Female founder ‘meetups’ aim to uncover diversity issues

Organisations and governments need to stop focusing on a one-size-fits-all approach to increasing gender diversity in startups and instead look at the specific and different issues, startup advisor Tristonne Forbes says.


Forbes, who is on Startup Victoria’s female founders committee, says it’s important to look into the range of reasons behind why a diversity gap exists in tech startups.


“There are different reasons women may not be breaking through to the high-growth startup sector because there are different types of women,” she says. “Increasing participation rates is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution.”


Startup Victoria is “on a mission” to promote gender diversity, Forbes says, and has been running monthly female founders meetups from earlier this year.


“We’re trying to get as many female founders there as possible and make our mark, and show how vibrant the startup community can be in Melbourne,” Forbes says.


“We’ve been doing quite a bit over the last few months to achieve that.”


A wider understanding of the issues female entrepreneurs face is needed to combat this gender gap, Forbes says.


“We are making progress, no question about that,” she says. “But we are really just scratching the surface in terms of really understanding what we could be doing to quickly increase participation rates of women in the high-growth startup sector.”


“We need to delve into those to help lift women up and provide support.”


Joining forces to promote diversity


Many different groups in Victoria have been putting on various events aimed at promoting women in startups, and now they’re joining forces to bring all their talents into one place.


Female Founders Melbourne hopes to get over 100 female founders to a meetup on Tuesday night in Melbourne which is in partnership with the Melbourne Accelerator Program and Google.


“The establishment of the female founders’ meetups has been a really important step,” Forbes says. “They’re providing for more opportunities for women and importantly giving us opportunities to study women on mass.”


From her personal experience working as a startup advisor, Forbes says she has identified many roadblocks that are preventing gender equality in the startup world.


“Some women are daunted about running a high-growth business, so we need to build awareness,” she says. “Other women don’t know where their business fits into the scheme of things, so they don’t take up opportunities to pitch.


“They stay quiet instead of going for it, so we want to run pre-screening sessions in front of people that can make that distinction for them.”


Qualitative research


In order to identify the diverse range of reasons why there is a gender gap in the startup world, Startup Victoria is working with a qualitative researcher to produce a detailed report.


“We want to get some insightful, robust findings to share with the community,” Forbes says.


“It’ll also help to come up with antidotes to some of the issues that might be out there.”


“The aim is to provide significantly more insights and something that can be shared right throughout the ecosystem to assist with the creation and design of world-class networks and support networks.”


“We’re definitely making progress, but if we want to speed that up we need these sorts of initiatives.”


Meetups like the upcoming one on Tuesday night are also crucial for female entrepreneurs.


“I think they’re really important,” Forbes says.


“Women can meet people that are in the same stage as they are and dealing with the same challenges. We can show that there’s a real interest here and get some momentum for more programs.


“Everyone is trying and there’s a passion in the community to help, and that’s wonderful.”


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Denham Sadler is the editor of StartupSmart. He was previously a journalist at the publication and has worked as a freelancer for the Guardian, the Saturday Paper and the ABC. In his spare time he likes puns and jaffles.