When I first started writing this blogpost, the dust from last year’s International Women’s Day debates had hardly settled. Headlines and debates early 2019 were heavily skewed towards the absence of women on the entrepreneurial scene and the apparent lack of interest for investments among women.
Why are there so few female entrepreneurs?
Why don’t female founders get funding?
Where are the female investors?
Listening to prominent speakers and experienced business people debating topics like “Are women more risk-averse than men?” and “Why do women rather spend money on expensive handbags than shares?”, I felt frustrated and discouraged by the fact that most debates kept circling back to why women don’t want to claim their share of societal ownership.
Many of the debates were biased towards a lack of both interest, willingness and competence among women. I fundamentally disagreed with the premise of the discussions, and felt a lack a clear focus on what’s really inhibiting women from investing more of their capital.
As the calendar closes in on yet another 8th of March, I am hoping for a more constructive debate this year: We need a debate centered around what we can do to inspire women to claim their shares (literally!), rather than just stating the problem through the lens of traditional gender bias.
Luckily, a lot has happened since last year, leaving me hopeful that this year’s debate will focus on solutions rather than problems.
2019: The year of women
Let me start by acknowledging some of the many great things that are changing. In Norway, female participation has been high on the agenda due to several different initiatives launched in 2019:
- The largest Norwegian bank DNB launched a widespread campaign called #sheinvests (#huninvesterer) that created a wave of attention around the fact that “we can’t run the world unless we own it” (DNB).
- The annual aid campaign organised by the largest TV station NRK selected CARE as the receiver of this 2019’s support under the campaign “It’s her turn now". Millions of NOK were raised to give women in some of the world’s poorest countries the opportunity to build a better life for themselves, their families and their communities.
- In social media, groups and influencers aim to increase the awareness about- and participation of women in both debating and sharing knowledge about investment and finance. One of these is managed by the leading financial newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, called “Women who are interested in economy and equality”, which increases the media’s access to information about what financial related topics women seek, on top of the agenda.
- In 2019, the founders behind the series of successful #hunspanderer-campaigns launched a commercial community-based platform where employees can leave anonymous reviews about equal opportunity, company culture, work/life balance and the management's commitment to diversity. EqualityCheck, which the company I work for, Norselab, recently invested in, promotes organisations’ accountability through transparency. I encourage all readers to go to equalitycheck.it to put equality on the agenda at your company too!
According to Finansforbundet, these initiatives have had an impact of historical magnitude:
5.500 women made their first share purchase in 2019 – up from only 1.000 in 2018. That equals 450% growth in a single year, and it’s also the first time the increase in new investors among women exceeds the increase among men.
There’s still work to be done
Despite the good news, as DNB points out in their campaign; we still have a way to go.
Norwegian men have 1.216 billion NOKs more than women in gross fortune. Last year, as much as 80% of all dividends were paid out to men.
Ownership will never fully be equally distributed throughout our societies, but a fundamental, societal problem arises when a subgroup of a population - in this case, women - is systematically underrepresented.
Women and men might have equal democratic voting rights, but the fact that men own substantially more equity than women in a society means that men are the ones with voting rights in the board rooms of large corporates - and hence the ones with greatest influence on our economy.
This is not just a fundamental democratic problem, but it ultimately has substantial negative implications for society at large. The statistics are crystal clear: according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), each additional woman in a senior position or to the board of a company, could yield a 3% - 8% increase in profitability. This only goes to show the price we pay for gender imbalance - both for women as a subgroup and for society at large.
What can I do?
Today, only 30% of Norwegians investing in publicly traded stock are women. And when it comes to startups, according to Abelia, only 1% of investors are women. But Norwegian women are not at all a disfavoured minority, and it should be natural for women to own shares to a much larger extent.
In my group of girlfriends these types of issues are often discussed and debated. We are all business graduates with professional experience from a variety of industries, I know we are at least as strong professionals as our male coworkers. However, when it came down to a raise of hands last year, it turned out that only a couple of our 20+ strong group identified as being an investor. That is troubling!
The imbalance hit me even harder when I realised that, after joining Norselab, I’ve been approached by several male friends wanting to invest in our portfolio. None of my female friends have done the same.
Among Norselab’s ~60 shareholders, only 8% are female. 6% if you exclude me.
It’s time to act
I don’t like saying that girls need to learn from the boys; however, my experience from student life to early years in business is that more men than women have a deliberate approach to investing their capital in the opportunities we surround ourselves with.
So women (and men), take it from someone who works with startups every day; here are my three best pieces of advice to get out and deploy your well-earned capital with unlisted companies;
Until recently, investment clubs were something I associated with old boy’s CEO-networks and people with so much cash they could make betting on companies a hobby.
However, a couple of years into my professional career I realised that investment clubs had formed in my network, and it was only in hindsight that I became aware of what was happening. My male colleagues discussed different investment positions and gained experience together.
Joining forces with others makes you more capable of navigating the market than if you operate as individuals;
The broader your collective network is, the more likely you are to hear about potential investment opportunities. Furthermore: Together you will have better capacity to fulfill minimum tickets, which again increases your ability to spread risk.
And last but not least: it is more fun to invest together.
There are already a lot of resources available on how to set up a shareholder club. If you’re looking for a place to begin, I would recommend this read as a starting point.
If you don’t want to invest on the open stock market, knowing the right people might be fundamental to getting a chair at the table. In the startup community, funding rounds are often only communicated through the grapevine, and very rarely broadcasted to anyone outside the existing investor network. So how can you make sure people know that you are looking into investment opportunities?
Step 1: think about the people you have around you; people you have worked with, studied with, people you know but might not know very well. The Nordic startup scene is booming! Chances are you probably know someone who has quit their job to start their own company, people who work in or with a startup, people working for a fund or another investment entity – or even just people who are part of an investment club as mentioned above.
Step 2: Reach out to learn more. An informal, noncommittal request to learn about someone’s new job is very often welcomed. Good market intel is worth the cost of a coffee. Once people know you have entered the playing field you’ll probably receive more tips in the future. But don’t forget to make sure you return the favour if you have the chance. That’s how networking works…
When it comes to investing in startups, risk is always part of the equation. You must be willing to lose some to gain a lot. The best way to hedge loss is to spread your investments. But unless you have a large pot of investable assets, you will probably end up in a catch 22 position:
Startups generally have a minimum entry ticket for investments - simply because handling too many investors is inconvenient.
Easy math; if you have 60 000 NOK to invest, and the bar to get a ticket is 200 000 NOK – join forces with 9 of your best friends and spread your amount on three different objects. Together you will a) get access, b) spread your risk and c) learn more about how different cases develop and maybe make even better investments over time.
Ending on a high note
After last year’s discouragement I decided to do a poll among my group of friends as we approached 8th of March 2020. The results were more uplifting than last year’s hand raise:
20 out of 20 responded that they now own listed shares. That’s worth celebrating!Yet, only 4 out of 20 said they own unlisted shares in startups. In 2021 I expect that number to be a lot higher...
Every week a future successful business is created somewhere in Norway. It will need support and funding. Now it’s up to you to seize the opportunity.
I welcome any comment, viewpoints or tips on how to inspire women to invest more. Don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.