Let’s live diversity & inclusion every day – not just 8 March

Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director, Converge

International Women’s Day always offers a moment to pause on how far we have come but also how far we still have to go to achieve gender balance.  For some people, however, the buzz starts and ends there and they simply go back to their normal lives ignoring the magnitude of the problem and the incredible opportunity that a gender balanced society represents. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

At Converge we live and breathe our inclusion and diversity values everyday, be it with a balanced marketing campaign, female specific awards or events targeted at aspiring female founders, just like the one we held a couple of weeks ago.

On that occasion the chair of Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES), Dr Lynne Cadenhead; serial entrepreneur and crowdfunding expert, Amand Boule, and CEO and founder of MI:RNA, Dr Eve Hanks, reflected on the challenges they had faced and shared their practical advice on how to overcome them.

One of the biggest barriers to gender balance is, in my opinion, the way women appear to be the victim in the situation.  This reinforces the message that they are weak and need rescuing. 

The truth of the matter is that, yes, there are challenges that are unique to women embarking on the entrepreneurial journey, particularly when raising capital, but we have within us the power to change the narrative. One of the best ways to do this is by sharing our experiences with no filters and no sugar-coating needed. It is vital to give other women, who are perhaps a few steps behind a ‘heads up’ on what’s coming down the track – for example, how female founders are constantly tested on different grounds to their male counterparts.

Our panellists shared their experiences of pitching to investors who seem to shift their focus on risk rather than opportunity when a female founder is leading the pitch. So, in a similar situation, should we just threaten to leave the room and wallow in our rage? That wouldn’t help us get the funding we were looking for in the first place, right? So, no, the answer to that question is to prepare ourselves for that line of questioning (and that’s why sharing experiences becomes extra valuable), answer them to the best of our ability and steer the conversation towards the business opportunity, Dr Cadenhead suggested.

Research from WES helped us to delve deeper into the matter of risk. It seems to be widely accepted that women are more risk averse than men, which was another myth that needed busting.

We are conditioned by society ever since the day we are born to be careful, conscientious and balanced (I, for instance, was rarely praised for being adventurous).  As a consequence, we express a different attitude towards risk when compared to our male counterparts.  However, this can, and should be seen, as a strength rather than a weakness. Because of this heightened risk awareness, women who raise investment for their business tend to be more successful than their male colleagues.  

A message here for any investor reading this: give a woman a chance and you are less likely to be disappointed.  All in all, the challenges we discussed at our latest “How to Succeed as a Female Founder” event, organised by Converge and in partnership with WES, aren’t new or unique to Scotland. However, what I found refreshing was the real appetite for change and the energy showed by our role models as well as by the emerging pipeline of entrepreneurs who engaged in this powerful conversation.