Pervasive Inequality In Food Tech: New Survey Shows Gender Bias Still Too Common

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The Vegan Women Summit (VWS), an organisation dedicated to break the gender bias and discrimination in the food tech world, recently published a report on the extensive investment inequities in the burgeoning alternative protein sector. Despite the industry’s reputation for innovating progressive and transformative solutions for our broken food system, the report, which polled 160 women founders of plant-based and cell-based food startups, highlights that the industry remains an unequal playing field for female entrepreneurs. Here are 6 key takeaways from the report. 

Read: How gender inequality in food tech is as pervasive as all tech

1. Almost half of female founders face bias in fundraising 

Nearly half of the female founders polled – 48% – reported that they have faced bias during the fundraising process, with the most commonly cited bias is gender bias. Of this group, 75% said that they faced gender bias specifically. Other discriminatory experiences include racial bias, age bias and first-time founder bias. 

2. Sexual harassment or discrimination affects a third of female founders 

On top of fundraising biases, a significant portion of the female founders polled said that they have faced harassment and discrimination. One of the key findings of the report was that a whopping 30% – nearly a third – of the group have experienced harassment or discrimination, with half of this group saying that investors were the source. Over one-third – 35% – did not take any action against the people responsible. 

Source: Op Med

3. Networking and mentorship gaps remain a key issue

Many female founders still face difficulties finding mentors due to lack of connections and networks in the field, the report said. More than half – 55% – said they do not have a mentor, and many responded that they had challenges in finding a successful relationship with a mentor. One of the founders surveyed said: “All my mentors were men who disappeared as success grew, or they disappeared when I refused to sleep with them. Women face different hurdles.”

4. Female founders prioritise ethics first and foremost

Women founders in the fast-growing food tech industry are attracted to the space for a variety of reasons, but the top cited reason is ethical issues. The VWS’ survey found that 52% of female founders listed ethical issues in the animal agriculture industry as their primary driver for founding the startup, while 46% ranked environmental issues next. 

5. “Double-duty” of being a caregiver & founder remains a key barrier to success

Food tech is no different to any other industry, with many women founders saying that their role as a parent, guardian or primary caregiver to their children while heading their business as a key obstacle to success. Of the 45% of female founders experiencing this, 92% reported specifically that time commitments from caregiving was the main barrier, followed by fewer networking opportunities (50%) and bias faced due to being a mother (35%).

Source: IMF

6. Pandemic could mean positive fundraising future for female founders

Coronavirus has upended the global economy and severely disrupted businesses all over the world. But it has also led to an awakening for consumers, who are now prioritising food safety, health and sustainability more than ever before. With this, 30% of the female founders polled by VWS saw an increase in investors and a 50% rise in consumer demand during the pandemic. Showing no signs of slowing down, almost two-thirds – 63% – of women founders said they are planning to fundraise within the next year, with 59% of the group aiming to raise at least US$1 million and 12% setting their sights on US$10 million or more. 

Lead image courtesy of Getty Images / iStock / designed by Green Queen Media.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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