Female Founders on Taking Up Space, Shattering Biases
Hong Kong/Venture/Careers

Female Founders on Taking Up Space and Shattering Biases

Louder Connect 2023 Interviews

By the end of 2024, Hong Kong has pledged to meet one of its concrete targets to promote gender diversity in the workplace—dismantle single-gender boards and ensure that female directors are no longer scarce.

In lockstep with peers abroad amidst a global call for more diversity and female representation in the boardroom, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange is requiring listed companies to have at least one female sitting on the board by the end of December, a rule that could create 1,300 seats for women, according to Bloomberg News.

While Hong Kong has achieved some level of progress in pushing for gender diversity, industry players, particularly women who have faced biases because of their gender, acknowledge the work that needs to be done.

As of 2022, women only accounted for 16.3% of board seats in Hong Kong, far from the 26.9% global average. And while 48% of women made up the entrepreneurial community, only 19% accounted for high-growth companies, with most of them being owners of small- and medium-sized enterprises with no more than 19 staff.

Louder Connect 2023 Yamilette Cano
Louder founder Yamilette Cano

Alongside setting measurable targets, today’s conversation around gender diversity calls for translating intention into action. Last November 2023, women-focused startup Louder Global debuted its annual business summit, Louder Connect, spotlighting funding disparities faced by female-founded businesses. By extension, Louder Connect also tackled perennial problems within the startup ecosystem and how they feed into a wider systemic issue. The inaugural summit is the brainchild of multilingual entrepreneur and Louder founder Yamilette Cano, who is leveraging her expertise in public speaking and assertive communication to help individuals create a meaningful impact within their industry.

"Empowering female founders with confidence is not just about fostering individual success; it's about unlocking a pool of innovation and leadership that can elevate our entire society. When we support their ideas and growth, we're not just investing in their businesses—we're investing in a future where diversity of thought and experience drives a more inclusive and prosperous world for all,” Yamilette told The Beat Asia.

More than 20 speakers participated in the summit, representing a range of industries that included fintech, e-commerce, fashion, F&B, health and wellness, and legal practice. Among the event highlights was Radical Debates™, where opposing speakers weighed in on pressing issues such as investor bias and whether female-led businesses confront more challenges than their male counterparts.

On the sidelines of the event, speakers shared with The Beat Asia their views on penetrating a historically male-dominated space, ensuring fairer funding rounds, and walking the talk on gender diversity.

Louder Connect 2023
Louder Connect 2023

How have you witnessed funding disparities or gender imbalance within your industry?

Julia Charlton
Akina Ho

Julia Charlton (Principal Partner, Charltons Law): I would say that the number of female-founded businesses that we've worked for from startup through to IPO or M&A exit is probably a lot lower than the number of male-related businesses. There are some successful startups and scale-ups by women, as well as successful larger listed companies, but I would say they're very much in the minority.

Carla Martinesi (Founder & CEO, CHOMP): I have pitched hundreds of times. Not necessarily for fundraising, but I have pitched for sales, [contracts, and competitions for grants]. The disparity is very much there. Growing up, I knew the odds were not in my favour. My sibling has no idea what I'm talking about whenever I say it, but when you walk into a room, when you’re having a conversation with someone, you know whether you’re on an equal page or if they’re in a podium and they’re looking down on you. You just know these things.

Akina Ho (Co-founder, AllStarsWomen DAO): I personally faced it myself. When a female enters a male-dominant industry, especially in the Web3 space, there are doubts. If I race with people who don't know me, I can immediately feel the gender bias. [They would ask], Do you have a male founder? Do you have a male technical person to help you out? So, you have to play the game. I bring in someone whom I trust and is really good. And it helps. Immediately people change their mind. Immediately, you can see their eyes popping open.

Carla Martinesi
Sophiya Chiang

What do investors look for?

Sophiya Chiang (Founder & CTO, Deploy): I have a more data-driven perspective. I think it is important to look at indicators of traction and product market fit. [It is important to see if the] startup is actually testing their ideas and having the market love it.

Akina: I look at two things. One is tech, the other is a great business idea. If you don't have the tech, then you’ve got to have a great business idea. If you have a great business idea, you can use money to buy the tech or build the tech.

Barbara Yu Larsson
Anna Wong

Why should we invest in women?

Barbara Yu Larsson (Founder, PAKT): Women are creative and compassionate, we’re always thinking outside the box and juggling many things at one time. It was important to me during the unpredictability of the last few years that there was a balance between keeping my team safe and keeping the lights on.

Anna Wong (Co-founder & CEO, Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide): The whole infrastructure in the past was built by men. Men are creating things that they think are good for women. We would benefit from feminine qualities such as being nurturing and caring. Based on data, we found that women normally care about having a social impact. They start a business to create something for the society.

Janice Chew
Thierry Mandonnaud

Janice Chew (Principal, JC Legal): The best way to encourage and inspire is with living proofs. With more women entrepreneurs today, [many will become motivated to become one] in the future. [Investing] in women entrepreneurs [gives] an equal chance for women with business ideas to succeed, [enabling them to] become the mentors of the younger generation as a support system. Women can juggle between multiple roles with time management skill, determination, and a healthy mindset.

Sophiya: The diversity of ideas allows a company to flourish. This comes from diversity not only of gender but of background, socioeconomic status, race. If you have different life experiences, you could end up having new ideas together. Women constitute half of the world’s population. That means they are not only the target market, but they are also the people who have the empathy to build those businesses that would address those market needs.

Carla: I think the door is open for female founders. It’s like a jar. It swings open for men and they’re welcomed with open arms. For women, it’s literally creaked open. I really think the way we can go forward with this is just to be a little bit more open-minded. Spend more time realising that women also have good ideas.

Akina: Women are great at business and have great ideas. They present an opportunity for many possibilities. And if you don’t see that, then you're basically saying that half of the world doesn't matter.

Julia: I think people should only invest in companies which they think they're going to make money from. But they should be neutral in terms of how these companies are being run. They should be looking at this from a business point of view. They should at least make sure that they evaluate them properly instead of always favouring a club of already proven investors.

Angela Feng
Louder Connect 2023 crowd

On walking the talk

Thierry Mandonnaud (Founder & Director, Abyssian Haircare): [As a father raising two young daughters], I think it is important to give them the tools to achieve their dreams. When I see an interest sparking, whether it's sports, science, arts, I try to fuel it and push them out of their comfort zone. It brings down to building their confidence. If you have confidence in life, then you can achieve anything.

Angela Feng (Co-founder, Ness Wellness): It is important to focus on how we can collaborate and use our strengths to create something stronger. I believe in female empowerment. But I also don't think that women should take over the world. I think it is how you find a balance.

Akina: I hope that a lot of people put the money where they are saying. If you say you’re going to help women, then how do you intend to do that? If you're going to invest in women, really invest in women. [AllStarsWomen DAO] helps women with their business plan, introduce them to an investor, and launch them in the market, at no cost to them. Most importantly, [we] train them how to pitch and how to be confident. Because how you make a pitch does impact how investors invest in you.

Sophiya: We want to make it as fair as possible. It’s difficult to eliminate biases completely. But what we’re trying to do is include more people in the loop while they’re evaluating these deals so you get crowd-sourced intelligence. We want to make sure the deals are pre-screened by experts, [but we want to] eliminate the network bias.

Anna: It is important to see more women CEO. I grew up in a community of strong women, so it feels natural for me to do things like this. I was surrounded by self-made women. I think we need more women leaders who can inspire, so others can also feel confident that they can do it.

Bringing together industry leaders to unpack the challenges and opportunities for female founders and leaders, the key takeaway from Louder Connect is clear: diversity of thought and experience fuels a more inclusive, efficient, and prosperous world for everyone. To know more about Louder's latest thought-provoking events casting light on new perspectives, please visit https://www.louderconnect.com/.

The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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