Leadership Communication
Scorecard for Female Founders 

In 2021, female founders raised $40.4 billion in investments and reached $59 billion in exits, an all-time high. That’s the good news. The bad news: Despite the unprecedented success, female founders attracted only 2% of all U.S. venture capital investments made last year. 

 

Although women founders are raising more, they have a long way to go to match their male counterparts. Founders who plan to go public, raise funding or achieve a successful exit would benefit from knowing how strong leaders lead the industry, raise visibility for themselves and their brands and engage with employees, customers, media, investors and other key stakeholders.

 

To examine the relationship between business growth, leadership and communication styles, we studied 10 female founders who led their companies to breakout IPO success or achieved unicorn status in 2021. We used the SutherlandGold Leadership Communication Scorecard to assess how these top women executives lead their businesses and tell their stories across multiple communication channels. 

Leadership-Scorecard-09.png

WHITNEY WOLF HEARD
SCORE: 5

Bumble
Founder & the youngest woman to launch an IPO at 31

Leadership-Scorecard-08.png

MELANIE PERKINS
SCORE: 5

Canva
Co-founder of the most valuable startup at $40 billion valuation 

Leadership-Scorecard-10.png

FLORI MARQUEZ
SCORE: 4

Blockfi
Co-founder of the world’s fastest-growing fintech

Leadership-Scorecard-07.png

ANNE WOJCICKI
SCORE: 4

23andMe
Co-founder & first female self-made billionaire to IPO in U.S.

Leadership-Scorecard-01.png

KATE RYDER
SCORE: 3

Maven Clinic
Co-founder of only U.S. unicorn in women’s & family health

Leadership-Scorecard-06.png

SHUO WANG
SCORE: 3

Leadership-Scorecard-02.png

ALYSON WATSON
SCORE: 2

Modern Health
Co-founder of female-founded healthcare company unicorn

Leadership-Scorecard-05.png

GALINA ANTOVA
SCORE: 2

Claroty
Co-founder of 2021 highest industrial cybersecurity funding

Leadership-Scorecard-03.png

TRINA SPEAR
SCORE: 2

Leadership-Scorecard-04.png

HEATHER HASSON
SCORE: 2

How Female Founders Led Successful Unicorns and IPOs

From our research, we found that the top female founders share common characteristics, regardless of their specific communication strategies and leadership styles. They are:
 

  • Constantly innovating — From using creativity to fill unmet needs to serving marginalized communities, female founders develop methods for using their products to support demand.

  • Defying norms — Female founders integrate personal stories into their leadership journeys, blending their professional and personal lives to build their brands.

 

  • Standing up for DEI — Female leaders champion causes they believe in and aren’t afraid to put that on display.

 

  • Persisting, always — Regardless of the conscious and unconscious gender bias female founders encounter, they persist, pushing through countless funding rejections and media questioning.

  • Finding their best media fit — Instead of overusing the same social and digital media channels, female founders take advantage of platforms that align best with their own goals.

 

With these shared characteristics in mind, we used our CEO Scorecard to analyze four leadership categories. 

 

1. Business

The pandemic impacted these female founders’ communications strategies throughout 2021, and their businesses flourished because of it. Bumble and Canva led the 10 companies by each attracting more than $1 billion in funding and earned higher valuations than any others we studied.

 

Leaders needed to pivot their communication strategies during the pandemic and these female founders were no exception. We found their open, honest and direct lines of communication during a pivotal time ultimately boosted their bottom lines. All leaders also used their innovation to bring unmet needs to underserved communities, highlighting their social impact initiatives during a global health crisis. 

 

2. Media Coverage

The founders we studied each found a way to position themselves and their companies as leaders in the space, driving media coverage by being the first, only, or best at what they do.

 

  • First: Bumble was the first app to encourage women to make the first move and raised $2.2 billion during its 2021 IPO.

  • Only: Deel capitalized on the remote work trend and developed a payroll app to hire, pay and manage employees and contractors located anywhere in the world.

  • Best: Claroty led the cybersecurity startup space by protecting critical infrastructure against cyberattacks.

 

These leaders excelled at gaining media attention and crafting strategic, modern stories to position their companies as leaders in their respective industries. By crafting strategic stories that honed in on company stability and impact.

 

3. Thought Leadership
To enhance their public profiles, the female founders we studied developed thought leadership platforms and presented novel, challenging ideas. They spoke at industry conferences, engaged with online communities, and took top board positions. Some highlights include:

 

  • 60% had at least three public speaking engagements in 2021.

  • 18% addressed women in leadership in their appearances.

  • 90% won at least two media awards.

  • 70% primarily focused on webinars and virtual events as part of their thought leadership platforms.

 

Events and engagements aren’t the only way these leaders drive their thought leadership — they also gain recognition on top business watch lists:
 

 

4. Digital & Social Media

More than a simple way to share photos, social media is a revolutionary storytelling tool for these female leaders. By engaging with followers and consistently keeping up with their social profiles, the founders we studied build their brands and keep in touch with stakeholders. We found:

 

  • 40% use social media to amplify their voice and brand story.

  • 35% use it to set the tone in an industry or niche.

  • 15% use it for marketing their products or services. 

  • 5% use it to shape conversations and explain new thinking.

  • 5% use it to recruit talent, engage with employees or serve customers

 

Each leader uses social media differently, but all 10 have public Twitter profiles and five are verified.

Survey: What Women Executives Say Drives Success

In addition to employing our CEO Scorecard for female founders, we complemented our research by surveying 1,000 North American women founders and business owners to connect on what values they prioritize in their own leadership. Their preferences include:

 

  • 25% want to prioritize increasing revenue.

  • 15% hope to improve their leadership communication.

  • 11% aim to support employees’ mental health and well-being.

  • 10% plan to increase brand awareness.

 

Our study shows how tenacious female leaders get ahead by prioritizing similar strategies in their communication blueprints. Today, these successful female founders are powerful storytellers who create cohesive and clear communication links between themselves and their businesses.

Want to know more?
Contact Rachelle Spero at rspero@sutherlandgold.com to learn more about the live data.

  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Instagram Icon
  • White LinkedIn Icon