Women empowering women: The female tech founders organising to uplift each other

Read time: 6 mins    |    Added date: 30/11/2023

Bluebells in woods

When Lloyds Bank convened a round table of female tech founders as part of Leeds Digital Festival, there was certainly no shortage of interest from high-achieving women in the sector.

The enthusiasm shown by the city’s community of tech female founders galvanized those at the oversubscribed event to create a new group designed to foster a community of like-minded women, both in Leeds and in other UK cities.

It’s a reaction against the status quo in an industry where men have dominated to such an extent that women can often feel excluded and even ignored.

So, why is the concept of a female founders network so important and what issues could it help overcome?

A new set of skills

While creating a novel technology is one thing, growing and scaling a business requires a completely new strategy and set of skills. Attendees said that was particularly true in the area of finance.

Tellingly, while a third of tech entrepreneurs are female, only two per cent of Venture Capital went to businesses founded exclusively by women during 2022.

That means female founders might not know the right questions to ask of potential investors in order to find the partner that is the best fit for them. And there was a view that access to investment was made more difficult because historically male dominated networks put up barriers through the use of impenetrable language and jargon.

Bridging the gap

Zandra Moore, Co-Founder and CEO of business analytics solutions specialist Panintelligence, talked about the need to bridge the gap between female founders and the overwhelmingly male advisory and investment communities.

She said: “We must move beyond transactional relationships and explore how the adviser community can help us to better understand and navigate some of the challenges that we face in growing and scaling our businesses. At the same time, we need to be able to engage with Venture Capital firms so that we can better understand what they need from us, because women have been excluded from networks for so long.”

The women at the round table were determined to help empower those following in their footsteps by building the kind of supportive network that they feel their male equivalents have benefitted from, often to the exclusion of women.

And it starts with the basics.

“We must move beyond transactional relationships and explore how the adviser community can help us to better understand and navigate some of the challenges that we face in growing and scaling our businesses.”

Zandra Moore –  Co-Founder and CEO at Panintelligence

A safe space

That means creating a safe space where women can ask questions about things like language; the business world thrives on jargon that can appear designed to exclude and intimidate.

Linda Broughton, Co-Founder of publishing platform Contribly, said that, while founders know their tech inside out, taking the next step and engaging with investors is still unnecessarily daunting.

She said: “It’s a whole new language and the learning curve is very steep. I definitely felt out of my comfort zone and in these kind of environments you can feel reluctant to speak up if there’s something you’re unsure about, but peer networks are where you can ask questions safely.”

Opening up opportunities

Andrea Cropley, Partner in the corporate team at law firm Squire Patton Boggs, agreed that the existing business networks have been geared towards men for too long.

She said: “The banks, accountants, lawyers and other intermediaries continue to focus business networking around traditionally male focussed activities: rugby, football and cricket still taking a good proportion of the Business Development spend. I am not suggesting that this stops, but there should be a balance and the guest list should be inclusive – but it often isn’t.

“It has changed significantly for the better over the last 30 years, but the business world remains male-orientated and there is still a very long way to go. To some extent it’s human nature. It’s not overt discrimination. People naturally mix in business and choose team members who share their values and who reflect who they are. Those values are starting to change with a recognition that diversity makes for a stronger economy. We can work together to accelerate change and start opening up opportunities.”

But Andrea was also able to flag significant positive developments in the investment industry, which is becoming more aware of its shortcomings in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion arena.

She said: “There is going to be significant change over the next few years, because investment funds are going to find it increasingly more difficult to get funded unless they change two things. First of all, the diversity within the companies they invest in, and secondly, diversity within their own organisations, where they are massively behind the curve.”

Role models and mentors

Aside from creating a safe space to ask questions and get advice, the female founders were determined to address a deficit in the number of successful female role models for women and girls to look up to. The discussion highlighted the fact that there aren’t enough women in STEM subjects at schools and universities, so young girls don’t feel tech is the place for them.

The funding environment also contributes, because only a tiny minority of venture funding is going into female founded businesses. And some of it is systemic and cultural, because women still predominantly bear the caring burden and there isn't the support in place to take that burden off women.

Mitali Mookerjee, Co-Founder of music tech startup CastRooms, flagged the important role that mentors can play for women entrepreneurs, and the need for more successful females to pass on their experiences, good and bad.

“Starting and leading a business can be lonely. Having mentors who are female or from my cultural background was really helpful. I have six female investors and I speak with them regularly. There is no one person who has all the answers, but we all have a unique set of experiences to share.”

Mitali Mookerjee –  Co-Founder at CastRooms

A plan of action

On that note, the attendees agreed a plan of action to build a female only peer mentoring group that would act as a safe space where tech founders could share their successes, mistakes, contacts, practical advice, moral support and more.

While the group will launch in Leeds, the ambition is to create a format that can then be replicated across the country. It’s an exciting and much-needed concept that will surely pay dividends for everyone involved.

At Lloyds Bank, we’re very much committed to enhancing our support for women entrepreneurs. To that end, we have partnered with Female Founders Rise.

It’s a community founded to help female and non-binary founders build long term, profitable businesses, working to connect female founders throughout the UK for collaboration, support and growth, and we’re proud to be sponsoring the organisation’s tech conference in January 2024.

It will bring together around 200 female founders and expert speakers, including Lloyds Bank teams, to discuss the challenges around raising growth capital.

We hope the conference will be a launchpad for the top female tech talent of tomorrow.


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