Gender bias in Central and Eastern Europe: Women securing investments – challenges and solutions

Gender bias in Central and Eastern Europe: Women securing investments – challenges and solutions

  • Gender bias in Central and Eastern Europe continues to permeate society, making it more difficult for women to access resources and develop their businesses
  • Women will have less time compared to men, as there is an expectation for them to be the main caregivers or to look after the household. This limits their ability to invest time in building skills or networking which lowers their access to positions of power in business and government. 
  • Public policy in Romania needs to change to provide women with better access to resources. Examples include providing transportation for kids to get to school and back home or extending the opening hours of kindergartens.
  • At Endeavor, behind every start-up, there is a woman in a senior position – companies need to encourage them to showcase their talent and work.
  • Women in Romania need to first have access to decent jobs which will help them build up assets, before being able to fully step into the world of entrepreneurship.
  • There needs to be more education about entrepreneurship in Romania, that is specifically aimed at women
  • Banks such as Raiffeisen have developed programmes specifically designed to give credit to startups. 30% of the projects financed by Raiffeisen are women-led start-ups.
  • Be strategic in building a relationship with potential investors, and always aim to stand out from the crowd. 
  • There is no better time than now to start looking for investments in your venture.
  • Mentorship, KPIs and data gathering are crucial for creating more equity in business.

These are some of the key insights from the three panel discussions at the first Gender Equal Investment Funds Conference held by the Romanian Diversity Chamber of Commerce (RDCC). Andreea Vasile, journalist, content creator and communication specialist, moderated the conversations between industry leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers from Central and Eastern Europe who addressed gender bias in Central and Eastern Europe and the challenges women face in entrepreneurship and the role of investment funds in promoting gender equality. 

Mihnea Crăciun, Managing Director of Endeavor, Daniela Șerban, President & Co-Founder of the Romanian Investor Relations Association (ARIR), Margareta Mucibabici, Senior Advisor at Public Affairs Solutions and Laura Mihăilă, Communication and CX Director at Raiffeisen Bank discusses the Challenges and Opportunities for Women in Central and Eastern European Investment Funds. 

They were followed by Aleksandra Mucha, Investment Associate Central & Eastern Europe, NESsT Poland, Gabriela Assoum Predescu, Lawyer and General Counsel & Partner Axxess Capital Partners, Marion Hegarty, Ambassador of Women in Tech, Mihaila/Misha Ioniță, Head of Human Resources at ING Bank who discussed Strategies for Achieving Gender Diversity in Investment Funds. 

Gender bias Central and Eastern Europe

Speakers from left to right:
Gabriela Assoum Predescu, Lawyer, General Counsel & Partner Axxess Capital Partners; Marion Hegarty, Ambassador, Women in Tech;
Mihaela Ioniță, Head of Human Resources, ING Bank; Aleksandra Mucha, Investment Associate Central & Eastern Europe, NESsT Poland.

Last but not least, Ilinca Păun, Founder of Bravva Angels, Ana Bobircă, Chief Investment Officer of InnovX, Sergiu Rosca, Founding Partner at GapMinder Venture Partners shared some Case Studies of Successful Women-Led Investment Funds in Central and Eastern Europe

Find below highlights from each panellist: 

Mihnea Craciun: Looking at the data from Endeavor for this discussion, most of the 42 markets where we are present are actually led by women. Almost all of our Latin American and African branches are led by women – the same for the Middle East. Europe is in fact, embarrassingly, the outlier. Europe has a bit of an issue. In Romania, there is overwhelmingly the perception that startups are led by men, started by men, founded by men, and represented by men. However, if you look deeper into the fabric of those startups, you will see almost all the time a woman, at least one woman, in a senior position. When you ask the male founder, why the partner or the woman isn’t more outspoken, the answer is that women shy away from wanting to be represented. So part of the solution for us has been to encourage women to step into the public domain more.  

Daniela Serban: Why is it harder for women in Central and Eastern Europe to secure finances? Because, historically, they haven’t owned assets in their name, making it more difficult for them to secure loans. In Romania, specifically, we also see two important factors contributing to gender inequality: time and power. Generally, a woman will have less time than a man because it’s still the norm for women to do the housekeeping, pick up the kids from school and take care of other chores. So it becomes harder for women to find time to develop their social network. And then power. We know there aren’t many women in Romania in positions of power. These two factors are interconnected – without time, women will find it harder to reach positions of power. 

Making changes in public policy is perhaps the most important change to be made in this region. We, women in business, can change smaller things around us. We can talk to other women. We can team up. We can get an education. But we need policies in place that will unlock resources for us so we can choose what to do with our education, skills and dreams.

Margarita Mucibabici: Before creating targeted policies that encourage women to invest, we need to take a step back and address other issues. For example, we also know that a lack of data on women in the workforce blocks us from taking action because we don’t know exactly where to go and what policies need to be implemented. Women in Central and Eastern Europe often first need to at least have access to decent jobs, before talking about entrepreneurship. I also think we need to help women develop their confidence and this starts in schools. Confidence is key when delivering pitches, which is crucial for accessing funding. But confidence is first learnt in schools.

Laura Mihăilă: At Raiffeisen, we have a programme called Factory, which gives credit to startups and since 2022 we also launched a programme that aims to scale up startups. And we are happy to say that 30% of those startups financed by Raiffeisen were women-led. Now, 30% is not a big number. As a marketing person, 30% is a number that I can sell to you as inclusive, but realistically it’s not enough. So this year we started helping women break into traditionally male sectors such as agriculture by developing a programme called  EWA, Empowering Women in Agri-Food. We believe we need to be part of the solution and clear a financing path in areas that so far have been closed off to women for various reasons.

Ilinca Păun: We need to help women not play the game. What does this mean? It means that everybody in Romania is looking for the same investors – it’s a red ocean in terms of competition. Everybody’s going to pitch to the same people, pretty much in the same way. And they will, of course, use buzzwords like AI to be cool, although AI is not necessarily built into the product. So I am saying: don’t go that path. Try to choose your investors strategically. Do your research, and find out as much as you can about the fund or the investor or the community to ensure your product matches them. Develop a personal professional relationship with them and then ask them to introduce you to their investment board and pitch after they get to know you and you get to know them. It’s a very different environment and atmosphere then. 

Ana Bobirca: I have a private equity background. I’m a partner in a private equity fund and I’ve been in this industry forever. And there are two women partners in our team, so I think this also counts as a contribution of women to this sector. But InnovX is not necessarily focused on promoting and pushing for teams that are made up of a majority of women. The teams are mixed. InnovX does focus intensively on mentorship, which is embedded into the fabric of funds no matter what stage. You know, InnovX is a business accelerator, so mentorship is essential – it’s basically what they do. They’re upgrading to scale-ups and venture capital funds and they are continuing with strong mentorship.

And on the topic of investment, I would say, there is no better time than now to create a business and find investors because there is a lot of institutional money available right now through EU schemes. 

Sergiu Roșca: I just want to share some of the names of start-ups that have huge potential. Pluria is one such venture, co-founded by the amazing Gabriela Draghia. Gabriela actually managed to obtain numerous funds which had been earmarked for boosting the representation of women in business. Despite the fact that it was a local project, they succeeded to go global and right now they are more successful outside Romania that in Romania. In fact, they just succeed to raise $2 million, which, to me, is a sign that they will continue to be successful.  Another example is Planable, which I think will be a huge company in the future. It’s a platform that is used even by the United Nations, and a lot of superstar companies from various sectors. Xenia Muntean did an absolutely amazing job.  We have another example company, MEDIJobs, which had done an amazing job in Romania and the US.  

Aleksandra Mucha: We still don’t have enough women in senior positions, 90% of the VCs, people who are managing and making decisions are men. So only around 10% of VCs in Central and Eastern Europe are women. Homophily, which explains why women choose women and men choose men for positions and business investments, is one of the biggest barriers to creating more diversity in teams.

I represent an investment fund that is focused on creating and supporting social impact. So we are really looking for SMEs who are supporting marginalized groups. For example, young people at risk, people with disabilities, refugees, minorities, people from LGBT+ communities, and of course, women. So this is what we are doing, and we have in Central and Eastern Europe, we have more and more impact funds. I think that there is a change in mindset but this is still a process.

Gabriela Predescu: I joined the private equity field back in 2005, but we are still lagging far behind any sort of fairness in this industry. So to go back just a little bit, I started in 2005 as a lawyer, and I made partner in 2011. I was lucky enough to start an organization which was funded by the American government. It was the Romanian American Enterprise Fund, the first investment fund, that was active in Romania, and women were well represented, even at the level of investment officers, but not at a senior level. Right now, the situation has improved. I now go to meetings and meet more women which is a good thing. Ultimately, it’s a matter of educating children about what opportunities can be possible for them. I recognize and appreciate the efforts of the NGOs, banks and other people working to implement public policies.

Change in Romania has to start from top to bottom. The bottom now, with the young generation, looks much better than with our generation. So, I’m hopeful.

Marion Hegarty: So Women in Tech is a global association, an NGO, present in more than 40 countries. The founder of the NGO is Ayumi Moore Aoki, a Brazilian-Japanese woman who lives in France, and aims to empower 5 million girls and women in tech by 2030. So this is the objective of the NGO and we still have seven years to reach it. And Romania actually has a high proportion of women in IT. I work in tech in the banking industry and the company I work for has reached parity even if it was not an objective, it was not a KPI. It just happened during skills selection. When we recruit, we are looking for the best people, especially in the banking industry, and this is how we reached that. While this happened organically for us as a company, I still believe KPIs are fundamental because we need to measure this and we need to be able to track progress. KPIs allow us to create specific policies and training schemes that will help bridge the gender gap. 

Mihaila/Misha Ioniță: At ING we like to say that what we don’t measure doesn’t exist. So we measure diversity. So we look at these numbers of women versus men, age groups and ethnicity and so on. Once that is in place, we create policies so we make sure our processes are fair and effective. This is what we do internally to ensure more diversity and equity.

I also want to share with you the results of a study ING did with Bravva Angels and the Impact Hub. They looked at companies with over 10,000 RON as turnover for 2022 and surprisingly, 47% of those have women in the ownership structure. Only one out of four are 100% women-led. And it turned out that actually, companies fully led by women produce twice as much profit as companies fully led by men.

Watch the whole conference below for further insights on Gender Equal Investment Funds in 2023: