The London Sustainable Development Commission’s (LSDC) Cleantech and Innovation work is designed to support the Mayor of London’s commitment to grow the city’s green economy and reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2050. It is advising on ways to make London a world-leading location for low-carbon, cleantech innovation businesses.
‘Cleantech’ describes those products and services that avoid or repair harmful effects on the environment caused by human activity. These products and services are central to a low-carbon economy and will need to be the norm in a zero-carbon London.
In 2016, the LSDC published Better Future: A Route Map to Creating a Cleantech Cluster in London. This seminal report recognised the scale of the challenge set at the COP21 Paris Climate talks, but also the opportunity for London to develop new businesses and technologies to meet the climate challenge. Since then the LSDC has been providing recommendations for actions that would attract more women into the sector, and keep them there.
Businesses with women at strategic and senior management levels have been shown generally to outperform those without. To help London’s large and growing cleantech sector reach its full potential, it must therefore draw from the talents and ideas of women as entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the percentage of women in cleantech exceeds that of tech more generally, but that women are underrepresented in leadership positions. Unfortunately, there is not much statistical data available on gender in clean-tech to support this anecdotal evidence. One of the few statistics available comes from early-stage cleantech start-ups receiving UK grant-funding: 74% have no female founder, 6% had no male founder and only 20% had a mixed-gender board. In 2017, only 7% of patents for ‘clean’ or ‘green’ inventions filed in the UK were by a team with at least one female.
In the absence of data, looking at comparative studies from technology, innovation and start-ups may provide insight into gender disparities in cleantech. In technology, women represent just 17% of employees, 4% of software engineers and 1% of leadership positions in the combined science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector. Furthermore, one in three female innovators reports feeling that gender has negatively impacted their career.
Barriers to women’s participation
One of the biggest barriers to female leadership in these sectors is that venture capital and finance remain male-dominated. Only 3% of venture capital partners are women and only 14% of start-up investors (also known as Business Angels) are women. Research shows that start-ups led by men received over 16 times more funding than those led by women. Survey data suggests that men and women calibrate risk differently, with women providing a more balanced assessment of risk, which is more likely to lead to longer-term stability. However, research shows that venture capitalists prefer pitches with more overt confidence, which is more typical of male approaches.
Research also shows that venture capitalists tend to frame questions differently based on the gender of the pitcher. For example, men are more likely to get asked promotion questions that focus on potential gains, whereas women are more likely to get asked prevention questions, which focus on potential losses. Venture capitalists tend to direct more technical questions to men than women, irrespective of their level of expertise. This can impact on women’s confidence and indeed, 43% of women surveyed cited lack of confidence as a barrier to success in cleantech; 32% felt it was difficult to be heard in their organisations and 30% felt that investors did not take them seriously. Women also often felt excluded from male-dominated networking events, which tended not to be family-friendly and oriented around perceived male interests, like sports.
London’s women in Cleantech Agenda
Based on this research, the London Sustainable Development Commission has developed an action plan to increase women’s leadership in cleantech entrepreneurship in London. The Commission is working with the local cleantech community and industry partners, and will convene a steering group to be responsible for the ‘Women in Cleantech Agenda’ and take forward the commitments made in the action plan by the cleantech community. A number of stakeholders have made commitments which include: exploring setting up a Cleantech fund for women in cleantech; developing best practice guidance for incubators and accelerators; developing an award scheme to showcase women in cleantech.
The six workstreams are:
– Connecting existing networks.
– Working with the finance community to improve gender parity in the companies receiving financing.
– Strengthening the existing ecosystem, amplifying activity and developing best practice.
– Cohesive, strategic and targeted communications to inspire the next wave of female cleantech entrepreneurs.
– Working with schools and education institutes to encourage girls and young women into the field.
– Addressing unconscious biases and giving women the tools and skills to succeed in cleantech entrepreneurship.