On a nighttime call this week with a potential partner for Dentsu Aegis Network’s recently launched Female Foundry, I heard it again: "I don’t understand why we need to differentiate. A founder should just be a founder, male or female.”
As an experienced professional who is influential in the global startup community, the man who said this has significant experience and insight to help foster and develop startups. Yet in our discussion, he showed little understanding of the challenges faced by women setting up their own businesses, especially here in Asia.
So why should we care about the diverse nature of startups in Singapore and across the region? As businesses pivot to accommodate the digital economy, we see the impact this makes on brands that don’t move fast enough. In our industry, it is imperative we use technology in new and innovative ways to create differentiated brand experiences and value for consumers. And for this, we need a diverse workforce not only within our agencies, but also within the partner companies we are working with and the broader marketing ecosystem. Diversity breeds innovation, and innovation is key to winning in the digital economy.
There’s an ample amount of research, such as that highlighted in this Forbes piece, showing that female-founded startups do better financially and grow faster than startups founded solely by men. And still Female Founders, a not-for-profit dedicated to promoting equality for women in technology, shares that today fewer than 5% of Singapore-based startups are female founded.
We also know diversity isn’t only important for startups. Research shows organisations with female executives and female board members outperform businesses with all-male leadership by over 53%, despite which companies struggle to retain women as they move through the business.
In 2014, the Asian Development Bank revealed that only 20% of women in Southeast Asia are in non-agricultural employment and nearly 50% were informally employed. With connectivity and access in a state of constant improvement across the region, we wanted to understand the impact of technology and access on women’s careers, leading to the launch of our bespoke research piece #HearHerVoice. This research showed 36% of women in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines were setting up their own businesses, 47% of which were tech-enabled—equating to almost 33 million women in those three markets alone. We also found that women leveraging the power of ecommerce were earning more than the national average salary—up to 20x in Thailand.
In our own followup research, we found this burgeoning entrepreneurial population was continuing to grow. However, over half were funding their own companies and faced stunted growth opportunities due to the lack of funding. We also found women had many other challenges around confidence, choosing the right co-founder or business partner, and obtaining knowledge and support for fucntions like HR, finance and legal.
Dentsu Aegis Network and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) are both strong supporters of startups. IAB itself is a perfect example of a strong female founded startup flourishing, with Miranda Dimopoulos, CEO, at the helm. To create a more supportive and conducive landscape for startups, IAB offers a reduced membership to startups wishing to benefit from the training and networking offered through the IAB at a more manageable annual cost to their business.
At Dentsu Aegis, we understand that to win in the digital economy, we must continue to support innovative, small businesses to provide the best tools and technology for our clients. To deliver on this belief, we set up Female Foundry to foster tech-enabled, female founded startups. At Cannes Lions this year DAN, driven by iProspect’s Ruth Stubbs and Joanna Catalano for the region, committed to roll out the accelerator programme in 30 markets in 30 months. Launching first in Southeast Asia, Female Foundry will be rolled out subsequently in Latin America, Africa and South Asia in 2018, creating a global community of alumnae who can draw on each other’s unique experiences to strengthen their own businesses.
The advertising community must continue to bang the innovation drum, leveraging diversity beyond just gender, to build a digital economy of businesses which narrow the wealth gap and bridge the digital divide.
If you are interested in joining Female Foundry Accelerator Programme today is the deadline to register your business. Details of entry requirements are available on the website.
Laura Green-Wilkinson is regional marketing and communications director for Dentsu Aegis Network and an IAB board member.