How can we deal with the many social injustices we face without having women involved in driving the solutions? It’s a pertinent question that was asked by Carol Schwartz in the latest episode of Women’s Agenda’s podcast, The Crux.
Speaking to Tarla Lambert, Schwartz – one of Australia’s most renowned business leaders and investors – said it is imperative that women are involved in making decisions around the solutions and innovation we need for society to function at its optimum level.
A key part of this is ensuring that women entrepreneurs can access the capital they need to ensure their businesses can scale and thrive, Schwartz says.
“Gender equality has been absolutely crucial to me probably since my thirties when I realised that gender equality did not exist,” Schwartz said.
“I started attending meetings and I was the only woman in the room. I used to ask myself how it was possible because I had been to University studying law with a lot of really bright women through my twenties and then worked for a very short period of time as a lawyer.”
So when it comes to the allocation of venture capital funding, what’s the state of play for women business owners? Well, it’s not great – just 2% of female-founded companies in the US per year secure VC funding, and that figure is even lower for Australian-owned ventures.
“I’d been investing in women entrepreneurs – if not financially then also as a mentor – and, I got to a point three or four years ago where I felt that I needed to start supporting the women who actually made the decisions around capital allocation, because there is not enough capital allocated to women,” Schwartz shared on the podcast.
“When you have women who are actually in charge of those capital allocations or investing decisions, more women are invested in and that’s why my strategy pivoted.”
Schwartz decided to start investing in the women who are investors themselves, and started looking around for women who were setting up venture capital funds. Two of the women she found were Marisa Warren and Kate Vale – the co-founders of venture capital fund ALIAVIA, a VC fund that invests exclusively in female tech founders in Australia and the US.
“They’re two Australian women who are based on the west coast of the US and they’re investing in women entrepreneurs in both Australia and the US, which is terrific particularly for the Australian women who potentially see the US as their next growth market,” Schwartz explained.
ALIAVIA is backed by well-known Australian LPs, including Schwartz, Tattarang, Robyn & Victoria Denholm, Dom Pym and Cynthia Scott. It’s already invested in some impressive Australian startups including Eugene, Loupe, HowToo and Othelia AI.
“Women running businesses is not is not completely normalised in our society which is a real shame because we have a lot of fabulous women entrepreneurs,” Schwartz said.
“Unfortunately I think it’s also particularly the case for young women. There’s unconscious bias that happens around looking ‘too young to be running a business like that’ and ‘how come you’re not married and looking after children’.”
Schwartz said she is currently witnessing many women from her own generation who are starting to put themselves out there as advocates for younger women entreprenuers.
“My peers and I see ourselves as not having achieved as much for your generation of women as we would have liked to have achieved,” she said. “And so we I think are really putting ourselves out there to make sure that we can create at this stage of our lives as much change for future generations of women as we possibly can.”
And Schwartz’s advice to women entrepreneurs looking to nail their pitch?
“When women pitch they need to be their authentic selves and they need to focus on the things that are important and significant that are going to make their businesses successful,” she said.
“Women tend to not be as aggressive in the way they pitch their businesses, and that may not appeal to male investors because it might be mistaken for not being ambitious enough.
“But I don’t think it is, I think women are fantastic entrepreneurs, they just need to be given the opportunity to pitch their businesses to a panel of investors that know how to investigate the opportunity.”
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.