Fixing the funding gap for female founders – Janneke Niessen
You know the saying, ’empowered women empower women’? Well, investor, serial entrepreneur, technologist and innovator Janneke Niessen is the personification of that motto. I sat down with the Dutch feminist powerhouse to discuss the gender funding gap and how to fix it.
Marlies: In 2019, you and your partner, scientist and investor Eva de Mol, published the shocking results of the research you did on the investment in female entrepreneurs and diversity by venture capitalists: only 1,6% of the money went to female founders! How is this still possible?
Janneke: Gender bias plays a very big role. Women are still judged differently; a young woman is seen as inexperienced, a young man as showing potential. A man with a flashy car is considered successful, a woman conspicuous: ‘What is she going to do with our money?’. Often, it simply has to do with a tendency to go for the familiar: people invest in people like themselves. Gender bias is rarely a conscious decision. I haven’t met a lot of men who flat out say: ‘I refuse to invest in a woman!’. It is a deeply embedded mindset, in both men and women.
Marlies: It really is! I’ve had my own company for 27 years now, and for a long time about 90% of my personnel was female. Again and again, my head of HR would tell me: ‘I’m sorry, I simply cannot find a man for this position.’ And I could tell she was genuinely trying! In the same way that men may really be trying to hire or invest in women, but failing. How can we break through that?
Janneke: We have to create a level playing field, especially in the area of investing. Just think about it: of the 10 most valuable companies in the world, 7 once started out with funding from venture capitalists! So, as a female founder, you have to go out and network. Literally get out of the office and make yourself seen. Go to events, make connections. It may feel awkward at first; I remember being terrified to go out there at 23 with my new company, not knowing anybody. But believe me, it gets easier.
Marlies: For me, networking didn’t come naturally. I had to force myself to do it. Eventually, it became second nature. I still make a shortlist of 5 people I want to meet every year. And it can be a lot of fun! I really looked forward to meeting you, for example. What achievement are you particularly proud of?
Janneke: As a result of our research you mentioned earlier, 25 key players in the Dutch world of venture capitalism agreed to only invest in companies that have at least 35% women among their executives; a quota they also set as a target for their own companies. On top of it being a great step forward, I see it as a sign that more men are starting to speak up for gender equality as well. And that gives me hope.
Marlies: Me too. Every man who comes forward to say: ‘I am a feminist’, is a milestone. Because in the end, we have to do this together. Thank you, Janneke!
Welcome to the garden of EARTHLY DELIGHTS
You may not think of Frida Kahlo as a typical gardener – can you imagine her in rubber boots? – but together with her beloved Diego she turned the garden of their ‘Casa Azul’ into a luscious paradise of locally sourced flora.
How to keep your heels and standards HIGH
Ruthie Davis is just like the amazing shoes she designs: daring, empowering and totally fabulous. After making Reebok hip again and completely revamping Uggs, she launched her own brand 10 years ago and quickly became the go-to designer for feminine feminists like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. I met up with the American style maven in New York where we discovered we have a lot in common. Ruthie: “Fashion can be a tough game! I’m proud to still be standing… in my six-inch heels!”
« Unlock Your Potential » book launch in Amsterdam
The second workshop and launch of Marlies’ new book ‘Unlock your potential’ is a fact!
Selfmade STAR maker
She grew up in a town with 3 traffic lights; now Lisa Benson represents some of the top names in the industry like Chanel Iman, Chrissy Teigen and Kelly Rohrbach. I met up with the IMG model manager to talk about the art of persistence and the importance of dreaming big. “I always trust my instinct.”