Research by Yoppie, the pioneers of personalised period care, examines the increasingly common trend of Femwashing amongst UK and European businesses and reveals the truth about how much VC money is going to female-led companies.
What Is Femwashing & Why Is It A Problem?
Femwashing is a term used for when a company claims that women’s rights and other types of gender equality are central to their ethos and values when, in reality, the company does not care about such issues, it is just piggybacking on them to make extra money or increase reputational standing.
A common method of Femwashing is for companies to pretend to be interested in women’s political and equality issues, even going so far as to use these concepts in their advertising campaigns and marketing. However, Femwashing is often easy to dispel. Negative practices or misleading messaging can be exposed by, for example, examining the gender split of board-level employees – do women hold some of the highest positions in the company? Because, if a company is leaning on its equal rights policies to win new customers but does not employ any women in board-level positions, there is a serious contradiction at play, otherwise known as Femwashing.
Is it wrong for companies to do this, to pretend they care about gender equality issues when in reality they’re doing little or nothing to help the cause? The answer is yes, not only because the company is lying to stakeholders but also because of how effective Femwashing is at concealing or distracting from some very ugly truths.
For example, with so many companies boasting about their gender equality work, one would expect women to be more or less equally represented in the world of business. Look closely at the numbers, however, and it’s clear this isn’t true.
Femwashing in Venture Capital
One perfect example is Venture Capital (VC) investment. Even though gender equality appears to be top of the agenda for most organisations around the world, in analysing the gender split of VC investment, it’s clear that Femwashing is telling a story that simply isn’t true.
Between 2009 and 2019, all-male founding teams received more than 68% of all VC investment. Mixed male-female led companies received 29% of investment, while all-female teams received less than 3%.
Across Europe, the situation appears even more dire. In the past decade, female-led companies have never received more than 2.2% of annual VC investment totals, a high achieved in 2020 after rising from 1.3% in 2019. But, by 2021, this had fallen to a decade-low of 0.7%. This is despite 2021 also being the year in which female-only European companies received their highest share of annual VC deals, 4.6%.
Founder of Yoppie, Daniella Peri, commented:
“Take a cursory look around the world of business and advertising and one would be forgiven for thinking that improving gender equality is the most important thing on anyone’s mind. But this is an intentional distraction that pulls focus away from the reality, which is that female-led companies are actually receiving less of the VC investment pool today than at any point in the last decade.
“Businesses must be held to account for this practice of Femwashing because it hampers any opportunity for real accountability and real progress.
“The biggest comparable in today’s world is Greenwashing when companies pretend to be hot on sustainability efforts in their marketing material but, if you dig just below the surface, you discover that their carbon footprint is no better than it was ten years ago – in some cases, it’s even worse.
“These lies enable companies to keep moving forward in the same way that they always have. And because no one really knows the truth about their lack of gender equality, or their enormous carbon footprint, or their lacklustre level of diversity, they never have to actually change or improve anything because the false narrative they are spinning in the media is enough to keep prying eyes at bay.”