Choose to Challenge

While our minds are busy with concepts like furlough and home schooling, it’s still important that we take a moment to celebrate women around the world and their achievements says Converge Director, Claudia Cavalluzzo.

At Converge, challenging is all we do. In fact, many still call us ‘Converge Challenge’, our original name when we launched back in 2011. We’ve tried to migrate to our new name, Converge, but with limited success.

Back then, we set to challenge Scottish Universities and their rate of research and idea commercialisation. In the last 10 years, the sector has massively improved its commercial outputs and can now count on a much more entrepreneurial mind-set amongst its staff and students. Scotland now rates fairly high in the University Spin-out ranking, as reported in the latest Beurhust’s Spotlight on Spin-outs.

It is not yet time to rest on our laurels though. Albeit many Universities have now become engines of innovation and company creation, making huge contributions to the economy, the process is far from perfect.

Too few female founders still come to the fore, in fact according to that very same report, in the UK only 20% of University spin-outs count at least one female founder and only 13% of total equity raised by spin-outs is secured by female founded spin-outs.

Too many talented women are put off or knocked down by the culture that surrounds investment, business growth and the idea that if you want to be an entrepreneur then you cannot be anything else and you should dedicate every waking moment to it. We know the reality is rather different, however. You can choose to be an entrepreneur, and also a mother, a father, a caring son or daughter and even have another job to sustain your family whilst your business takes off. There isn’t just one way to be entrepreneurial and we need to challenge this stereotype.

Over the last 10 years, we have substantially increased the number of female participants into our company creation programme, reaching 50:50 balance in 2019.

Last year, all top prizes were awarded to female-led or co-led businesses. This was achieved in tandem with announcing a special prize for the most promising female entrepreneur, the Rose Award (sponsored by The Royal Bank of Scotland and supported by their CEO, Alison Rose). And we are not the only ones, far from it.

Companies around the world have made public statements about their gender policies, disclosed gender pay gaps and adapted their investment processes to guarantee a fare share of the funding is distributed to female-founded businesses.

The current pandemic unfortunately might take us back more than 10 years.

Women have been hit the hardest by the Covid-19 crisis, having had to go back to be the main children’s or elderlies’ carers. Economic sectors led by women have been decimated by the economic crisis. All the progress we were making risks being wiped off in just 12 months.

We cannot allow this to happen.

So, this year, I choose to challenge our behaviour, our perception, our ability to accept that women’s equality is a fair price to pay in this crisis.

choose to challenge myself and my own conscious and unconscious bias, and to challenge others’ judgment criteria.

I choose to be the one who always brings up the question of Diversity & Inclusion, even at the risk of sounding like a broken record.

Converge is lucky to be part of the journey of so many inspirational female founders from different walks of life: from bench scientists to creative talents, our environment is a constant source of inspiration and marvel.

As we continue our efforts in the commercialisation arena and work together to contribute to the economic recovery, we should not forget our guiding principles of equality, fairness and inclusion.

This article was first published in We are Tech Women on International Women’s Day 2021.