Start-ups with at least one female founder wind up building companies in which nearly half the staff are women, a new study finds.
With an average of 48 percent female workers, women-led businesses have nearly twice the industry average and outpace some of the nation’s largest tech companies in gender diversity including Google (31 percent), Facebook (33 percent) and Uber (36 percent), according to the study by online startup investing platform FundersClub that surveyed 85 U.S.-based tech start-ups.
Alex Mittal, co-founder and CEO of FundersClub, said start-ups are key to addressing gender diversity in the workplace because the ones that succeed someday may be massive companies. The majority of start-ups surveyed had fewer than 20 employees.
They “have the potential to become huge — they’re great agents for change,” said Mittal, a co-author of the study.
The study also examined the effect of female tech founders on leadership and engineering teams. Women made up 38 percent of executives at businesses with at least one female founder — 2.4 times the average at start-ups with no female founders. At women-led companies, women made up 23 percent of the engineering teams — 2.3 times the average at businesses led by men.
The findings come on the heels of a months-long investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at Uber, which has elevated awareness of what long has been one of the tech industry’s biggest deficiencies.
Mittal said the timing was simply a coincidence. Women in the industry say the survey’s findings are no surprise.
“Top female talent is more attracted to work on a team where they can see themselves in leadership and know that is respected in the company,” said K.J. Erickson, the CEO of Simbi, a service exchange platform.
Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels, a network of women investors, said the survey failed to address the elephant in the room — race.
“How many of those women founders are white women,” asked Oberti Noguera, one of the speakers at the Iowa Women Lead Change Women’s Leadership conference in 2016. “It would’ve been even more exciting if this report had included race and gender together.”
Indeed, one 2016 study found that only 0.2 percent of venture deals from 2012 to 2014 went to start-ups led by black women. Lauren Schulte, founder of Flex Co., agreed gender is just one part of the diversity equation.
She recalled attending a Los Angeles gathering for women founders that attracted more than 200 women, but few of color.
“There were only two black women and maybe four Asian women, the rest of women were predominantly blonde and very attractive,” Schulte said. “This is not representative of the people that are out there.”
Diversity — gender, race and age, among other factors — is crucial to being competitive in the startup world, Schulte said. It “can bring a richness to problem solving that you can’t get if you have 10 people who are clones.”