New economy; old equality

Has the
exciting new world of the e-economy opened up vast new opportunities for women?
Not really, says Helen Wilkinson.

the impression created in our national newspapers, the perception of many women
in the [new media] industry and the success of a few highly talented women in
e-commerce, the hard facts suggest there is no discernible difference between
the working patterns of the old and the new economy.

the early evidence suggests that women remain almost as under-represented in
the new economy as in the old. The trends in the traditional economy are well
known but worth restating. Women make up just eight per cent of executive
directors. An analysis of 1,178 directorships in the top 100 companies in the
summer of 1999 showed that only 69 posts were held by just 61 women; and only
eight were executive positions.

economy trends are not radically different. And despite the high profile and
attention given to the few dot bombshells that are scaling the heights of the
new economy, there is no firm evidence to suggest that women as a group are
more likely to set up an Internet business than any other. Of the hundreds of
Internet firms founded across Britain each month, one in three has a woman
behind it – directly paralleling the national statistics about female
entrepreneurship in the economy as a whole.

involved in business start-ups suffer financing and resource issues and there
is no reason to believe that the Internet industry is any different.
Under-resourcing and difficulties in raising venture capital finance are common
sources of complaint at many of the network meetings for women in the new
economy. Female-owned businesses that clear the financing hurdles and achieve
rapid growth are few and far between.

may be push-and-pull factors at work. Women may be less likely to seek venture
capital finance, and in turn venture capitalists may judge the few women who do
with suspicion As one venture capitalist puts it, "The truth is the vast
majority of businesses we see are still founded by young, white, middle class
men. In terms of running projects or pitching for funding, I would say the
split could be as high as 80/20 in favour of men."

figures certainly suggest there is some kind of drop-off as women scale the
heights of the new economy. According to the regular surveys of the e25
published by Management Today in association with Bain and Co, only three women
have been listed as founders, although those three have been placed high up the
league. These include Sherry Coutu, who founded iii, Martha Lane Fox of and Caroline Williams of

leagues produce similar findings. The Guardian’s statistics for the e50 showed
that the average age was 34, and only 10 per cent were female, with the average
company age being 27 months. Those who are involved in the top echelons of the
new economy tend to come from the dominant socio-economic group – white, male,
Oxbridge-educated with contacts and confidence – thus challenging the anarchic
outsider theory promulgated by writers such as Sadie Plant. And of the
increasing number of Internet start-up billionaires, there is not one woman.
The implication? The new economy is reproducing a similar elite profile to the

How do
new economy businesses fare when it comes to female representation on company
boards? Here again, under-representation is an issue. Among the three largest
Internet companies – Freeserve, QXL and Autonomy – there is only one woman
director, and that is in a non-executive role.

Even in
the US, where the e-commerce industry is more mature, there are few Internet
heroines. As in Britain, a few high-profile women grab the headlines. Kim
Polese, who invented the Java programming language before setting up her
company, Marimba, is one example, but high-profile role models are not yet
translating into critical mass. In the US, less than 10 per cent of the
business plans that venture capitalists receive are from companies with a woman
at the helm.

is an extract from
Bombshell: women, e-quality and the new economy published by the Industrial
Society Futures Division
Helen Wilkinson is the founder of Genderquake, the first advocacy, research and
consultancy dedicated to feminising the new economy. The Industrial Society’s
Futures Division has sponsored free copies of the Futures report for the first
800 women entrepreneurs joining Genderquake (
Helen Wilkinson is also the founder of

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