It’s almost International Women’s Day and that means an onslaught of tokenistic content about women (+ queer and nonbinary people), before going back to the status quo in a couple of days, right? Maybe in the broader world of the internet, but thankfully at Catalyst Fund we do things a little differently. Our Managing Partner, CFO, Investment Principal for Africa, Head of Strategy and Operations, Head of Impact and ESG, Strategic Marketing Lead, and Head of Marketing and Communications (me!) are all women. As a pre-seed VC fund and accelerator, we approach our work in a diverse and gender inclusive way not stemming from tokenisation or to check boxes because it’s built into our team and company DNA.
Why are people still calling out gender and discussing female entrepreneurs in subpar ways in 2023? Because unfortunately, we aren’t making much progress. According to data from Africa: The Big Deal, gender-diverse founding teams raised just 8% of funding across Africa in 2022. For women-only founder teams, that is only 4%. That means a shocking 92% of all funding was raised by men alone. This isn’t surprising though when you look at the kinds of people who are also making investment decisions - 65% of VC funds in the US are led by only men. These stats can feel inflated or exaggarated until you also realize that the reality can sometimes be so dark it’s almost comedic. Take the viral example of a fake, AI-generated LinkedIn profile of an American man named ‘Chad Smith’ being contacted by VC about possible funding within just 24 hours of being created.
If you are a well-meaning player in this space who wants to elevate the profiles of women doing amazing things, how can you create content that meaningfully includes their voices? Here are three simple things you can do starting today… and continuing every day.
Creating space is a great place to start. If you have power and visibility, handing over your airtime to women (or any other marginalized group) is a meaningful exercise in itself, as one result from a lack of diversity in general is monopolized, homogenous conversations and perspectives. When giving up your platform entirely to someone else - allowing them to moderate or run a live conversation on a social media channel, do a ‘takeover’ for 24h, guest host and curate an episode of your podcast etc. - you give them some of the attention that you command. The most powerful thing you can do is to let the person (in this case, the woman) guide the conversation and discuss what they want to discuss. But if for some reason the format doesn’t allow for that, i.e. if it’s an interview, a profile or a case study, make sure you’re asking the right questions.
Have you ever read a piece or heard women entrepreneurs responding to gendered questions about what it takes to be a ‘female’ founder, about work life balance, children, or how they ‘do it all’? As a working mother myself, I’d have no problem hearing these - frankly very important - questions discussed if they were openly talked about by everyone. But this would mean that global societies valued male and female caregiving equally, which isn’t the case.
One radical thing you could start doing is asking male entrepreneurs how they balance family commitments, what their caregiving responsibilities are, and what kind of supports they lean on domestically. We all need help after all, and it can be helpful to understand the realities of how any entrepreneur manages to give so much of themselves professionally, and the support systems they have. Who helps keep their home lives functional while they work? What kind of domestic and familial supports exist? If it matters for one entrepreneur, it should matter for another. Flip the script and see what happens.
But the more obvious takeaway is that when writing content that highlights women, it’s best not to ask leading questions with inherent biases. Research, as well as anecdotal evidence from women in our own portfolio, shows that women get asked more about risks by VCs while men are asked about their vision for growth. Ask women founders about their entrepreneurship journeys, and approach them with the same optimism and automatic belief you’d show in a man. What inspires them? What keeps them going? How do they approach challenges in their business? See them as an entrepreneur first, and treat them with the respect they deserve.
The problem starts and ends when International Women’s Day becomes a single day of the year, and strategies to enhance inclusion aren’t built into the fabric of an organization - whether it’s how they tell stories, recruit, work with customers, or anything (everything) else. We need to go beyond intentionality and purposely build a gender lens into all processes of a VC. Luckily there are excellent resources available to support everyone in this journey, like important work from the 2X Collaborative, GenderSmart and Village Capital.
We center inclusion in our work, not just our communications, by elevating the voices of women and our local African founders and acknowledging that because the ecosystem is lagging - sometimes extra investment in time, resources and attention is necessary to achieve equity. We hold ourselves accountable to the high standards we set, working diligently to source and invest in women and local founders in Africa.