New report highlights experiences of university spinout company founders, in order to understand gender bias

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Women-and-Spinouts-800x450

A new report by a team of Oxford Brookes University researchers has found that women academics can experience gender-based barriers throughout the process of developing university spinout companies.

The research team, from the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes, spoke to spinout company founders about their experiences of academic entrepreneurship, in order to understand where women may be encountering gender bias and have to overcome additional challenges.

The study compared the experiences of 35 academic spinout founders, comprising 20 women and 15 men, and says that Higher Education institutions and the HE sector need to take steps to create a gender-inclusive academic environment in order to harness talent from both men and women researchers.

Lead author of the report, Dr Heather Griffiths of Oxford Brookes University said: “Through this study, we wanted to deepen our understanding of why women are underrepresented as university spinout founders. We have highlighted the inequalities throughout the spinout journey and in addition we’ve identified gaps in support that affect both women and men spinout founders.

On the whole, women founders didn’t see themselves as having encountered gender bias throughout their spinout journey, but often their narratives suggested otherwise.

Dr Heather Griffiths, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Oxford Brookes University

“These gaps need to be addressed so that women and men have a more equal chance of success and face fewer challenges along the way.

“Perhaps one of the surprising things which came out of our interviews was that on the whole, women founders didn’t see themselves as having encountered gender bias throughout their spinout journey, but often their narratives suggested otherwise.

“Some women have been subject to sexism and stereotyping, particularly regarding their appearance and what they should wear. There was also evidence that these gendered stereotypes intersected with racial profiling or age discrimination, which exacerbates the issue and creates an accumulated disadvantage for women.

“In addition women reported barriers at crucial points during the development of their spinout company, such as when applying for funding and filing patents. These accounts are particularly pertinent when we know from our previous study, that women spinout founders are awarded less funding than men.

“To combat this, Higher Education institutions should work with the investment community to set up specific funding opportunities and developmental support for women researchers who want to set up a spinout company.

“We would also like to encourage all stakeholders in the Higher Education innovation ecosystem to increase the visibility of women already working in the entrepreneurial space, from successful company founders to investors. The value of relatable role models and mentors for women academic entrepreneurs has been reiterated by this study and is also emerging as an important factor for early career researchers, in further research we are conducting as part of this project.”

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Inclusion Matters initiative, the report is the latest research to be published as part of the ongoing Women in Spinouts project which looks at the participation of women scientists, engineers and mathematicians in university spinout companies.

Women and Spinouts project director, Professor Simonetta Manfredi of Oxford Brookes University said: “Our project's previous report identified that across the UK only 13% of university spinouts have been founded or co-funded by women researchers. With this new research we have gone beyond the numbers to understand the causes of this under-representation and what can be done about it.

“Women’s leadership in Higher Education has improved over the last few years. For example, almost 30% of women are Vice-Chancellors and 37% are members of executive teams. However, women are significantly under-represented in spinout leadership and this is a gender gap that universities need to urgently address."

The full report, The Spinout Journey, Barriers  and Enablers to Gender Inclusion Innovation, and more information about the Women and Spinouts project can be found by visiting www.brookes.ac.uk/women-and-spinouts.