Despite Growing Awareness, Startups Are Making Slow Progress Bringing Women into Leadership

Company news  |  March 7, 2017

SVB’s annual Startup Outlook report finds 53% of technology and healthcare startups have no women in executive positions and fewer have women on their boards of directors

SANTA CLARA, CA – March 7, 2017 – Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), the bank of the world’s most innovative companies and their investors, released its Women in Technology Leadership report today which found 68 percent of startups surveyed have no women on their board of directors and 53 percent have no women in the C-suite. Despite growing awareness of the lack of women in senior roles, only 28 percent of startups said they have a program in place aimed at increasing the number of women in leadership positions.

SVB’s Women in Technology Leadership report also examines startups’ views of the technology sector based on the gender of the founders. Views were collected as part of SVB’s eighth annual Startup Outlook report, which surveyed nearly 950 startup executives primarily in the U.S., U.K. and China.

“We expected to see more women in leadership positions this year, and instead our survey shows how little progress is being made,” said Claire Lee, Managing Director and Head of SVB’s Early Stage Practice. “We cannot be deceived by our seemingly large network of talented and successful female founders, investors, board members and innovators. The data show us these women remain a lonely minority in the technology world.”

Of startups surveyed, 23 percent had a female founder or co-founder. The largest concentrations of female-founded startups were in the healthcare (21 percent) and consumer internet/digital media (20 percent) sectors.

The differences between male and female founded companies are apparent in titles, fundraising, and geography:

  • A woman in the C-suite in a male-founded company is more likely to be the head of HR (25%), CFO (22%) or CMO (18%). In comparison, a woman in the C-suite in a female-founded company is more likely to be CEO (47%), COO (26%) or CTO (9%).
  • Fundraising is challenging for all startups, however, 27 percent of female-founded companies said the current fundraising environment is “extremely challenging” versus 15 percent of male-founded startups.
  • Comparing results among the U.S., U.K. and China, the survey found notably more women in tech leadership in startups in China: 63 percent of startups in China had at least one women in an executive position.

The survey also highlights that whether the startup had a female or male founder made little difference in the outlook assessing business conditions, hiring, exit strategies and funding sources.

Business Conditions in 2017:

  • 85 percent of female- and 88 percent of male-founded companies expect business conditions to get better or remain as strong as they were in 2016.

Source of Funding:

  • Venture capital was the most likely option of the next source of funding regardless of founder’s gender.
  • After venture capital, more female-founded companies expected their next source of funding to come from private equity and corporate investors. Male-founded companies expected the next source after VC to come from individuals and, by a slight margin, angel investors.


  • Finding workers with the skills needed to grow their business remains a challenge for all startups. That said, female- (71 percent) and male-founded companies (79 percent) expect to hire in 2017.


  • There was almost no difference in the realistic long-term goal for exits. More than half of both male- (53 percent) and female-founded companies (51 percent) said they expected their startup to be acquired, and far fewer expect to go public in an IPO.

For a more comprehensive analysis, please see the Women in Technology Leadership report. Startup Outlook 2017 survey results by country can be viewed at:

Follow the conversation on Twitter at @SVB_Financial and @SVB_UK with #StartupOutlook.


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