Study reveals major gender imbalance in UK university spin-outs

Report also suggests that spin-outs founded and run by women receive less investment

November 7, 2019
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Almost nine out of 10 active university spin-out companies in the UK had no female founder, and nearly two-thirds have no women on the executive board, according to an analysis.

Spin-out companies with more female founders also appear to be less likely to receive extra investment, according to the study by academics at Oxford Brookes University.

The report, Gender and University Spinouts in the UK: Geography, Governance and Growth, published on 7 November, looked in detail at women’s involvement in the founding and running of spin-out companies.

It found that on average, spin-outs have 4.6 individuals listed in the “C-suite” – the most senior executives in a company, such as the chief executive and the chief finance officer – but four were men and just 0.6 were women.

The vast majority of spin-outs (91 per cent) had more men as part of the C-suite than women, and almost 60 per cent of the spin-outs had no women listed as senior executives at all.

Women were also hugely under-represented as founders of spin-out companies, according to the report: across the UK, just 13 per cent of active spin-outs had one or more female founders.

The study also looked at whether having more female executives or founders made it more likely that the operation would attract further funding or be growing quickly.

After controlling for factors such as the industry sector, the study found that spin-outs with more women in the C-suite were less likely to have received a large innovation grant. The number of female founders also seemed to be negatively associated with securing a large amount of innovation funding.

One of the report’s authors, Anne Laure Humbert from Oxford Brookes’ Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice, said that many of the findings reflected the gender imbalance that already existed in academic fields with a lot of spin-out activity, such as engineering and technology.

But Dr Humbert said the findings on funding suggested that there was also a link with the world of seed funding and venture capital finance being very male dominated, too.

“When women make it into the spin-outs, then they actually make less, they have lower funding, they have lower mass grants, they have smaller companies; and this is very likely to be related to the world of finance and venture capitalists,” she said.

The report says addressing women’s under-representation in spin-out companies was not just “a matter of social justice” but was also central to the success of the UK’s industrial strategy.

Dr Humbert said increasing concerns about “blind spots” that existed in the development of new products and technologies could also be tackled by dealing with the gender imbalance in spin-outs.

“If you only have innovation that relates to a section of the population, then you are really missing out on quite a lot”, economically and socially, she said, with concerns about medicines not being tested on women and male bias in artificial intelligence just two examples of this.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

You might google "gender dimorphism in human brain size" for a possible contributory factor.

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