Honoring Omidyar Network’s Women Entrepreneurs Changing Education
During Women’s History Month, we want to celebrate women we feel fortunate to work with every day who are pursuing big, bold visions to create positive change for millions of children and families in global education. Thank you for being such an inspiration to us and to so many others by making learning more inclusive, equitable, and higher quality.
We are encouraged that in the past year we have witnessed women rallying for their rights and protesting in black gowns against harassment. We watched Wonder Woman become one of the highest grossing superhero movies in history, and #MeToo and #TimesUp grow into social movements. We applauded when women in Saudi Arabia received the right to drive, and when women in hockey fought for and won equal pay.
Yet, we continue to be astounded by how few women entrepreneurs receive funding — just 2 percent of total venture funding in the United States last year went to women founders. Women comprise only 8 percent of partners at venture firms in the United States. These statistics are even worse in many other countries in which we work. This, despite all the data demonstrating that improving diversity and inclusion is good for business.
Omidyar Network invests in the best mission-driven entrepreneurs, and we are proud that more than 40 percent of all the education organizations we support — nonprofit and for profit — have been founded or led by women, well above industry average. If you look at the US-based education companies where we have invested, that number exceeds 50 percent.
We’ve learned many lessons that we would like to share and hope you will share yours.
Lesson #1: Our portfolio looks different because our investment team looks different. Start on the investor side, and then the entrepreneurs
Less than five years ago, Omidyar Network had zero female partners. That number has now risen to 30 percent. How could an organization whose sole purpose was to increase opportunity and enable empowerment have a partnership that was 100 percent male? Well, the truth is that it takes awareness, effort, and time to recognize and correct. How did we make it happen? First, there was an increase in awareness internally on the issue. Second, we increased diversity at the partnership level through a dedicated combination of external recruiting, internal promotions, and mentorship of female talent at all levels. This intentional focus has had positive ripple effects throughout the organization.
Diverse representation also scales. As more women entrepreneurs are successful, they inspire others as living examples of what is possible. They become role models, they mentor others to grow and thrive, they fund capital pools that increase investment in women, and they broaden the definition of what a successful entrepreneur looks like. This pool of brilliant global women entrepreneurs Omidyar Network supports is acting across all of those dimensions, and we feel incredibly optimistic for the future as a result.
Lesson #2: Reframe diversity as competitive advantage
Omidyar Network has developed a “competitive advantage” with significant women leaders in our education team. The best entrepreneurs (women and men) are actively looking for more diverse investor bases and boards. This has allowed us to “win” competitive for-profit deals with women-founded and men-founded companies. Greater diversity has proven a clear asset for us.
Additionally, we know the best solutions will come from those who best understand their customers. Education is a highly complex system with no silver bullet, but with an increasing need for more and better solutions that cater to individualized students, educators, families, and schools. In the US education sector, 80 percent of teachers are females and 50 percent of students are girls. We need women entrepreneurs who can translate and address those needs.
Lesson #3: Lead with empathy for inclusion
Women entrepreneurs are often leading companies and being mothers at the same time. They are bandwidth-constrained and may be isolated as their companies grow with few role models around. As investors, we need to cultivate the empathy and provide the support that allows them to thrive. This may include virtual venues to enable flexible operations, as well as networks and other tailored opportunities. At Omidyar Network, we are actively involved in the Women in Product network, for instance, which allows product managers to celebrate accomplishments, share knowledge, and build skills to grow careers. We also fund Endeavor that supports global high-impact entrepreneurs and has various dedicated efforts on women, including a Women’s Network.
Whereas we have made significant progress on gender diversity in our team and portfolio, certainly there is a lot more work we need to do for our female entrepreneurs, just as we focus on ensuring our portfolio is racially and socioeconomically diverse. And as investors, we are committed to continuing to pave the way — for all our entrepreneurs — because we know this effort will ultimately generate the best solutions in education, the greatest blend of ideas, and the most promising future for our next generation.
Omidyar Network has signed onto Alpha Edison’s #StartWithEight initiative and is committed to taking eight meetings with women outside our network during the month of March … and even beyond!