Unilever chose the startup-focused 4YFN stage at Mobile World Congress 2018 to unveil an ambitious, global commitment that resonates in the #MeToo era: half of all startups it partners with to have female founders within the next five years.
From its own research, also announced at MWC, Unilever learned that only 17% of startups are founded by women. This finding is in line with a 2017 Crunchbase analysis of its own data. Also, Unilever’s survey found that 39% of female founders frequently encountered sexism while running their startup, and 42% revealed funding was one of the most challenging barriers when starting up. Only 15% of venture funding goes to teams with at least one female founder, according to data compiled by diversity-in-tech nonprofit All Raise.
“We know that when we embrace diversity and inclusion in larger organizations like Unilever, we unleash the best in creativity, ideas and innovation – it’s business critical for us,” said Aline Santos, Unilever EVP Global Marketing and Head of Diversity and Inclusion. “And with Unilever Foundry we strive to work and collaborate with the most innovative startups in the world.”
The Unilever Foundry, which has worked with nearly 10,000 startups since its founding four years ago, analyzed its partnership numbers and discovered that 23% of the startups have female founders – ahead of the average “but still it’s not good enough,” noted Jonathan Hammond, Head of the Unilever Foundry, during the 4YFN discussion “A Snapshot Of The State Of Corporate/Startup Collaboration” (see the video here, also embedded below).
For the Foundry, said Jonathan, the commitment is about helping the ecosystem move forward: “How do we make sure there are more female founders starting businesses so there is a greater pool led by women to enable us to choose from and get to that 50 percent?”
Building on Jonathan’s comments, fellow panelist and Visa SVP and Global Head of Innovation Go-to-Market Shiv Singh said Visa realized it had a business problem when it found female founders were less likely to participate in its innovation program, Visa’s Everywhere Initiative, launched in 2015. With Visa operating in 200 countries, diversity is a strategic advantage, and the company performs better when teams are diverse.
“We started changing the [Visa’s Everywhere Initiative] program design to much more aggressively encourage women-led startups to participate,” Shiv said. “When we run the program in some countries, this takes the form of, ‘If you want to participate, you need to have women on your management team, period.’ We are that explicit. In other countries, we say, ‘A criteria for us, in evaluating startups, is diversity of the team.’”
Watch the full clip on female founders now: