News stories about women in the workforce over the past few years have been bleak. Faced with more layoffs, higher rates of unemployment and increased child care burdens, women have essentially been set back an entire generation when it comes to workforce participation. This movement has been dubbed a “shecession,” a term often used in regards to white-collar office work, but it’s important to note that jobs in the healthcare and hospitality industry are also seeing a mass exodus. That’s a big impact on two industries that are overwhelmingly female-dominated.
Years before the pandemic sent office workers home, Stephanie Nadi Olson recognized the pain points of parents and people of color in office settings. That’s why in 2018, she quit her job based on the hunch that many talented employees were looking for a more flexible workplace. Investing $10,000 of her own money, she created We Are Rosie, a flexible talent marketplace for the advertising and marketing industries.
That hunch paid off. Last month, Align Capital Partners (ACP) acquired a portion of We Are Rosie in a deal valuing the company at $110 million. Olson has retained a significant stake in the company and will continue to lead through its next phase of growth.
Commenting on the acquisition, Olson said, “We have dozens of Fortune 500 clients ready to embrace flexible talent and 10,000+ independent marketers excited to work in a way that gives them the life and career they deserve. Now we can accelerate our goals of creating access, opportunity, and wealth for independent marketers, especially those who’ve historically been marginalized by the industry.”
For years, venture capital funding has been primarily reserved for male founders. Women-founded companies only received 3% of VC funding in 2019, and that tiny sliver actually dipped down to down to 2.2% in 2020.
While the past few years have felt like setback after setback, stories like We Are Rosie’s might signal a more optimistic future. After all, in 2021, Sara Blakely became a billionaire, along with Falguni Nayar, who became the richest self-made female billionaire in India. Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine sold for $900 Million, demonstrating that there is value in celebrating women’s stories through film.
Let’s not forget that 2021 began with the first Black and South Asian woman being sworn in as Vice President of the United States. Have women quietly been making a comeback despite the doomsday headlines?
A Pitchbook report from November stated that, “female-founded companies raised $40.4 billion across 2,661 deals through the first three quarters of 2021, shattering the previous annual deal value record of $23.7 billion in 2019. A decade ago, only $3.6 billion was invested in all female-founded startups.”
One contributing factor might be the slight increase in the number of women sitting on the investor side. In 2019, only 12% of US-based checkwriters were women. In 2021, that increased to 15.4%. Although that may seem like only a marginal increase, it’s important to note that women founders often seek out VC firms with women at the table and vice versa. So that marginal increase could lead to a significant impact.
The report underscores that women-founded companies are outperforming the market, with their value rising 143.6% from 2020. Pair that with the fact that underfunding Black founders has cost the U.S. economy $16 trillion over the past 20 years, and it’s abundantly clear that the market is ripe with opportunity. It’s no surprise that companies like Kathryn Finney’s Genius Guild and Janine Sickmeyer’s Overlooked Ventures are working to capitalize on them.
Lisa Marrone, founder & CEO of Revel and an early stage founder herself, is optimistic about what’s to come. “The most promising trend I see is the surge of female early stage investors,” she said. “More representation in VC means more representation for founders. I think that this particular moment is a high water mark for female founders and investors alike.”
Several high profile “liquidity events” recently minted women billionaires, from Blakely’s Spanx to Whitney Wolfe Herd’s Bumble, as well as Anne Wojcicki’s genetics startup 23andMe. In India, Falguni Nayar’s FSN E-Commerce Ventures Ltd, which runs the beauty retailer Nykaa, became the first woman-led unicorn in India to go public. Its Mumbai IPO made Nayar the richest self-made female billionaire in the country, her own net worth adding up to nearly $7 billion.
These four women reaching the billion dollar mark is significant, not just for them as individuals, but for the board members, employees and other stakeholders which include more women than ever before. In essence, this news will have a ripple effect on the entire ecosystem of women investors and founders.
Fortune’s Broadsheet newsletter recently pointed out that, “110 men who achieved billion-dollar exits this year—a group that includes the founders of Coinbase, Robinhood, Affirm, and Warby Parker—have made 732 public investments in other startups. Of those investments, 6% went to all-female founding teams and 14% to companies with mixed gender teams. Meanwhile, 10 female founders whose companies exited at the billion-dollar level made 59 public investments, 22% of which went to all-female teams and 25% to startups with founding teams that included at least one woman.”
Janine Sickmeyer, co-founder of VC firm Overlooked Ventures, is optimistic for what 2022 will bring. “Women founders have always been capable, and ready, to make a difference in the world of VC and startups, it was just everyone else who needed to catch up,” she said. “Although progress isn’t where it should be, more and more women are starting successful businesses and getting the recognition and support they need to grow.”
Sickmeyer continued, “2022 will be a strong year for women if venture capitalists and the industry put their money where their mouth is. Many great initiatives and investments were started to back women founders, but it’s clear that there’s more work to do. It’s up to venture capital to make 2022 a strong year for women, specifically women of color.”
Despite enduring years of setbacks, or perhaps because of it, women-led businesses might finally be seeing a glimmer of optimism.