Women are thriving in deep tech and life sciences, but the venture capital industry can do more to promote diversity

Judith Hartley, British Patient Capital

By Judith Hartley (pictured), CEO, British Patient Capital – This International Women’s Day, I’d like to shine a light on the brilliant work of various women within the UK’s venture capital industry and the outstanding contribution they have been making at all levels of society. Notwithstanding their fantastic achievements, there remains a lot more we can all do to improve gender diversity within venture capital. It’s incumbent upon all of us to make this happen.

Beyond venture capital there have been a number of great success stories in recent years in the business and finance communities, with female CEOs becoming increasingly prevalent in what were traditionally male dominated sectors. Notable examples include Alison Rose at NatWest Group, Debbie Crosbie at TSB Bank and closer to home, Catherine Lewis La Torre, the CEO of British Business Bank – all women leading financial institutions which are playing a critical role in the UK’s economic recovery.

It was also announced last month that the number of FTSE 100 female directors has risen by 50 per cent in the last five years and that women now hold more than a third of roles in the boardrooms of Britain’s FTSE 350 companies. Tangible improvements are being made.
Within the venture capital industry there are also some great examples of women who are in leading positions in their fields and whose work is outstanding. Of course, we are immensely proud of the contribution of Kate Bingham, partner at SV Health Investors, who chaired the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce until January this year and who has played a leading role in the fight against Covid.

Thanks to her leadership, millions of people across the UK have now received vaccinations. British Patient Capital has invested in SV Health’s Impact Medicine Fund, which backs companies developing precision medicine for poorly treated diseases, and its Dementia Discovery Fund, that creates companies to address one of the world’s largest unmet medicine needs. 
Kate Bingham’s work is not the only example of women excelling in the UK’s VC sector. Irina Haivas of Atomico, Amelia Armour of Amadeus and Kerry Baldwin of IQ Capital are just three other examples of women in leadership roles amongst our fund managers. All use their insights in healthcare and deep tech to provide capital to breakthrough technology companies.

For example, Irina led Atomico’s investments in Healx, a company that uses AI to find cures for rare diseases, while Amelia has led investment into Riverlane, its software is the next step in bringing the power of quantum computing to the market. Kerry, in addition to leading deep tech investments, is Vice-Chair of the British Venture Capital Association, providing industry wide leadership. 

Having women in leadership roles is critical for the venture capital industry. A diverse range of views, backgrounds, and experiences not only strengthens equality, it’s also better for business. For example, McKinsey’s Diversity Matters research finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians; and companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are also 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Studies from the Boston Consulting Group, First Round Capital and Kauffman Fellows all show female founders in the US outperforming their male counterparts.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge:“ We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality”. Today is a reminder that when it comes to the venture capital industry, we all have a responsibility to take action to encourage diversity and help advance the role of women.

British Patient Capital and other institutional investors have an important role to play in encouraging managers to develop diversity within their organisations. We include diversity as an integral part of our assessment of fund managers. Diverse viewpoints have a positive impact across several areas, including deal-sourcing and the quality of decision-making. We also seek to understand the policies that managers have in place to support diversity and will encourage them to develop their approach where appropriate.

At British Patient Capital, we live our values with respect to diversity. Three out of four of our Board members are female, our investment team is diverse, and more than half our team is made up of women. While I am proud of my own team and pleased with all we have achieved to date, our work is by no means complete and there is still a lot for us to do.

Only collectively, can we all help create an inclusive world and ensure women’s contributions to high-growth technology companies, and the patient capital these companies need, are fully recognised. By celebrating our successes, we provide the inspiration and encouragement for others. 

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