Female Founders

Discussing gender in the European start-up industry


Today, all around the world, men are more likely to be involved in entrepreneurial activities.

Women build companies at a much lower rate, particularly in Europe where only 30% of entrepreneurs are women. The number is low, and increases ever so slowly, despite many achievements in terms of women’s economic empowerment in France and The Netherlands.

What is going well

Female entrepreneurship has increased dramatically in Europe over the past years. That phenomenon can be explained by women gradually entering the workforce, starting in the 1950s. In 1947, only 22% of French women and 25% of Dutch women were working. Today, the number has risen to 73% for France and 76% for The Netherlands. However, women remain in employee positions, and are much less likely to build their own company.

Additionally, women have become more educated over the years. In 2016, there were actually more female students in French and Dutch universities than male students! They are particularly active in business schools, where they acquire important entrepreneurship knowledge. However, the STEM field (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) continues to be male-dominated. That is problematic, because these skills are especially needed in innovative start-ups.

What is still missing

Female entrepreneurs are confronted with more difficulties than men in the creation and development of their start-ups. First of all, they are much less likely to receive funding. In 2017, only 13% of French start-ups who raised money were led by female founders. On average, they raise 1,8 million € – number that might seem extraordinary but is actually quite small, when compared to what male founders raise (3,5 million). That can be explained by several factors:

Addressing the toxic culture of the tech industry is essential, because culture is at the core of entrepreneurship. Networking, mentoring, pitching, are day-to-day activities for start-up founders. At best, women are disregarded and cast aside. At worst, they are sexually harassed and pushed to quit.

What can be done

Discriminations exist in every country, in all industries. Sometimes, it feels like the fight for gender equality will never be truly over. However, actions can be implemented immediately to ensure that female entrepreneurship keeps on growing. First, private accelerators have a role to play in supporting women-led start-ups (full article about this here). Second, public institutions must develop solutions to improve education and family policies, in order to change stereotypical beliefs on entrepreneurship (full article about this here).

If you’d like to learn more about sexism in entrepreneurship, find more resources below:

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