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We Worthy Women co-founder's research for equity

Date Published: May 22, 2020

MTEI graduate 2020, speaking at Volta in 2019

This month, Holly Foxall graduates with a Master in Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Her passions are women's empowerment, gender equity, and environmental issues. Last month, she defended her thesis, one of the three options to complete the MTEI program. I asked Holly about her thesis, her passions and her future.

How do you describe yourself?

While I am graduating today, I think I will always consider myself to be a student. I really love learning, and I believe that education and active learning is a powerful tool to do good. I am an optimist, and a feminist, and I’ve realized that my time and energy is best spent working on things that really interest me, and will have a positive impact on the world. I love reading - my goal at the start of the year was to read 20 books in 2020, and I’m almost there (thanks to quarantine), so I think I may need to increase the goal a bit. I grew up in Vancouver, and I love spending time outdoors and in nature, so I’m excited to get on some good hikes this summer now that the parks are open. 

What led you to choose the Sobey MTEI program?

I initially started the MTEI program because I wanted to start a business in the environmental field. I studied Environmental Science in my undergrad at Queen’s University, and the MTEI program seemed like a good fit to help me gain some foundational business experience, and develop the skills I needed to start a business of my own. As I went through the program, and thanks to some of my wonderful professors, I realized that research was an area that really interested me. It helped me realize that I could use research to positively contribute to another area that I am passionate about - gender equality and women empowerment, and that there were many different areas related to this that were opportunities to do important work. 

The thesis option is an unusual choice for MTEI students. Can you provide a short summary of your findings?

The thesis is definitely an underrated option for the MTEI program. If you’re interested in developing skills in research, and working closely with one of your professors in an area that interests you I think that it is a great option! It’s definitely a lot of work, but I am so thankful that I ended up going the thesis route.

My thesis was on the impact of gender in venture capital funding and university finance departments. In my thesis I explored biases in the finance industry, and stereotypes related to women in leadership. I looked at why female founders receive so little venture capital investment, as well the representation of women in university finance departments. The main takeaway from my thesis is that we need to get more women in leadership positions in order to change the culture around women in finance and leadership. For venture capital I found many different reasons that female founders receive only 4% of investment, but they all related back to gender biases and stereotypical perceptions about women, which are not only detrimental to these founders, but also to our economy! We are missing out on a lot of untapped talent because of our societal and systematic biases against women. 

For the part of my thesis on university finance departments I found that while women make up almost 50% of Masters and PhD students in finance, there are very few women in leadership positions in finance departments. Across all the schools I looked at there was an average of 17% female faculty, with many school having only one or no female faculty members. This is a serious issue for representation, and contributes to the incorrect idea that women don’t belong in finance, which needs to be challenged. I think that this is a really important area, and is an opportunity for a lot more research. 

What is We Worthy Women?

We Worthy Women is a community I started that is dedicated to women empowerment and gender equality. I started it with a friend, after having conversations about our experience as women in the world today, and it has growth into so much more! We have over 10,000 members on Instagram, and a couple hundred on Facebook, and we are working to grow and continue the conversation around all things gender equality and women empowerment. We want to contribute to a society that values the perspectives, knowledge and skills of all women, and it’s been a really fun journey so far. We want to empower women, but we also need to change the systems that have been holding women back for years. By not including half the population in the conversation, we are missing out on some really valuable people and perspectives, so I think it is necessary work. 

What are your future aspirations?

I am really excited to see what the future holds! Thinking about the future used to seem daunting, but now it feels like there are a lot of exciting opportunities out there. Ultimately I want to continue working in the gender equality space - this is an area I’m really passionate about, and I believe that I can contribute to positively because of the skills and experience I have gained in the past few years. In the next five years I would love for We Worthy Women to become a research institute that is really pushing forward the agenda on achieving gender equality, and positively impacting the lives of women and men around the world. I think that a lot of people don’t realize that supporting women has a positive impact on everyone. I’ll end off by sharing one of my favourite quotes, from the amazing Melinda Gates - “when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.” 

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