Women Founders In Food Tech: Experiences And Challenges
An industry report from 2022 reveals that women leaders in the food technology sector experience a variety of gender-based challenges. The report was published by the Vegan Women Summit, who surveyed 120 global founders who identify as women. Notably, the authors do not clarify the definition of founder or how participants were selected.
Most participants identified as vegan (68%) or vegetarian (15%). In addition, half of the participants identified as Women of Color. Nearly 80% held a Bachelor’s degree or higher, and 70% were located in North America, although six continents were represented. Half of participants were a parent or guardian — with 42% serving as the sole or majority caregiver. Finally, the most common age of participants was 30-39 (38%), followed by 40-49 (33%).
Overall, survey results indicate that women founders face gender-related barriers in two overarching categories: industry challenges and personal challenges.
One major industry challenge is bias in the fundraising process. Over half of survey participants (56%) reported experiencing bias during fundraising, most often gender bias — 70% of all women, and 75% of Women of Color, experienced this type of bias.
In addition, 63% of participants who identified as Women of Color experienced racial bias during fundraising, a 24% increase from the previous year’s report. Besides racial and gender bias, approximately half of participants faced bias against first-time founders, and more than a third of participants dealt with age bias.
Bias in the fundraising process is a serious issue because two in three participants planned to fundraise within the next year. Furthermore, the percentage of participants who were confident that they would reach their fundraising target declined from 76% in the 2021 report to 64% in the 2022 report.
Another major industry challenge is harassment or discrimination, experienced by 35% of participants. 69% of those who reported facing harassment or discrimination cited investors as the source.
Participants who identified as Women of Color were 1.2 times more likely to experience harassment or discrimination than other women founders. What’s more, around 80% of all participants had ended a business relationship because of harassment or discrimination — a 29% increase from the 2021 report.
Two common personal challenges were caregiving responsibilities and mental health concerns. For example, 41% of participants considered their roles as parent/guardian to be a barrier to their success as a founder. However, the percentage of participants who had postponed or changed their parenting plans decreased from 30% in 2021 to 18% in 2022.
In terms of mental health concerns, anxiety and depression were common:
- 60% of participants reported experiencing anxiety, with 83% attributing it to their role as founder.
- 40% of participants reported experiencing depression, with 73% attributing it to their role as founder.
The connection between industry and personal challenges is unclear: Facing personal challenges may make it harder to thrive as a food tech founder, but being a food tech founder may also lead to personal challenges.
Making Food Tech More Inclusive And Supportive
Because the authors didn’t provide a detailed explanation about how they recruited participants and collected data, it’s unclear whether the results reflect the broader views of all women in the food tech industry. Even so, it seems that many women in this sector are facing unfair treatment while also trying to cope with personal barriers and the everyday challenges of being a business leader.
To support women in food tech, advocates should consider educating investors about woman-founded companies and making mental health resources more available. We should also pay special attention to Women of Color who often face racial bias and harassment in addition to other challenges. Overall, reducing these barriers is an opportunity to improve the plant-based industry as well as the lives of humans and animals.