Time to make diversity pay

Across Europe the situation is even worse: 2.1pc and 0.4pc respectively, according to the VC firm Atomico. Statistics for founders from black and ethnic minority groups, who make up more than 10pc of the population according to the 2011 census, are harder to come by, but estimates of funding also […]

Across Europe the situation is even worse: 2.1pc and 0.4pc respectively, according to the VC firm Atomico. Statistics for founders from black and ethnic minority groups, who make up more than 10pc of the population according to the 2011 census, are harder to come by, but estimates of funding also hover around 1pc.

That is not only a problem for the founders themselves. Juliet Rogan, who runs the high growth-start-ups division at Barclays, says that VC funding, while small in absolute terms, “has a disproportionately large impact on the kind of future wealth we’re going to be living in”.

That means swathes of people getting fewer products and services that solve their problems, as well as discrimination built into supposedly universal services: camera algorithms that struggle properly to capture dark faces, or health apps whose designers didn’t think to include a period tracker.

Even something as ubiquitous as a mobile phone is not immune. Until recently, few manufacturers seemed to notice or care that ever-bigger handsets were becoming too large for women to hold or use comfortably.

Part of the cause is who asks for funding – and how. While Britain has no shortage of female enterprise, with one in three entrepreneurs being women, research by Enders Analysis has found that they are less likely to take on debt and request “several orders of magnitude” less money when they do. Women are also nearly twice as likely as men to believe that they will have trouble getting a loan.

But the skewed demographics of VC itself also play a substantial role, given that 87pc of senior venture capitalists are men and 76pc of all venture staff are white. That makes it all the more unlikely for women and people of colour to get the famous “warm introduction”. Many VC firms actually require a personal referral. And, as investor and members’ club founder Debbie Woskow (No 49 on our list) has bluntly put it, “men back men”.

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