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Women-Led Business: Barcelona and the Global Movement (International Women's Day Special)

Dror Wayne & Sophie Grant
08 March 2019

International Women's Day (8th March) has been running for around 110 years - with the same core aim of promoting women's rights and equality across all areas. Needless to say, we've come a long way in that time - women gained the vote in the UK (1918), USA (1920) and Spain (1931); women have access to far more job opportunities that they wouldn't have been considered for before and women play prominent roles in the governments and parliaments of most western democracies. 

There's still a long way to go, however, and International Women's Day remains just as important. Recognising that this progress is recent and we're not yet at a stage where equality is the norm is the only way to ensure it continues to spread across the world. The fact remains that women who may not have had the same access to jobs 30 or 40 years ago may still be affected in their career today and whilst it's not necessarily intentional, many work-related and office social events are still geared towards men. Indeed according to one 2013 study, 81% of women feel some form of exclusion at work whilst 92% of men don't feel like they're excluding women.

Today, we're going to look, in a positive light, at the progress of equality in the workplace, with a specific focus on women led businesses. In particular, how these new business demographics are changing the landscape of Barcelona’s ecosystem and who to keep an eye on in next generation of female entrepreneurial game-changers. By being aware of this and celebrating the progress, we hope that consciousness of archaic stereotypes will increase and real advances can continue.

Women Led Businesses: Barcelona and the Global Movement

According to new research, the number of women-led businesses has seen a surge of nearly 3000% since 1972. “This new data demonstrates not only the remarkable impact women entrepreneurs have on our economy when it comes to creating jobs and generating revenue, but also the growing role of women-owned businesses in our communities.” Those were the words of businesswoman Julie Tomich, SVP of American Express Global Commercial Services, the organisation that produced this data. 

It’s safe to say that women-led businesses are on the rise. Women start around 1,800 businesses every day in the US; that’s almost double the figure for the post-recession period. We’re seeing a surge in business ownership and management among women around the world, and our hometown of Barcelona is no exception. Within our startup and business ecosystem, a thriving community of female entrepreneurs, women in tech organisations, events and opportunities have surfaced that reflect this surge of female-spearheaded organisations around the world. 

The State of Play: Women-Led Businesses Around the World 

So, we know women-led businesses are on the rise. But let’s break that down. There remain sectors in which women are severely underrepresented. Did you know that only 5% of tech startups are owned by women? Even though 46.8% of professionals in the US are women, women are still dramatically underrepresented in the tech world. New statistics show that women make up between 26% and 43% of the workforces at leading technology companies. That’s against a backdrop of a gender pay gap estimated to be around 18%, Clearly then, there’s still a way to go in terms of workplace equality in the technology sector. 

In addition, there’s evidence that technology organisations aren’t easy places to work as a woman, with a rising number of high-profile cases against tech giants like Uber involving workplace sexual harassment investigations, and surveys in which sixty-six per cent of Silicon Valley female participants said that they had been excluded from important events because of their gender. It might come as no surprise then that an average of 16% of global startups have a female founder, and less than 1% of those founders are women of colour. In fact, according to the recent groundbreaking ProjectDiane report, a staggering 0.0006% of the $424.7 billion in total tech venture funding raised since 2009 has gone to black women founders. Indeed, a key obstacle facing women, and women of colour specifically, that are looking to found a business is the difficulty to secure venture capital. This is an area which has drastically failed to move with the times in terms of accelerating women-led businesses alongside male-led organisations.  

That paints a somewhat depressing picture. However, it’s not all bad news. This year, Melanie Perkins became one of the youngest female entrepreneurs to turn a startup into a $1 billion company with her innovative design platform, Canva. Emily Weiss this year celebrates the fourth year of her cult beauty brand Glossier that she founded aged 29. Since then it’s seen 600% year-over-year growth and recently raised a 52 million funding round. The COO of Facebook, the CEO of Youtube, the CFO of Microsoft, the CEO of IBM, the president of Didi Chuxing all have something in common: they’re all women. Against the backdrop of under-representation and a lingering inequality in some sectors, there’s evidence of change underfoot in others. More women are attending business schools, more are gaining an education in tech and are learning to code than ever before. What’s more, many women-led businesses focus their energies on breaking barriers for the next generation of female entrepreneurs too. This is contributing to a growing community of front-running female entrepreneurs that are breaking glass ceilings, smashing stereotypes and changing the makeup of the world’s boardrooms and businesses. That’s the global outlook, but how does that compare to Spain and our dynamic city of Barcelona? 

Positioning Spain: A Leader in Women-Led Entrepreneurship

According to research by South Summit, 22% of Spain’s startups in 2018 are run by women. That places Spain above the US at 17% and the UK around 20%, but lagging behind some surprising world leaders in the market share of women-led businesses: such as Ghana at 46.4%, Uganda at 33.8% and Vietnam at 31.3%. Interestingly, rates of female entrepreneurship don’t tend to correlate to a country economic wealth and development. Some of the world’s least wealthy economies have reached far higher rates of business ownership among women than, for instance, countries we think of as developed, forward-thinking and business minded like Germany, France and Sweden. Reasons cited for this have been the need for women in underdeveloped economies to support themselves in unfavourable conditions, and the existence of deep-rooted archaic corporate structures in more developed economies. Given this trend, Spain’s positioning as 8th within Mastercard’s 2018 Index of Women Entrepreneurs is an impressive achievement. A study conducted last year by Aston University found that Spain has the smallest male/female ratio of early-stage entrepreneurs of all developed economies. According to this study, there are 74 female Spanish entrepreneurs for every 100 male founders, a leap up from, for instance, the UK at 53. To position Spain within this ever-evolving trend and complex discussion, we can say it’s ranked consistently above the global average in terms of female-led businesses. 

Barcelona: A Hub For Female Talent 

The story in our colourful city of Barcelona is no different: in Dell’s 2018 Women Entrepreneur Cities Study, Barcelona ranked within the top 30 cities worldwide that have the ability to “attract and support high potential women entrepreneurs”. As a startup hub and Europe’s fifth city by the number of startups in 2017, Barcelona’s thriving tech community, low prices and quality of life have proved attractive for founders from around the world. Evidence also suggests it’s been a popular home for female founders in particular. With a burgeoning women in tech movement, a number of female-focused communities, coworking spaces and accelerators, the city offers a supportive framework for women-led businesses not only to launch but to receive investment and grow businesses too. 

Barcelona’s Allstars 

Within Barcelona’s startup ecosystem, to mention just a few standout allstars, Laura Fernandez has founded Barcelona-based AllWomen, the evolution of Future Funded, which provides a variety of workshops, training services and events to help shape the futures of women in tech. She’s also a mentor to young tech entrepreneurs and a content curator too. Another groundbreaking women-led business is B-Wom, a digital women's’ health coach, founded by ‘serial entrepreneur’ Helena Torres. Manzaning is an app that’s changing the groceries game by connecting local businesses with their customers via an end-to-end product and delivery platform, and was co-founded by CEO Eva Tomas. Wisar is a disruptive flexible work platform founded by Sandra Arévalo and Natalia Arango. Gestoos is an artificial intelligence platform for cameras and sensors, founded by Andrea Halfpap who is currently its director of design. Other notable women-led businesses leading the surge in our city are: Sharify with its founder Gemma Prenafeta Ribera; Pentasity with its co-founder Monica Chitnis; People on the Grid with its founder Katrina Logie; Ship2B with its co-founder Clara Navarro Colomer and Deliberry with its CEO and co-founder Gemma Sorigue. These examples of female entrepreneurship represent just a small portion of the female-led projects and organisations that are disrupting markets from their base in Barcelona. They demonstrate that the rise of women-led businesses is alive and well in Barcelona, and has a bright future ahead of it. 

The Rise of Women-Led Businesses 

We’re at a vital moment in the rise of women-led businesses. Though still a minority, there’s a visible groundswell of, and change in attitude around, companies led by women. This evolution doesn’t just bode well for female graduates and innovators ready to take their industries by storm, but it will mean positive results for business growth too. Studies show that companies run by women tend to perform better than the market, with an average annualized return among women-led businesses doubling what the MSCI World Index delivered between 2007 and 2017. A lack of female talent and leadership is fast becoming a weakness, rather than the norm. Against this context, Barcelona occupies a vital and exciting position within this movement. Not only is it an attractive location for all kinds of entrepreneurs, but will also continue to be an inspiring home to some trailblazing women-led businesses. 

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