Boss Lady

Woman founders still face challenges ahead, despite the gains


This guide outlines the progress — and also the challenges — still facing woman founders of businesses.

2021 was an encouraging year for female-founded startups and it was a record-breaking year for businesses led by women as up until the month of September, they raised more than 40 billion dollars, leaving the previous record of 23.7 billion dollars in 2019 completely obliterated. And all of this after a rough 2020, where funding suffered a 3% setback according to a report by Pitchbook, a leading UnitedStates focused financial data and software company.

Funding for woman founders is increasing, but…

As more than 75% of startups are oriented to online platforms, they benefitted from economies needing to shift to digital landscapes in 2020 due to lockdowns all over the world. This is valid for many industries as well like the online casino industry that had its revenue triple from last year, with companies such as Vegas Online Slots providing an icreasingly popular alternative to land based operations.

According to the same report, the origin of the money is also coming from a growing base of woman leaders in venture capital firms, and therefore, woman founders in startups have had their checks signed by a women in 15.4% of the cases in 2021, an increase from the 12% of 2019. This is a trend that will surely keep growing as women CEO’s tend to look for women investors because of the synergies needed between the venture capital and the business. In the end, the VC becomes a part of the company and there are always more points in common between two women leading businesses.

… So are exits of woman founders

The Pitchbook report also highlighted the fact that the exits in woman founders’ companies are more than doubling the figures of 2020. The value of exits until September of 2021 in the United States reached the figure of 59 billion dollars and this signals a rise of more than 101% compared to the previous year. Women are exiting faster in the startup ecosystem with an average of 6.7 years in comparison to the 7.7 years in average for the whole industry.

But this last point of data could also be showing a rather worrying reality for women in charge of successful companies. There has been a trend of women CEO’s abandoning their ships due to external pressures and growing controversies surrounding the handling of their companies and workers.

Audrey Gelman of the coworking startup The Wing (pictured above), Tyler Haney of the clothing company Outdoor Voices, Steph Korey of the suitcases startup Away, and the list can still go on: Jen Gotch of, Shannon Spanhake of Cleo, Nancy Lublin of Crisis Text Line, Yael Aflalo of Reformation… All voluntarily stepped down or were forced out by the executive boards in their companies.

All of them have different stories to their exits, some of them have been known to the wide public as the one of Audrey Gelman for example who was on the summit of the women-founded startup industry with her coworking called the Wing that raised more than 120 million dollars. The 32-year-old was receiving political figures and Hollywood stars alike in the business she created with Lauren Kassan, cofounder of the Wing. Gelman even appeared on the cover of Inc. magazine showcasing her pregnancy and motivating other women to courageously take the risks of being a mother while venturing into a new business.

Months later, the New York Times published an article talking about a “toxic culture” inside the Wing that many employees were experiencing and even giving their testimonies about it. Complaints included salary payment for hourly workers and a bad handling of racial incidents between customers and employees. Then came the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement and suddenly the pressure was all over the Wing and its female leadership that once was defending bravely and embracing feminism, gender and racial equality and progressive thinking.

Tyler Haney from the activewear company Outdoor Voices followed a similar path as Gelman. She was appearing on the cover of prestigious magazines like the New Yorker and in TV talk shows like Good Morning America. She announced her pregnancy on July 2019 but the next February she was announcing her exit of the company she founded. The reasons communicated to the public were that the company was under loads of criticism from their employees that accused the CEO of leading a working culture of favoritism. At the same time, the startup was having issues with delayed store openings and over expenditures.

The interview that Tyler Haney made with Inc. magazine following her departure revealed a dark side of female-founded startups that should enlighten many young entrepreneurs into the risks of leading a company that attaches itself to values like feminism or progressive culture. She said that the famous “woman founders” narrative was brought out only when it suited the investors, as it attracted the press and the spotlight in social networks. But this made Outdoor Voices a target in the eye of public opinion, and every move they made was carefully analyzed and criticized.

This kind of association of women-founded startups to feminism values ties the CEO to every failure suffered and if the company misses any chance to be at the level demanded by the image they relay then the CEO is the one who’s looked at to pay the price of it.

And when you start to analyze the issues that involve these women CEO’s and think about what would happen if in place of a woman there was a man in charge, then perhaps these persons wouldn’t have lost their jobs.

In fact, in much bigger companies in the startup landscape like WeWork or Uber (that began as startups but aren’t anymore), former CEO’s Adam Neumann and Travis Kalanick were respectively forced out of their positions but only after months and even years of serious incidents that involved employee mistreatment and accusations of employees of toxic working cultures.


It seems as if the standard with which women are judged is much stricter than with their male counterparts and this is a big challenge that the startup industry should try to combat. The evidence is clear, and hopefully these stories won’t discourage the next generation of women to venture into the business creation landscape.

About Business Woman Media

Our women don’t want to settle for anything but the best. They understand that success is a journey involving personal growth, savvy optimism and the tenacity to be the best. We believe in pragmatism, having fun, hard-work and sharing inspiration. LinkedIn

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