Female entrepreneurs’ glass ceiling is intact

A worker walks on a wet glass ceiling following the completion of the second phrase of construction at the Galaxy Macau resort in Macau
A worker walks on a wet glass ceiling in Macau, China, May 26, 2015. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

MILAN, March 8 (Reuters Breakingviews) - The glass ceiling that holds back female entrepreneurs remains intact. Two decades after boardroom quotas were first introduced, women have made tangible progress overseeing listed firms. Yet despite representing 40% of new business founders in the United States, female entrepreneurs capture only a fraction of available venture capital cash. It’s time for governments and asset managers to help raise that proportion.

Forcing companies to look harder for female talent is finally bearing some fruit. Two decades after Norway first introduced boardroom quotas in 2003, gender diversity at listed companies is picking up. The proportion of women on the boards of top European Union listed companies reached a peak of 32% in April 2022, but was higher in countries with binding rules like France and Italy. Even regulation-averse Britain last year saw female directors rise above the 40% threshold for the first time.

Investors should care: NEOMA Business School researchers found that companies with more women in senior roles tended to engage in less excessive risk-taking. Yet for talented women looking to start a company, the global landscape looks less promising. A tendency by venture capital funds to shun female entrepreneurs risks hobbling their contribution to the global economy.

Female business founders were 40% of the total in the United States in 2021, a percentage that has been relatively unchanged since 1996, data from the Kauffman Foundation shows. But companies founded by an all-female team in 2022 captured only $4.6 billion, or just 2% of total U.S. venture capital money, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. That percentage has not changed much in the past decade.

U.S. startups with both female and male founders did better, securing 17.2% of the venture capital pot last year. But new companies run by all-male teams continue to retain the biggest share of the pie. In Europe, female-led startups also captured barely 2% of venture capital money in 2021, the European Women in VC report shows.

Governments and asset managers could do more. In Europe, public entities and national investment agencies that tend to devote significant amounts to fund small businesses and startups could allocate a fixed portion to companies led by all-female or diverse teams. Asset managers and those keen to appeal to environmental, social and governance-conscious investors could press for similar metrics when allocating funds for privately held companies.

If women and men were given the same chances to found and support a business, it could add up to $5 trillion to global GDP, a 2019 study by Boston Consulting Group found. Helping female entrepreneurs to rise to the top will be beneficial to women and to the world.

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(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)


The proportion of women in board roles at Britain’s biggest 350 listed firms rose above 40% for the first time in 2022, although the proportion of women in executive or top leadership roles was 34%, according to a report by interest group FTSE Women Leaders published in February.

European Union countries in June backed a proposal to ensure the least represented gender, usually women, makes up at least 40% of non-executive board positions at listed companies by June 30, 2026. Norway was the first country of the world to introduce boardroom quotas in 2003.

U.S. companies founded by all-female founders in 2022 received 1.9% of total venture capital funds, or around $4.6 billion, down from a record 2.4% in 2021, data from the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor published in January showed. The percentage increased to 17.2% of the total when the founding team featured both men and women.

In 2021, female entrepreneurs made up 40% of total in the United States, data from the Kauffman Foundation shows. The percentage of women starting businesses has been consistent since 1996, ranging between 46.4% in 1998 and 36.3% in 2007.

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Editing by George Hay, Pranav Kiran and Oliver Taslic

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