Women's startups held back by 'unconscious and irrational' gender bias

Only 5% of female Catalan entrepreneurs get funding from investors and less than 1% access bank loans

María Jesús Salido, SocialDiabetes cofounder and executive director
María Jesús Salido, SocialDiabetes cofounder and executive director / Aina Martí

ACN | @agenciaacn | Barcelona

March 8, 2023 10:56 AM

March 8, 2023 12:26 PM

When investors are choosing whether to back a startup, the gender of the entrepreneur pitching to them "unconsciously and irrationally" determines their decision-making, according to the entrepreneurs and investors consulted by the Catalan News Agency (ACN). 

Only 5% of female entrepreneurs in Catalonia have been able to access capital from investment funds to develop a business, while less than 1% have obtained bank loans

They argue that projects led by a man seen as "promising" are, on the other hand, seen as "incipient" if headed by a woman. 

Stereotypes as well as a lack of confidence were cited as the main barriers to access financing. 

"For every female reference point, we have 200 male ones," says Liliana Arroyo, head of Digital Society at the Catalan government. 

Only 5% of female entrepreneurs have been able to access capital from investment funds


The most common source of funding for female entrepreneurs is their own savings (52.2%), followed by the sale of a previous business (30%), or loans from friends and family (11%). 

"As a woman you are invisible to investment funds," Arroyo says, with the venture capital world dominated by men with few female investors. 

Startups are mostly led by men; only 20% of startups in Spain in 2022 were founded by women, as detailed in the 'Map of Entrepreneurship' produced by South Summit. 

Only 6% of emerging companies have female founders only, compared to 59% founded solely by men. 

And while 52% of European companies count at least one woman among their founders, in Spain only 33% of companies do.  

Men investing in men 

"There are investors who are not interested in our sector and directly will not meet us," says Anna Boldú, executive director and co-founder of Platanomelón, an online sex toy store with millions of followers on social media. 

In the end it all boils down to the fact that men invest in men, Boldú complains. 

The fact that the company deals with a "very feminine" theme made it "even more difficult" for them to find funding, she adds. 

"I've had meetings with funders that invest only in women's companies and when my interlocutors are women everything flows in a very different way." 

"There is a lack of women investing and with the purchasing power to invest," Boldú says, adding that risk aversion also differs according to gender. 

"We need benchmarks to look up to and see that we woman too can take this path." 

Another entrepreneur, María Jesús Salido agrees.

The world of venture capital "is dominated by men and takes companies run by men as a reference," says the executive director and co-founder of SocialDiabetes, a digital platform that aims to improve patients' management of diabetes and is used daily by more than 300,000 people. 

In the technology sector, "there are historically many more men," which she believes leads to a "predisposition" to maintain this bias when looking for funding. 

The gender gap is especially noteworthy within Catalan technology companies. Only 6% of ICT positions in Catalan companies are occupied by women, according to the latest survey (2021) from the Catalan Technology Circle. 

Helena Torras, an investor from the Hans(wo)men group, says that investors tend to invest in what they know and feel reflected in. She believes that more women investors are needed. "That way there will be more female entrepreneurs who will receive funding," she says. 

Inequality in large companies 

Gender bias is not only noticeable in the world of start-ups, with women accounting for very few of the highest executive positions in large companies in Spain. 

While the number of women on boards of directors continues to grow and has reached 32%, the gender gap remains stark at the highest level. Only three women are presidents of IBEX 35 companies while of the 31 CEOs, only one is a woman. 

"Finding references like you is important. Right now we calculate that for every female reference figure we see 200 male ones. If it were evened out a bit, we would no longer have to talk about the heroines but simply female entrepreneurs," concludes Arroyo, head of Digital Society at the Catalan government.