Earlier this week I interviewed Matthew Scullion, CEO of Manchester’s newest unicorn Matillion.
Scullion, who is one of the tech industry’s most likeable tech bosses, co-founded Matillion in 2011 alongside chief technology officer Ed Thompson.
The data productivity provider became Manchester’s sixth unicorn in 2021 when a $150m fundraise valued the business at $1.5bn.
Matillion joined the likes of THG, Boohoo, AO, AutoTrader, and On The Beach in achieving unicorn status and Sculllion shared details of his company’s remarkable journey at a private dinner of Northern business leaders organised by Fairmont Recruitment.
In 2021 the 44-year-old won the UK title of EY Entrepreneur of The Year and is a proud father of two daughters.
However, as I listened to Scullion, I started writing a list of all the female unicorn CEOs I knew in the UK. It didn’t take long.
Last month trailblazing Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder of US dating app Bumble, announced she would be stepping down as CEO of the unicorn and replaced by Slack boss Lidiane Jones.
However similar female role models in the UK are less obvious.
Of the five other Manchester unicorns, THG’s founder and CEO is Matthew Moulding while Nathan Coe is the CEO of AutoTrader, succeeding Trevor Mather in 2020.
On The Beach’s founder and outgoing CEO is Simon Cooper while John Roberts is the founder and CEO of online retailer AO World, both of whom I’ve been lucky enough to interview.
The only female name I could think of at a Manchester unicorn was Carol Kane, who co-founded Boohoo in 2006 alongside Mahmud Kamani. She doesn’t give many interviews and I lucky enough to speak to her in 2014.
However, dig a bit deeper, and the lack of female unicorn founders and CEOs is a UK-wide issue.
Earlier this year GP Bullhound published its annual Titans of Tech report – ‘Building blocks for the next wave’ – revealing a total of 34 new unicorns were created in Europe in the past year.
Of these the UK produced eight new unicorns – SumUp; Copper; Multiverse, Quantexa; Paddle; Oyster; Stability.ai; and Beamery.
All eight have two things in common – they’re all unicorns and they all have male CEOs.
Apprenticeships tech unicorn Multiverse was founded by CEO Euan Blair while Daniel Klein is the CEO of SumUp, which he co-founded in 2012 with Jan Deepen, Marc-Alexander Christ and Stefan Jeschonnek.
Copper’s CEO is Dmitry Tokarev; Emad Mostaque is the founding CEO of open-source AI firm Stability.ai; while Vishal Marria is the founder and CEO of data analytics firm Quantexa.
It’s a similar situation at talent management specialist Beamery, where Abakar Saidov is the CEO, having co-founded the unicorn with his brother Sultan Saidov.
Jimmy Fitzgerald is the CEO of Paddle, taking over the role earlier this year from founder Christian Owens.
The UK’s eighth newest unicorn is global employment startup Oyster, where the CEO is Tony Jamous. Eight unicorns, eight male CEOs.
At this point I should make a couple of points. Firstly, it’s not the fault of any of the unicorns mentioned above that they have a male CEO. Most of the CEOs are also founders but it serves to underline the scarcity of females in senior positions.
Secondly, the problem should come as no surprise. The number of women working in the British tech industry is falling and businesses with all female founders receive just two per cent of all VC funding .
Clearly if fewer women are entering the tech industry and fewer still are being invested in, it stands to reason that not many (if any) will rise up to become the founder or CEO of a unicorn. It’s a depressing picture.
As I listened to Matthew Scullion inspire the next generation of wannabe unicorns I could only imagine the impact that a UK equivalent of Whitney Wolfe Herd would have on the sector.