23 October 2015

Attending the 30% Club taught me why women in investments makes sense

Attending the 30% Club taught me why women in investments makes sense

Women in business and particularly women in technology has inspired me from an early age when I studied business and management at DCU. I started my career with Atlantic Bridge Capital, a tech growth equity firm in Dublin last year. At Atlantic Bridge, we know that businesses with women in senior management roles, and more specifically investment firms with women on the investment teams are positioned to achieve tremendous heights. With less than 4% of venture capital money in Silicon Valley flowing into women owned businesses and with only 5% of women in US VC, there is a well-documented concern.

Ireland however can set a real example here as the country is doing exceptionally well on an international scale compared to the US, The leading Irish VC firms, including Atlantic Bridge Capital, all have successful female investors on their teams: Elaine Coughlan, Helen McBreen (Atlantic Bridge) Ena Prosser (Fountain Healthcare Partners), Orla Rimmington (Kernel Capital), Jennifer McKeever (Seroba Kernel) and Debbie Rennick (Act Venture Partners) to name a few.

Gender diversity has become very prevalent for many leading businesses in recent years especially. Workforce diversity reports from Google and Apple revealed that only 30% of its workforce are women, Yahoo employs 37% women, Facebook - 31% and LinkedIn - 39%. At last year's Web Summit in Dublin, of the 130 people to address audiences from the main stage, only 24 of them were women.

Attending the 30% Club helped me to understand further the challenges facing companies with respect to gender diversity and discuss and recognise the initiatives that are being put in place to address these challenges.

Sandra Rockett, Investment Director, Irish Life Investment Management & Helen McBreen, Atlantic Bridge Capital both spoke about the strong fiscal results and high performance of companies with strong gender diversity in their senior teams.

Personally, working with women in senior positions is hugely encouraging. It gives younger women who are thinking of entering specific male dominated sectors or industries a role model to look up to, which I found was hugely important when deciding what career path to choose.

Additionally, new research from Harvard has shown that a diverse workplace can have a profound impact on both business success and technical innovation, as well as market growth - a finding that should intensify efforts to ensure that executive ranks both embody and embrace the power of differences. According to areport by Caliper, female employees are persuasive leaders within the workplace because they tend to be empathic listeners. As a result, women understand objections or concerns others may have and know how to effectively formulate a response. It is hugely important to have balance at the investment table because that way, decisions can be open to more views, opinions and debate. More challenges ultimately lead to better decisions being made.

Helen and Sandra also touched on how unconscious bias plays a big role at the investment table. Female founders tend to have a positive approach to risk, progress further with less capital and have more successful IPO’s. So many VC firms have left behind a lot of opportunity in the US due to unconscious bias and new female founded VC firms such as SoGAL Ventures and Aspect Ventures are setting up in their place. It begs the question what do we do to change investors perspective so that more women founded companies are being invested in and this in turn comes down to the perceptions of investors and encouragement from all sides of the table. Allowing females to sit at the table will empower women and they should be encouraged and motivated to be part of business decision making. Investors and entrepreneurs must be part of the solution to ultimately breakdown the barriers to the success of female entrepreneurs.

It was both refreshing and encouraging to know how much is being done to address the challenges of gender diversity on so many different levels, from early education to the workforce environment. I'm looking forward to the next 30% Club council meeting which is being held in November to learn more about the initiatives being done to tackle gender diversity in the workplace.

Kathy Kelly - Investment Analyst - Atlantic Bridge