Highlights of La French Tech Panel on Gender bias in the investment and corporate world

by DIANA DORAHY|10 September 2020

Highlights of La French Tech Panel: Gender bias in the investment and corporate worlds

September 3, 2020 


ICYMI, La French Tech hosted a brilliant panel last week about gender bias and ways to recognise and prevent it in the investment and corporate world.

Panelists included:

Nicole Denholder, founder of Next Chapter Raise (Hong Kong)

Stella Zhang, Head Mainland China of Innovation and Partnerships, 500 Startups  (Shanghai)

Guiheng Zhou, VP Hub Asia Home and Distribution – Connected Living Lob, energy management business of Schneider Electric (Shenzhen)

To begin, we’d like to thank and congratulate the moderator of the discussion, Cecile Israel, President of La French Tech HK-SZ and founder and CEO of French Bacchus for organising such a robust and important discussion. Representation from Shenzhen, Shanghai and Hong Kong also allowed for a pragmatic reflection on what’s being done in key cities to address this issue.

A big thank you as well to all those who attended. There was a strong presence from Asia as well as the UK and Australia.

Below is a transcript of Nicole Denholder’s discussion plus a summary of key points from other panelists, Guiheng and Stella.



  1. There is some important research into promotion vs prevention by Dana Kanz highlighting the impact that certain questions have on the amount and type of funding received by men and women.  Can you please explain more about this research?



Dr Dana Kanze is from the London Business School and she did this incredibly powerful TedX talk about the types of questions start-up founders get asked when they’re invited to pitch.

In her research, she asked; what if this funding gap has nothing to do with the fundamental differences in the businesses started by men and women? What if women get less funding than men because of the simple difference in the questions they get asked?

The research found that:

  • Men are asked promotion questions ask about how great everything will be (gains)
  • The Potential
  • Women are asked Prevention questions ask about how horrible everything will (losses)
  • Managing risk

The second thing she discovered was that entrepreneurs respond in kind to the questions they get, meaning a promotion question begets a promotion response and a prevention question begets a prevention response.

The result?

  • This triggers ongoing questions and answers, collectively fueling a cycle of bias that merely perpetuates the gender disparity.
  • Promotion answers went on to raise 14 times more funding than those who responded to prevention questions with prevention answers.

What else did it show?

  • Women were 2 x more likely to be asked PREVENTION questions
  • Ultimately, those who answered with Promotion ANSWERS received more funding

There’s a BUT…

When they RE-DID the research they found that the results were still gender specific BUT the funding level depended on what type of ANSWER you provided e.g. if you answered in the prevention way (then regardless of gender) you raised less money.

Key takeaways

  • Reframe your answer, especially for female founders
  • For investors, take the time to consider the types of questions you are asking founders.



The approach by Schneider around diversity and inclusion centres on bringing together the right mix. It’s a fact now that this brings better results.

This approach results in a strong sense of belonging to the team and allows people to reveal their true self at work. This has driven positive results.

Schneider Electrics has won several awards from both Bloomberg (3 years in a row) and the FT (inaugural this year) as diversity leaders in the corporate world.


  1. How do you think the deal flow process impacts female funding and what are you doing at Next Chapter Raise to address it? 



We have talked to quite a number of investors about how they source deal-flow and the most common ways are via:

  • Warm referrals
  • Pitch events / demo days
  • Research

In our experience, it’s tough for women to break into an already established warm referral cycle. Without a concerted effort to open up this process, investors will continue to see low numbers of female founders.

Anecdotally, most female founders we talk to say they don’t enjoy pitch demo days. Again, that means women aren’t participating in the traditional deal flow process and therefore aren’t being seen by investors.

So, what we’re saying, there isn’t so much a glass ceiling as a glass floor and that’s what needs to be cracked if women are to progress.

We are already seeing that take place in Asia. Cocoon Capital in Singapore recently held a female founder mentor hours programme which had more than 200 applications. We have also seen that in Australia and the UK with similar initiatives.

At Next Chapter Raise we’re also focusing on facilitating access to investors and advisors using a more data driven approach. In our research, we found that VC and angel organisations with a gender-balanced portfolio did so unintentionally. When they relied on the data, success naturally followed.

The most important thing for both founders and investors is access and opportunity. What we do is provide an alternative research source by talking about and promoting founders throughout our network. We showcase the work of these women-led businesses via social media under our hashtag #raisewins and via our dedicated fundraising podcast, Raise the Bar.



Founder CEOs should look to build a diverse leadership team.

Female founders understand risk and consumer needs both of which make them a good investment.

BUT, it’s important to remember that ultimately investors are seeking a return on investment.


  1. How does creating role models reduce gender bias?


We have all heard this before but ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ which makes founders who are female very important as role models.

A common anecdote when interviewing entrepreneurs in our community is that their parents were entrepreneurs. That meant becoming entrepreneurs themselves seemed possible. However, with only 3% of funding going to female founders there’s a distinct lack of female role models out there.

There’s also the problem of inter-industry role models.  Research has shown that founders seeking funding in industries such as fashion, beauty, wellness receive greater funding because there is an expectation that they know those industries and the problems.

But, when it comes to gender neutral industries (e.g. transportation) or deep tech female founders receive less funding. It’s assumed they know less about these industries and that’s compounded by the fact that there are fewer women leaders in these industries. This creates a cycle of limited funding to women resulting in less female role models across these industries.

At Next Chapter Raise, we’re creating “news flow” for our members and community through two programmes:

  • Entrepreneur-in-Residence
  • Raise Role Models

We also have a monthly Investor-in-Residence who gets to meet, engage and collaborate with our members, answering their questions and providing feedback.

All these avenues combine to provide a virtual showcase of female founder talent, trends and wins. For us, the goal is to ultimately become the voice of female funding.  



500Startups has its own ‘500 Women’ programme (which is actually more than 500 women) to help support female founders. They are also working towards supporting successful female founders to become funders.

China has some strong female investors with Kathy Xu at Capital Today and Jenny Lee at GGV Capital leading the way .



  • They have programmes around pay equity, recruitment, diversity and Investment (board). Their HeforShe Programme carries annual KPIs for women leaders and young people and is also aimed at bringing men into the discussion.
  • During Covid19 they’ve also formed a taskforce to address this as well as its goal of 50% women leaders.


  1. What actions would you recommend to investors or corporates joining this discussion for the first time? 


We all need to work together to move forward and create change.  Some easy actions include:

  • Watch Dana Kanze’s TedX talk (14 mins) and share it with as many people as you can inside your organisation and those outside who you think would benefit
  • If you’re in a neutral or traditional male industry, look for female entry points (tip: see what other companies are doing in this regard)
  • As an example, at Next Chapter we’re partnering with a Resources and Energy accelerator for female founders in Australia.
  • We’re also exploring other engagement opportunities including female founder mentor hours and diverse industry partnerships. These will be key moving forward.


You can also listen to the recording of the event: