Unilever's global Foundry platform has committed to ensure half of the startups it works with are female in the next five years after research revealed a gender bias continues to spread across the startup ecosystem.

Unilever Foundry - where startups and innovators engage and collaborate with its brands - has also announced a partnership with UN Women and its Global Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC), an alliance that seeks to advance gender equality, create a set of innovation principles, and promote positive role models for women.

The announcements follow new research by the global consumer goods company that shows only 17 per cent of startups are founded by women, and 39 per cent of those female founders frequently encounter sexism while running their business.

The research, which surveyed 685 founders from global startups, examines gender bias in the startup space, charts where bias exists in a startup’s lifecycle and examines the steps needed for change.

“We know that when we embrace diversity and inclusion in larger organisations like Unilever, we unleash the best in creativity, ideas and innovation – it’s business critical for us,” Unilever EVP global marketing and head of diversity and inclusion Aline Santos said.

“Through this report we can see a major gender diversity issue in early stage companies – from the low numbers of female founders, to the lack of support women experience across the lifecycle of their companies.

“So we are committed to leveraging the power of Unilever to make sure we shine a light on this issue and increase the opportunities for talented people to lead the startups of tomorrow.”

In light of the research findings from the study, the Unilever Foundry has proposed a series of steps to help address the gender gap in the startup space:

  •  Acknowledge the issue. Both men and women desire change, and it is important to encourage and develop the conversation.
  • Be transparent about gender equality by publishing pay gap statistics. 

  • Revisit and re-define discrimination. Women remain wary of identifying their experiences of gender bias as discrimination, even when it impacts their ability to do their job.

  • Provide accessible role models by establishing mentoring programs for women in startups.

  • Create programs across disciplines and sectors to help women in particular feel confident across all areas of a business, in any sector.

  • Create training programs for younger people, who typically experience gender bias to an even greater degree.