In partnership with Techleap.nl is a talent thought leader striving to boost the tech ecosystem in the Netherlands techleap.nl Startup Life/Diversity & Inclusion/Analysis/ Tackling gender diversity: How the Netherlands is doing it The Netherlands, like the rest of Europe, is a bit of a brotopia, where women-led tech teams still struggle to get funding By Sifted 15 March 2022 In partnership with Techleap.nl is a talent thought leader striving to boost the tech ecosystem in the Netherlands techleap.nl Startup Life/Diversity & Inclusion/Analysis/ Tackling gender diversity: How the Netherlands is doing it The Netherlands, like the rest of Europe, is a bit of a brotopia, where women-led tech teams still struggle to get funding By Sifted 15 March 2022 When it comes to tech, the Dutch appear to have things pretty well figured out. The Netherlands is a land of big ideas and highly valued, cash-rich startups. “Whether it’s solar, photonics, semiconductors, quantum or the hyperloop, some of the most exciting breakthrough innovations in the world can be found in the Netherlands,” says Karl McGoldrick, CEO of battery manufacturer LionVolt. And yet, one thing that has the country (and Europe) stumped: how to foster more opportunities for women. Progress on boosting female participation in tech is barely visible, founders and investors say. “It’s woeful how few women there are,” says Kathryn Saducas, cofounder and chief operating officer of swap-studio, an online fashion marketplace. “Tech is our fastest-growing industry and yet within it only [around] 15% are women. You hardly ever see any women in the senior layers.” The numbers paint a stark picture across Europe. Women-founded startups raised just 1% of funds in Europe in 2021 — even less than the 2.4% of funding that went to all-female founding teams in 2020. All-women tech teams are also drawing in below-average sums of money in the Netherlands. The big issue One of the reasons for low funding for female-led ventures that many point to is the lack of women leading VC firms in Europe — just 12% of general partners and managing directors at European firms are female. Over the last decade, the proportion of women partners categorised as key decision makers in Dutch VC firms is 6% (below a European average of around 10%), according to #fundright, a programme led by Dutch VCs and Techleap that is focused on improving gender equality in the male-dominated industry. The group’s goal is for all participating VC firms and the management teams of their portfolio companies to include 35% women by 2023 — 87% of VC firms in the Netherlands have zero women investors. For now, the typical profile of a Dutch investor is a man with a finance background. “Tech is our fastest-growing industry and yet within it only [around] 15% are women. You hardly ever see any women in the senior layers” “It is taking [a long] time for women to move up the ladder,” says Lourens Ruigrok, investment manager at Finch Capital, a VC firm in Amsterdam. “It doesn’t change the culture when you hire an analyst or an associate [junior/mid-level roles in VC firms].” A steady drumbeat of bad numbers on equality has pushed his firm and others to action — but it’s tough enough as it is for European companies to find the right senior talent, let alone to recruit senior women also being wooed by other companies looking to diversify. “We’ve had many searches for more senior women, though finding candidates with the right experience can be quite tough,” he adds. The other argument you hear for the dismal numbers of VC-backed, female-led companies: a “pipeline problem”, meaning there are fewer women-founded companies out there to back. “Total bullshit, I can’t believe people would say that,” argues Rixt Herklots, managing director of Una Collective, a consultancy that works with tech companies on diversity. “You’re doing something wrong if you’re not finding female-founded companies to back.” “You’re doing something wrong if you’re not finding female-founded companies to back” Since 2005, female involvement in early-stage entrepreneurial activity has grown from about 2% to 8% of the 18-64-year-old population, according to a joint report from Utrecht University and Techleap. And yet, at the same time it’s true that the number of women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education in the Netherlands is low compared to peer countries. “There’s a lot of male physicists around me here in Eindhoven,” says Aircision’s Lindsey. “It’s still a very male-dominated line of study — we need to send more women into STEM [subjects].” It’s not just the Netherlands The equality issue is also bigger than the Netherlands, says Simone Brummelhuis, director and partner at Borski Fund in Amsterdam — named after Johanna Borski, an influential female banker from the 19th century. “It starts from the top, with ‘gender-lens’ policies in the EIF [European Investment Fund], government, pension funds and other LPs [limited partners],” Brummelhuis says. Her general advice for Dutch policymakers: “Don’t look to Silicon Valley for everything. We don’t want their gender problem. It would be much better if we copied Boston, which is much better on gender — and our ecosystem resembles Boston much more anyway in the type of businesses we have.” “Don’t look to Silicon Valley for everything. We don’t want their gender problem” Michael Musandu, cofounder of fashion site Lalaland, says startups need to keep internal metrics “to hold yourself accountable” for equality. “We work hard on inclusivity. There’s things you can do: changing your email signature to add pronouns or keeping job positions open longer if you’re only getting male candidates.” “There’s more than enough amazing talent in the market so I think it boils down to unconscious biases,” argues Paul Veugen, founder and CEO of Detail Technologies, which helps users record and stream high-quality video. “How often do I hear people say ‘guys’ when they talk about entrepreneurs? If you write your job description in a certain way, for example, you can reach the candidates you are seeking,” he adds, emphasising that certain language can attract — or put off — a certain audience. “We have this sense that we have equal opportunities in the Netherlands but it’s easy to be lazy about that. And the equal opportunities argument — it’s actually not true. We can always do better.” Creating inclusive spaces and boosting visibility To boost inclusiveness, one potentially quick win is to lower ticket prices for tech events, argues Nothing Ventured’s Laura Winn. “They create a barrier to entry. People talk about inclusive spaces, but as soon as you start charging, you’re creating exclusive spaces,” she tells Sifted. Another idea to boost female visibility in Dutch tech: create a formal pathway onto corporate boards. “People talk about inclusive spaces, but as soon as you start charging, you’re creating exclusive spaces” “[Dutch companies] would benefit from having more diversity on boards but I’ve found it difficult to find ones that I can join,” says Saducas of swap-studio. “In Australia and the UK, for example, you have quite formalised processes that put you in a pipeline.” Childcare costs — one piece of the puzzle Another issue, some say, keeping more women from entering Dutch tech is that the balance of caring for children falls unequally on women. “We’re number one in Europe by far for our part-time work,” said swap-studio’s Saducas. “There is a bit of an old-fashioned culture here; if you are a woman, you are likely the one to stay at home with the kids.” She feels the government is not doing enough to encourage and support a return to the workforce — and that the “enormous” cost of childcare is one thing that could be looked at more closely. The Netherlands may not be as expensive as Switzerland, the Czech Republic or the UK for childcare but it lacks the generous state-subsidised childcare of Denmark, Italy, Estonia or Germany. According to the OECD, “gross childcare fees” range from less than 5% in Austria and Germany, where parents living in the capitals benefit from free public childcare, to more than 80% of median earnings of women in the Netherlands (and the UK), where the market is dominated by private providers and there are no fee regulations. “There is a bit of an old-fashioned culture here; if you are a woman, you are likely the one to stay at home with the kids” “It is often cheaper for one parent to work one day less in the week instead of paying for an extra day of childcare,” says Herklots of Una Collective. The system is “awfully off-balance”, agrees Ruigrok of Finch Capital. “Childcare is very expensive and we’re very much geared towards part-time work. This is more of a societal problem and how we perceive the role of women post-motherhood; that’s the biggest issue.” Saducas says she wants to hire more women but finds it “difficult because the pool of women in full-time work is smaller. I’d like to see a higher return to the workforce for women after childbirth.” Parental leave, meanwhile, is changing in the Netherlands. From August this year, a parent will be able to go on paid parental leave for nine weeks — but they face an income reduction of 30-50% during the course of this leave. Some tech figures call on the government to improve paternity leave conditions further. “It’s an elitist policy,” says Detail Technologies’ Veugen. “I can afford to take 50-70% from my pay — but who else can afford it? We can do even better here.” Is the future orange? Find out what works well in the Dutch techscape — and what needs to change, in our latest Sifted Intelligence report, Dutch Tech Masters, sponsored by Techleap. In partnership with Techleap.nl is a talent thought leader striving to boost the tech ecosystem in the Netherlands techleap.nl Related Articles The talent Bible for scaleups Sponsored by Techleap.nl Click here to read more While Dutch tech sizzles, it’s a cold winter for the country’s deeptech founders By Éanna Kelly Click here to read more Why is Dutch VC investment lagging? By Maija Palmer Click here to read more Most Read 1 \Healthtech Is Daniel Ek’s new body scanner worth the hype? Sifted tried it out 2 \Venture Capital VC diversity needs to change — and white men need to take responsibility 3 \Venture Capital New €3.75bn European Investment Fund pot to back late-stage VCs 4 \Sustainability Counteract closes £15m fund for carbon removal solutions 5 \Mobility Was the $5bn that VCs plugged into escooters worth it?