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The gender gap in life science start-ups

Hadean Ventures, a Nordic-based European life science VC firm, is deeply involved in both the investment management industry and the life sciences start-up community. Operating at this intersection, it soon became clear to Ingrid Teigland Akay, Founder and Managing Partner, that both industries have specific challenges related to diversity in leadership teams. To change this, Hadean has launched several initiatives.

Beyond being one of just a few life science specialist VC firms in the region, Hadean stands out in other ways as well, in particular when it comes to diversity. “We have a very international team and we strongly believe that overall diversity is a key factor that improves business and team performance,” Akay comments. Naturally, the importance of diverse teams applies to the companies Hadean invests in as well. When sourcing for new investments, Hadean particularly looks out for female founders and management.

“Diversity is a hot topic these days. Almost everyone has an opinion on the subject, but it is not enough to talk about it – action is needed.”

“They are out there, but they are often less actively pursuing venture capital,” Akay explains. “Our industry is very network-based, and this is one of the reasons that there is quite little VC capital being allocated to non-traditional start-up teams. With this in mind, it is extremely important to find the role models!”

To better understand the challenges, Hadean dedicated their annual ESG project to analyzing their entire database of start-up companies, approximately 1200 companies, with diversity in mind. They looked for correlations, patterns and trends. The results were compared to relevant public data, in addition to comparing the database to Hadean’s portfolio companies. The analysis has been published as a report, The Gender Gap in Life Science Start-ups. “Diversity is a hot topic these days. Almost everyone has an opinion on the subject, but it is not enough to talk about it – action is needed,” Akay says.

Can you tell us about the main findings in the report?

“First of all, no countries were close to reaching gender balance. Although there were significant differences in gender diversity between countries, there is still a long way to go. As we expected, but unfortunately, gender diversity in the leadership vs the overall employee teams of the life science start-ups is particularly low. We found that 40% of management teams and 50% of boards of directors were all-male. Breaking this down geographically, we found that among the Nordic countries, Sweden and Norway were the most diverse.”

“40% of management teams and 50% of boards of directors were all-male.”

Why do you think that is?

“First of all, we are lucky here in the Nordics. Diversity and equality is more and more becoming the new normal. All-male boards and management teams are slowly becoming less common. In Norway we also have a law regarding public companies, as they are required to have a certain level of gender balance. Our offices are located in Sweden and Norway, and these are the countries we do most active deal sourcing in. This is also likely reflected in these numbers. As mentioned, at Hadean we work proactively with our portfolio companies with regard to diversity, and it great to see that this has had a positive effect. The analysis shows that our portfolio companies have become more gender-diverse since our initial investment, and that they are more diverse than our pipeline.”

“Companies with female CEOs, on average, had a 50/50 gender split in their management teams, while companies with male CEOs had 82.1% all-male teams.”

“The last finding I would like to highlight, is the fact that companies with a female CEO were also three times more gender diverse. Companies with female CEOs, on average, had a 50/50 gender split in their management teams, while companies with male CEOs had 82.1% all-male teams. There was a similar trend in the board of director teams. This is an interesting finding that proves that diverse leadership fosters diverse teams, and how important it is to lead by example and to be a good role model.”

 

Ingrid Teigland Akay

Ingrid Teigland Akay, Founder and Managing Partner, Hadean Ventures

Key findings

✓ 40% of management teams and 50% of boards of directors were all-male.
✓ Companies with a female CEO were three times more gender diverse. Companies with female CEOs, on average, had a 50/50 gender split in their management teams, while companies with male CEOs had 82.1% all-male teams. There was a similar trend in the board of director teams.
✓ No countries were close to reaching gender balance.
✓ Among the Nordic countries, Sweden and Norway were the most diverse. Sweden and Norway consistently had the highest female representation in our dataset.
✓ Hadean’s portfolio companies have become more gender-diverse since the initial investment.

This article was produced in collaboration with SwedenBIO and originally published in Nordic Life Science magazine, issue 01 2021, out now!

Photo: iStock