London is no stranger to female leadership: from monarchs to prime ministers, there is an unprecedented number of female entrepreneurs currently residing in the UK. According to the House of Commons 2014 report on Economic Policy and Statistics by Chris Rhodes, 18% of SMEs are female lead- which makes the UK the leader in the global world in terms of female startup founders and small business owners- more so than the US, in which the overall percentage of female founders is a paltry 9.7% according to this 2015 report.
Just this year, Britain's top companies in the FTSE 100 more than doubled the amount of female board members, from 11% in 2011 to 23.5% in 2015. This beats any statistic around the world.
What could make up for this discrepancy? Why does the UK support more female entrepreneurs, board members and business owners than the rest of the world?
For one, the UK has a long history of valuing education. Whereas the most popular US entrepreneurs in the media are often noted for being university dropouts, UK entrepreneurs are more likely to possess a MA degree. The US also favours "hackers" as founders, as Y-Combinator notes on their website, they prefer at least one hacker on a founding team, and will not accept startups without one. For Y-Combinator to even consider them, entrepreneurs have to sign up on their Hacker News website and preferably be active on them. Peter Thiel even started a fund to direct towards hackers 20 years old and under, and propagated controversial statements that young people should drop out of school. Hackers can often be great disruptive founders who unsettle an ecosystem of tradition, however, the dismal reality is that most hackers tend to be male and located in the United States, South Korea, Russia or China.
So why aren't women more interested in becoming hackers? Although 28.5% of software engineers are women, they often don't participate in the hacker subculture. Why? Probably because sitting in front of the computer all day, trying to hack into someone's system or exploring areas of potential cybercrime doesn't really appeal to us.
Whereas more than 90% of startups in the US fail, the companies with at least one female founder is often more successful. This could be because women tend to be sensible, innovative thinkers who see more than "hacking" into a system and getting away with something. Stanford University has found that the more diverse a founding team is, the higher the chances for its success.
In contrast, the UK produces entrepreneurs who are often also philosophers and thinkers, such as Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop, who set a precedent for the way corporations interact and integrate social causes in the 1980s and 1990s; the US seems to produce entrepreneurs who like to break into systems; a young university dropout who is often taken into the nursing wing of a VC group and molded into a CEO. Of course, there are always rare exceptions to the uni dropout rule, and one of our current clients, the iconic Cambridge-based Annie Brooking, who is CEO of Bactest, a company that won last year's Telegraph SME of the Year Award, left her Australian university during her first year to become a self-educated inventor, entrepreneur and visiting University Professor in Computer Science at Newcastle University.
However, the grim reality is that most university dropouts do not become Professors nor forward thinkers who disrupt current markets with groundbreaking technology. This is not to say that the United States doesn't produce great founders, but the UK tendency is to produce great thinkers, and forward thinking founders are what is necessary to maintain our humanity in a world of technological anarchy.
By Sierra Choi, Director of Marketing