More Ventured, More Gained for Women in Science

Closing the gender gap in science will take time and money. But if current trends hold, Canada could be a leader in bringing it to fruition.

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Part of making research into reality is having access to funding. And the current reality is that women-led ventures are underfunded.

Looking at the statistics, women dominate the numbers when it comes to pursuing degrees in medicine and science, but careers as entrepreneurs and chief executives at companies don’t match. Circumstances are preventing women from staying in science, or rising to the ranks of senior leaders, even after they choose to pursue science.

In a recent meeting, U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off a bi-national effort to increase female leadership in the workplace. While to some, the gesture may feel purely symbolic, it has already sparked vocal support from many Canadians, including longstanding advocates at the Toronto-based MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund (MaRS IAF), which invests in IT, health and cleantech companies.

Michelle McBane, investment director at MaRS IAF, says that Canada is in the midst of a large scale culture change, one that may bring gender parity in tech, and one that its U.S. counterparts should model after.

Trudeau is driving public support for private ventures by backing the Business Development Bank of Canada’s $50-million fund slated to invest in women-led tech startups, which McBane says could generate venture-capital grade returns.

This is important, because despite women being the minds behind double the number of new startups as men, most venture capital forms only invest around 4 percent of funds in women-led ventures.

McBane cites unintentional biases that women face when pitching their ideas to male-dominated venture capital firms, where only 7 percent of partners are women. Differences in priorities and communication styles put women at a disadvantage, and often result in lower success rates.

Her solution? Put more women at the table when it comes to making venture capital decisions. MaRS IAF already has more women on its investment team, and has invested in three times more women-led ventures than other North American tech funds. Funded companies in the MaRS IAF portfolio that have at least one female co-founder are performing just as well as those with only male founders.

Closing the gender gap is going to take time, but there’s no better time to start than now. #beboldforchange.

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Karyn Ho is a science animator and engineer who thrives at the interface between science, engineering, medicine, and art. She earned her MScBMC (biomedical communications) and PhD (chemical engineering and biomedical engineering) at the University of Toronto. Karyn is passionate about using cutting edge discoveries to create dynamic stories as a way of supporting innovation, collaboration, education, and informed decision making. By translating knowledge into narratives, her vision is to captivate people, spark their curiosity, and motivate them to share what they learned.