others.
The reason for listing these out is that there is no shortage of effort — yet sometimes I wonder if anything is really happening. Yes, we need more role models but is there just as much bias when it comes to women founders as their employee counterparts?
I read with interest two articles about Shark Tank US’ bias against women, which led me to ask the question are we just the same here in Australia?
I know when I was asked to do the show I said, “I won’t be a token woman”, and the producers said, “absolutely not — we want balance on the panel too, half of the founders will be women”.
So Janine Allis and I chose to be role models for all entrepreneurs, not just women.
An implicit bias
This is what is being reported about the US show: Mashable – “Shark Tank funds fewer women than men, with less money”.
Like in the real Silicon Valley, the odds are stacked against women who appear on Shark Tank. Far fewer women appear on the reality show, and companies fronted by women receive dramatically lower valuations than their male counterparts.
Companies founded by men received an average valuation of nearly $US1.7 million, while companies founded by women received an average valuation of just over $781,000, according to data compiled by Shark Tank superfan and Rock Health founder and chief executive Halle Tecco.
Eighty percent of products presented by women on Shark Tank fall into stereotypically feminine categories, such as home décor, cooking, cleaning, food, fashion, beauty, or products for children that are often related to motherhood.
The products pitched by male entrepreneurs tend to be more diversified, running the gamut from technology to fashion, to fitness, to food and everything in between.
As such, 44% of the products they pitch would fall into categories traditionally regarded as feminine, while approximately 41% would be regarded as stereotypically masculine industries, and nearly 15% are neutral products (is casting responsible for this?).
Even so, being a parent is more closely tied to the identity and the businesses of the female entrepreneurs on Shark Tank, so much so that if they are mums, that’s usually one of the first things we learn about them.
These women have even come to be referred to as “mumpreneurs” by fans and the media. I haven’t seen anyone use the term “dadpreneur” yet.
(Now I have blogged about this before – don’t get me started on the gender language.)
The Australian Shark Tank executive producer is a wonderfully successful female executive producer — there are plenty of women in our production team. The head of programming at Network Ten is a very accomplished senior female and I see many others in the ranks over there.
So how does Australia fair when it comes to gender bias on the show? For the full table head here.
I have reviewed the data of all pitches for the first two seasons, not just the ones that go to air but all 100 pitches, and this is what I found. (For the first season, I did not have the figures on mixed pitches).
There are significantly fewer women appearing on the show (about half that of men). The good news is women are more likely to get invested, however, on average it will be for much less and what they ask for is about 22% of what men ask for.
I believe there are lessons for both genders in the table. The men often put ‘ridiculous’ valuations on their businesses (which can greatly skew the numbers).
My favourite film right now is Hidden Figures, and if you have not seen it, please do.
You will see that the answer to the above is not for women alone. We will continue to do great work. It is a community issue — but it takes someone making a stand and saying ‘this is ridiculous’.
I’m proud of my male co-sharks. I have seen them do deal after deal with female founders in ‘traditionally feminine businesses’ — I can report on that after season three airs.
Not only that, they have consistently and persistently stood up to founders who don’t take Janine or I seriously — or give us the respect that is commensurate with the role we play. As Steve pointed out in his blog post: Don’t call Naomi Simson Darling.
I could explore this topic for a very long time — there is no easy answer. But what I do know is that we are in it together and we need to call it when we see it.
Shark Tank returns to Network Ten later this year.
This article was first published on NaomiSimson.com.
Naomi Simson is the founding director of Australian online tech success story RedBalloon and Redii. She has written more than 1000 blog posts at NaomiSimson.com, is a professional speaker, author of Live What You Love and Ready To Soar, and is one of five “Sharks” on Ten’s business reality show Shark Tank.