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The 2021 Women Founder Report, compiled by the Vegan Women’s Summit (VWS), highlights concerning trends facing female-identifying leaders. Despite the plant-based business world experiencing vast growth, attitudes towards non-male figures within it are not proving as progressive. In 2020, just three percent of $3 billion investment raised in the industry went to women-led companies.
Harassment, discrimination and a lack of investor confidence are some of the issues facing women in the plant-based sphere. Racial bias has been identified as a growing trend. Despite the difficulties, female leaders remain largely positive, especially with regards to closing potential fundraising rounds. 145 women founders across six continents were surveyed, with 55 percent located in North America. Veg Capital, Good Food Institute, Plant Based Foods Association, Material Innovation Initiative, ProVeg International, and Vevolution all supported the survey.
Jumping the funding hurdles
Data collected via the VWS founder survey revealed that 21 percent of founders are planning to raise $5 million or more in 2022. This is despite Covid-19 impacts. Of those looking to launch fundraising rounds, 86 percent reported high levels of confidence that they will reach their targets. However. 60 percent of women reported experiencing bias in fundraising and of them, four out of five cited gender bias.
When it came to surviving a pandemic, 58 percent of female founders did not seek government support. A positive consequence of the pandemic is that more interest has been identified in plant-based innovations. 48 percent of respondents said that their business benefitted from the pandemic. Of them, 32 percent revealed that investor curiosity had increased.
76 percent of founders reported that they actively seek out industry-specific funding options. Plant-based and animal-alternative funders were most sought after. Founders admitted that product understanding was increased and 56 percent felt more supported, as a leader, by focussed and knowledgeable investors.
Discrimination in the boardroom
Women of colour (WOC) are facing more bias, despite one in three founders being from non-white backgrounds. The survey found that WOC are 1.5 times more likely to face harassment or discrimination than other.s Two in five WOC revealed racial bias when approaching fundraising initiatives, leading to three in five feeling more supported by investment funds that target founders of colour.
Overall, women founders revealed that since the 2020 report, there has been a 23 percent increase in bias experienced during fundraising. A 33 percent increase in harassment and discrimination was highlighted across the board.
Mixing business and family
One positive trend was a decrease in women feeling that being responsible for a child was a barrier to getting ahead. From 2020, 16 percent fewer women felt hampered by family life; 46 percent of respondents identified as a parent or guardian. This was almost identical to the number of women who claimed to be solo founders, which came in at 45 percent.
Away from the office, half of all those surveyed reported experiencing depression. Two in five felt they had been through an episode of anxiety.
The women helping the planet
97 percent of all founders identified their businesses as working towards one or more UN Sustainable Development goals. Of these, 55 percent are actively engaged in the climate action sphere. Four out of five were compelled to start their businesses because of a personal mission and two in five either eliminated or reduced animal products from their diet as a result. 86 percent of respondents hold a Bachelor’s degree qualification or higher and the largest age demographic is 30-39. 38 percent of founders fit into the bracket.
VWS has been championing women in the plant-based sector since its inception. Last year it hosted a virtual ‘Future of Food’ job fair, to support diversity in the workplace. Giving a platform to underrepresented professionals, particularly those of colour, the event showcased a number of female-led operations as inspiration.
All images courtesy of Unsplash.