The challenges and advantages of being a female founder in 2023

29 March 2023, 09:05 AM
  • Speciality Food speaks to four female founders proving that women can not only succeed in business but enrich the sector, too
The challenges and advantages of being a female founder in 2023

The food and drink sector is well-placed to foster diversity and inclusion. Ingredients, ideas and people from around the world have long enriched our food culture, while women have so often been the originators, manufacturers and distributors of food in communities of every size. Yet sexism and inequality plague this industry as it does others, with commercial boardrooms, factory floors, fields and offices rarely reflecting the pervasiveness of women in domestic food settings.

Challenges of being a female founder
While there are more women in business than ever before, there are still challenges present that need to be addressed. 

According to Malika Datta, co-founder of Grechka, “Unfortunately, gender bias still exists, as female founders face extra challenges when it comes to raising investment, as traditionally investors are more hesitant to invest in women-owned businesses, and the statistics are appalling. Only 3% of all investment goes to women, and the percentage is even lower when it comes to BAME female businesses.”

Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, added, “According to the latest Rose Review, there are still far more barriers facing women who want to start in business, like childcare costs, investment opportunities or the lack of visible role models, compared to men. As a woman, you often need to demonstrate competence to a much higher level than a male founder when it comes to accessing finance via the current routes such as Venture Capital or angel investment.”

This is something that Dominie Fearne, founder of The Wild Hare, agreed with. “The cons of being a female business founder are that, typically, we are the ones looking after families too. Being a business owner is the busiest I have ever been in my career, so it really is a balancing act.”

For Lola Pedro, founder of Pedros Africa, it is a constant battle to be heard in a male-dominated space. “Generally being a woman in this industry presents many challenges that I could’ve never initially anticipated. I spend a lot of time proving the legitimacy of what I do to so-called ‘professionals’ (men) who are already operating with a bias, despite not really knowing that much about the specificities of the sector themselves. 

“In saying that, successfully pulling off what is known to be a man’s job in this sector has created many fans of the brand, primarily women, who understand the difficulties of pursuing such an endeavour in this market”, she added. 

Finding silver linings
While there are challenges and choppy waters to navigate, being a female founder does come with advantages. 

As Dominie explained, “The pros of being a female founder in the food and drink industry are that you become dialled into a really open and like-minded community — with the opportunity to interact with many female buyers and directors across the food chain. I have experienced very little gender bias in the industry and it’s very empowering working alongside so many successful females.”

Malika agreed, “A significant advantage of being a female founder in the food and drink industry today is the rapidly growing community/network of women who empower each other through various impactful events and support groups. I’m excited to be part of this thriving community of foodpreneurs. I’m especially inspired by other female founders as I see how we are changing boardrooms in real-time, particularly by women juggling business, kids, and relationships.”

For Shemin MacGregor, founder of Shemin’s, it has been a positive experience as she found a community. “I have found that being a female in the food and drink industry is a very welcoming place to be! Starting as a female founder in a new industry did make me feel nervous at the beginning, but the relationships I’ve created in the industry and the support have given me confidence. 

“Seeing the community behind me has pushed me to create new things and expand and diversify my offering.”

Driving for success
In spite of challenges, there is plenty of motivation to succeed in the food and drink industry and female founders are particularly driven. 

As Dominie explained, “Food and drink is all about creativity and passion for what you love — and that cannot be limited to one group of individuals. The industry needs diversity, especially as we all shop for international cuisine as a matter of habit — because we love it! In addition, we need to ensure more women are thriving as founders in the industry, as it allows for greater versatility and creativity.”

This sentiment is also felt by Lola, who feels impassioned to advocate for minorities in the industry. She told Speciality Food, “Representation matters! In my sector more specifically, spirits, you’d be hard-pressed to find many women of colour as brand owners. Therefore, I am driven by the fact that what I’m doing might catalyse others in my community to pursue their own goals irrespective of the fact that they too might be a minority within their industry.”

For Malika, it’s all about making a positive mark on the world. “I’m genuinely keen to make a significant social impact, i.e., to help improve the quality and longevity of people’s lives worldwide with sustainable solutions in mind, as well as providing more equal access to healthier food choices. 

“Grechka isn’t just about the tangible product, but also the community we have built and plan to grow further via the well-being concept of the brand. Seeing how much we positively impact the community around us is a big motivation for me”, she added.

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