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Founding teams with at least one woman are more likely to exit, and deliver a much stronger IRR. However, women remained underrepresented across the board in public and private companies – particularly in male-dominated industries. And when it comes to raising investment, the hurdles for female founders are significant. According to Barclays research, men are 86% more likely to access venture capital and 56% more likely to secure angel investment than their female counterparts. 

It’s time to face the gender challenge, and organisations like She can. She did. are paving the way for a much more supportive, inclusive ecosystem for female entrepreneurs. We sat down with founder Fiona Grayson to find out what that new ecosystem looks like.

How did you come up with the idea for She Can She Did?

She can. She did. initially started back in 2017 because I was frustrated by the superficial #girlboss narrative and set out to expose the honest realities that female business owners face behind the scenes to launch, run and grow a business in the UK. 

Recurring challenges cropped up in the 250+ in-depth interviews that I’ve conducted – lack of security, lack of money, lack of time, lack of energy, lack of rewards until you’re financially secure etc. All that echoed my own experiences as a female business owner who walked away from a steady corporate job to launch She can. She did. The idea for our Benefits Programme that we launched last September was born off the back of that!

We provide female business owners with core benefits that help to save them time, money and energy in all facets of their lives. Our Vala health cover gives them access to GPs from their phone. We also provide resources that don’t sugar coat the realities of running a business, but instead provide genuine support to help them overcome challenges. My hope is that more companies built by women will get past their first few years in business and will have the security and confidence to define success on their own terms.

What was your experience in founding a business and how did it help you create a model that supports other women to do the same?

I’ve focused on sharing the honest truths behind the scenes from day one. Everyone I’ve interviewed has really opened up to me about their journeys in full. That’s allowed me to really understand the challenges that female business owners face – so much of which I can relate to being one myself – and everything that She can. She did. has launched because of that is with those challenges in mind.  

I’ve documented my own journey launching She can. She did., and there’s transparency at every stage of its growth. My customers know that I tried to get sponsorship for my very first ‘She can. She did. – Midweek Mingle’ but told me (and rightly so) that I needed to prove myself first. After three sold-out events, a sponsor finally came on board. My customers know the journey I went through to get the Benefits Programme off the ground when we went into lockdown after two years of trying to find investment in my spare time. 

I’m on this crazy little journey that is running a business with them and I make no secret of the fact that I’m learning every day too!

Why are She Can She Did’s services doing to improve the experience for female founders raising investment?

The women that I’ve interviewed on the She can. She did. Podcast that have raised investment – be it via angels, crowdfunding or in a few cases VC – have opened up to me about their experiences in full… and fellow founders can learn from their stories.

The business owners signed up to She can. She did. benefit from weekly online events as part of the wider Benefits offering too – all of which are focused on themes that help to recognise, build and reward resilience. Naturally, building financial resilience and navigating the investment landscape are topics that come up for discussion!

Are there any specific challenges you think are faced by female founders?

Gender bias still dominates the business landscape and the infrastructure to support business owners is heavily skewed in favour of men because of it. The disparity increases further when you break down the definition of ‘female founder’ and consider the favourable circumstances white women face compared to their BIPOC, LGBTQ+ or disabled counterparts. With that in mind, everything from access to funding and sponsorship opportunities to limited professional networks and networking opportunities are all challenges. Not to mention the lack of diversity in some of the companies claiming to support female business owners.

I think one of the biggest, often overlooked challenges facing female business owners is that society still views ‘success’ through a very one-dimensional lens of “go big or go home”, and that style of business doesn’t suit everyone. More needs to be done to champion and normalise the success stories of business owners who create profitable businesses without building a giant team, raising millions or going global.

What have been some of the most inspiring success stories of businesses that you’ve worked with? 

There’s not a single female founder that I’ve interviewed where I haven’t walked away feeling inspired (and I really mean that!). 

When the UK went into lockdown last year, I conducted a daily series of the She can. She did. Podcast for two months, focusing on how female business owners were responding to the pandemic and adapting their business models to survive.

In one case, a woman lost 90% of her PR business in a matter of days and had to pivot to an entirely different business model, all while supporting her team and adapting to new motherhood. It’s stories like hers that I fall back on every time I’m facing my own setbacks with She can. She did.

What kinds of businesses do you work with currently and what industry is seeing the most growth in female entrepreneurship?

At the moment, our customer base on the She can. She did. Benefits Programme consists predominantly of solo founders, female freelancers and female business owners with small teams of up to 10 people. I interview female business owners running companies of all sizes on the She can. She did. podcast though!

Creative industries are booming with female business right now. I have a feeling that UK highstreets will see a resurgence in independent businesses when the world starts to reopen because the demand to ‘support local’ is stronger than ever.

What change do you think will be the most important in creating gender equality in the entrepreneurship space moving forward? 

Collaboration. For too long, support for female business owners has existed in silo, with little collaboration across the board – I mean, how many businesses say that they’re ‘supporting female business owners nowadays!? The responsibility to ‘fix it’ lies with all of us. We need to collectively agree to stop glossing over the task at hand – creating the systems and structures for gender equality is a tough job and no amount of marketing jargon will make it easier!

For that reason, one of my key focuses this year is to secure more B2B partnerships with brands and networks that are committed to elevating the case for female business owners, to ensure that we get more tangible security and support into their hands. 

What advice would you give to aspiring female founders? 

I would remind them to never lose sight of the fact that they control the reins of their business, which gives them the power to define its ‘success’. We live in a world that judges success on superficial metrics like the number of social media followers you have, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of building a business that sounds and looks impressive, which often comes at the cost of the founder’s personal wellbeing. With that in mind, I’d always advise that at every stage of their company’s journey, they ask themselves two things; who am I doing this for and will it bring me joy?

If you could go back and do it all again, what’s one thing you wish you knew from the very beginning?

I would’ve definitely started the She can. She did. Podcast earlier! I travelled around the UK for 18 months interviewing female business owners over coffee in person and used to return home and transcribe those hour long chats. The She can. She did. Podcast has now had 120,000 downloads via word of mouth alone, but had I jumped on the podcast trend from day one, I could have saved my wrists from all that typing!

To find out more about She can. She did., visit their website.