In the third part of the Herald’s Women and Money series, Jane Phare looks at wealth creation, the challenges women face in business and why more don’t make it to the Rich List.
When I was researching for this series I spoke with Australian actor Rachel Griffiths who found herself having to raise millions of dollars from investors in her role as both director and producer of her new movie Ride Like A Girl.
By her own admission, money has never been her thing. But increasingly she’s realised it’s a mistake not to know about it. Aged 50, she’s from a generation of women who often relied on someone else to run their finances, were not confident at investing or starting a business, and were unlikely to make it on to the Rich List.
Griffiths told me she would be considerably wealthier, possibly by millions of dollars, if she had managed her own money and had a better understanding of the world of finance.
She dropped maths at secondary school in favour of typing but now tells her daughters, Adelaide, 14, and Clementine, 10, that if they don’t understand maths and money transactions, someone else, probably a man, will always be their bosses.
She’s encouraging Clementine, the entrepreneur in the family, to run a lemonade business, Clemonade, properly – with budgets, spreadsheets and sales data.
But in the real world, it’s still hard going for women wanting to start a business and attract investors. And without financial backing, growing it to a global level is virtually impossible, meaning they will earn a good living but will never get anywhere near the bottom rung of the Rich List.
For a start, women aren’t confident enough or don’t feel they know enough to compete in the financial world. And then there’s the unconscious bias towards women in business.
Businesswomen can tick all the boxes, present a compelling case for funding to potential investors, but will often be politely turned down, even though research shows that women-run businesses deliver higher revenue per dollar invested than those founded by men.
Others point to the financial language itself that alienates women from what is perceived as a male-dominated domain. They say words and metaphors pervade the financial markets like a major dose of after-shave mixed with too much testosterone.
Let’s start with that big bronze sculpture, The Charging Bull, also known as the Wall Street Bull, in Manhattan’s financial district. And then add on language like a “bull market” or “bear market”, bullish, “building” a portfolio (construction), a level playing field (sport), “beating” the market (war or fighting).
Type the word “investor” into Google and the first few rows of “images” that come up are overwhelmingly male.
Well down is a photo of men in a board room shaking hands. The only woman in the image appears to be taking notes on a laptop.
As to why more women don’t show up on the Rich List, there’s a variety of reasons including that they simply don’t want to be there, that their priorities are different. Or that they’re there, but in the background – hidden behind middle-aged white males who are often the figureheads of family companies.
But those that do want to be there, or at least create a successful business, talk of the “diamond ceiling”, an almost invisible barrier that means women have less access to capital and markets, less access to business relationships and networks, and face an unconscious bias towards placing investment with them.
Sue de Bievre, CEO of online accounting platform Beany, is all too aware of that bias. Last year she struggled to raise the $1.5m capital she needed to expand her business, despite hiring a company to help find investors.
De Bievre wanted female investors if possible, and a female director for the board.
“They came back to me with a list of 20 men.”
Undeterred she diligently worked her way through the list, armed with data that showed Beany to be a fast-growing company with high-growth aspirations and starting to make money.
“We ticked all the boxes.”
Not that box ticking mattered in the end. De Bievre approached all the recommended investors and came back empty handed. “There was no interest, like, zero.”
The experience left her down-hearted, convinced Beany was never going to grow beyond a small business. However her luck changed once she resorted to non-traditional funding pathways.
First came an interest-free $500,000 loan from SheEO, a venture capital fund that lends to women-led businesses; another $500,000 came from existing shareholders, including her own family trust; and $500,000 from the Tindall family’s seed and venture capital fund K1W1, investor network Ice Angels and ArcAngels, which encourages investors to support female-led businesses.
That success, she says, was “transformational”.
She is now running a company that looks after half a billion dollars for more than 1500 clients. That men control the money and how it is invested is simply wrong, she says. It’s one of the main reasons more businesswomen and female entrepreneurs don’t make it big.
She points to US research that shows 38 per cent of people pitching for money for start-ups are women, yet only 2 per cent of investment capital goes to female-led companies.
She thinks New Zealand is no different.
That means women who are passionate about their business and want to grow it to a global scale are stopped in their tracks.
“If you can’t get money to grow the business it slows your growth down. You just cannot get to be a big company.”
Look at Rod Drury and Xero, she says. “He went out and raised $196m. That’s why Xero was able to be a global company because that money fuelled that incredible growth. It’s a fantastic New Zealand story.”
But, she says, if you can’t raise money to fuel that growth you inevitably stay a small company.
“That’s why it’s very hard for women. If Beany’s experience is anything to go by then Kiwi businesswomen are being let down by the money men who’ve for too long decided which ventures fly and which fail.”
When de Bievre approached the list of 20 potential male investors she noticed the questions they asked were negative, an experience echoed by other women trying to raise capital.
“They ask us different questions, it’s really interesting.”
UK research done by investment bank and financial services company UBS showed that 66 per cent of female entrepreneurs were asked “preventive” or negative questions. Yet 67 per cent of male entrepreneurs were asked “promotional” questions like “how big is the market?” or “how fast can you grow?”
“I seriously really experienced this last year,” de Bievre says. “You are constantly trying to defend your position as opposed to being able to sell your position.”
Stories like de Bievre’s was why Theresa Gattung was determined to launch a New Zealand branch of SheEO.
The former Telecom chief executive and My Food Bag co-founder was in the US three years ago when she heard Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO, speak about the organisation which encourages “activators” to donate $1100, $100 of which goes towards running SheEO globally. The money is repaid over five years and goes back into a pool to lend out to other women entrepreneurs.
So far the Kiwi SheEO has raised $690,000 donated by 690 women, money that has been used to help businesses like Beany and others including skincare range Pure Peony, beverage company Chia Sisters and Guardian Angels Security.
But it’s not just about the money. The women entrepreneurs benefit from a pink support network and collective expertise to help get their business model and branding right.
Gattung is in her element talking about money and business. Her enthusiasm for the Herald’s Women and Money subject virtually crackles through her car phone as we talk. One of four girls, her father taught her to always be financially independent.
You can’t rely on a man
“You can’t rely on the state and you can’t rely on a man,” he told his daughters.
Teaching women financial independence and confidence is exactly why Griffiths trudged around six op shops with her daughter Clementine to find a glass lemonade dispenser for $10 rather than pay $150 for a new one.
Griffiths has encouraged her to keep a spreadsheet, tracking, days, times, locations and outdoor temperatures to assess what conditions are better for sales.
“We do it properly. I cash flow her, buy the cups and she’s got to repay me.”
The process has been a challenge for Griffiths, never mind a 10-year-old.
“It’s been a journey for me. Numbers frighten me. They laugh at me. It’s taken me a long time to be confident.”
Confidence was what she needed when she went after A$5m ($5.4m) of private equity funding, including A$1.5m of corporate funding, for Ride Like a Girl , to top up funding from Screen Australia and other sources.
Ten years ago she doesn’t think she would have been able to raise the funds as a first-time woman director and producer.
In a way, the gender issue worked in her favour. She approached wealthy businesswoman Katie Page, CEO of Harvey Norman in Australia, who she knew was passionate about the promotion of women, and in particular women in sport.
Other funders were passionate about horse racing and wanted a woman’s story told.
After a preview screening of Ride Like A Girl in Auckland to a group of can-do Women in Business members, Griffiths talked about the challenges she faced, challenges the audience could relate to and which were reflected in the film they had just seen.
The movie covers the story of Michelle Payne who, in 2015, became the first woman in 140 years to win the Melbourne Cup, one of the toughest races in the world.
Payne, the youngest of 10 kids whose mother died in a car accident, struggled to be taken seriously in the male-dominated racing world, and lacked support from her horse trainer father, Paddy (played by Sam Neill).
After she thundered over the finish line astride Kiwi horse Prince of Penzance, Payne said in her first post-race interview that all those male doubters who tried to hold her back could “get stuffed”.
For Gattung, SheEO is not anti-male but more about women helping other women. Sometimes, like Michelle Payne, they need an extra leg-up in a world that often won’t give them a chance to prove themselves.
Gattung would like to see more women coming out of business schools, and to be encouraged to take the same risks that boys are when growing up.
“You’ve got to be prepared to take a risk as an entrepreneur. You’ve got to be prepared to fail, not judge yourself, learn from that and go again. Generally speaking those are not traits that are encouraged and taught to girls.”
Why not, Gattung, says, encourage young women to work for an entrepreneur they admire when they leave school, to learn skills they will use in their own businesses?
“Your choices are not just a salaried worker or a profession, or going to university to do a general degree. There’s a whole pathway called ‘you can be your own boss forever’ and I don’t think girls are encouraged to think like that.”
Tomorrow in the Business Herald: Why women are good at investing but don’t do enough of it.