At Innovation at the Edge, we invest in new ideas, emerging technologies, and business models that both challenge and complement the Schneider Electric of today. With partnerships, seeding and accelerating startups, incubations, and joint ventures with established firms, we are covering the globe and working with entrepreneurs to turn bold ideas into reality. From sourcing ideas to understanding the different facets of the problems we want to solve, diversity is a key driver of disruptive and sustainable innovation.
The fields of venture capital are largely male-dominated; less than 3% of funding goes to female founders and women make up only 11% of Venture Capitalists. Those numbers are growing rapidly as more women are starting companies and leading venture funds.
We asked four leaders in our global Innovation team about how we can support women in innovation and inspire more female entrepreneurs.
Stephanie Zhang, Business Incubation Leader, China
Prashanthi Sudhakar, Business Incubation Director, USA
Katie Mills, Innovation Development Lead, UK&I
Mariette Oudin, Business Incubation Leader, Europe & Israel
Q: What has been your experience working in the fields of ventures and clean tech that are both known to be historically not diverse?
Prashanthi: The energy industry is going through a massive transition. Initially, it was a challenge for me to break into the mold, and my identity as a woman of color definitely has created additional barriers to break the mold. However, by focusing on supporting startups and creating value for them, I have built credibility.
Mariette: I started as an entrepreneur and built startups from scratch in a field (aeronautics and space) known to be historically predominately male-dominated. Getting background and experience through the years gave me credibility, but certainly twice as less as a man would receive. At Schneider Electric, we look at empowering women through ventures and innovation.
Q: Is diversity increasing in your local startup ecosystems?
Stephanie: Most of my contacts in startups are men, but there are more and more female entrepreneurs compared to 5 years ago.
Prashanthi: While both these industries (ventures & entrepreneurship) are historically not diverse, things are improving slowly. It is heartwarming to see companies and funds led by people from underrepresented communities. However, it needs to happen at a faster pace and organically rather than to check the box to meet KPI’s and get publicity. A lot needs to be done to groom people from different backgrounds to hold leadership positions with no comprise on meritocracy.
“It is heartwarming to see companies and funds led by people from underrepresented communities”
Katie: There are more women role models for young women to look up to, which helps. Having a diverse investment team increases the chance of a diverse portfolio of founders from a variety of backgrounds. Looking at background and experience as opposed to education help women compete, as they often have had to make sacrifices to education for family. The UK venture market has 24% women, and we are working hard to increase that number.
Mariette: I rarely meet female entrepreneurs, most of the pitches are made by men – white men. I often challenge the diversity of founders’ leadership teams and have found it hard to fight back hidden biases. We know companies that are diverse (ages, ethnicity, gender, etc.) are way more efficient, have better cash flow and turnover. It takes decades to break centuries of bias, but we are moving in the right direction.
“We know companies that are diverse (ages, ethnicity, gender, etc.) are way more efficient, have better cashflow and turnover”
Q: What advice would you give young girls wanting to break into male-dominated fields?
Prashanthi: As natural multi-taskers, I feel women bring a lot to the startup ecosystem where lines of demarcation between different roles are very blurred. It is incredibly hard to be a founder and that too a founder of a successful company. It is harder by many leaps and bounds to be a female founder of a successful startup. It is important to celebrate their tenacity.
Katie: Right now, I don’t work with female startups and this pains me. To engage more female entrepreneurs, VCs can make themselves accessible to even the playing field as opposed to relying only on personal networks.
Q: What advice would you give to women wanting to break into male-dominated fields?
Stephanie: Be yourself and embrace your uniqueness. Build a wide network and use your position to lift others up. Don’t sacrifice your personal life or time spent with family to gain achievement in your career, find a way to balance.
“Be yourself and embrace your uniqueness”
Prashanthi: Encourage young girls to dream big and aim high. Hold venture building competitions as a way to infuse interest in entrepreneurship and investments.
Katie: Don’t be intimidated. I am usually the only female and youngest. You have to own the fact that you are a woman in a male-dominated field. Look for male allies who truly understand the importance of a diverse workforce. Be a role model to others and build a strong network. Make sure you are not only hiring women but keeping them and provide opportunities to lead.
“Don’t be intimidated. I am usually the only female and youngest. You have to own the fact that you are a woman in a male-dominated field”
Mariette: Stay true to yourself, be authentic. Don’t make any compromise to who you are and what you think is the right path, invest in personal development, and find mentors.
No matter who you are, you can turn your bold ideas into a reality with Innovation at the Edge. Check out our website here to see how you can start your adventure. Any questions or for more information, reach us on our LinkedIn!
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