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Wage Gap, Meet Equity Gap: Women Hold Only 9% of Startup Equity

At startups, the gender wage gap is only part of the story. New employees often receive equity compensation as part of their packages—and equity dollar amounts reveal an even worse picture.

Women own 47 cents of equity for every $1 men own, according to a report from Carta, a startup that manages and transfers securities for public and private companies. Carta studied data from 6,000 companies it works with—encompassing 15,000 founders and 180,000 employees—to analyze those companies’ combined $45 billion in equity.

Women make up 35% of equity-holding employees, but only hold 20% of startup equity dollars. In dollar amounts, women hold $2.2 billion in equity value compared to men’s $8.8 billion. Averaged out, a woman hired by a startup gets $35,319 in equity value compared to a man’s $74,998.

Looking at total startup equity in this study, women hold 9% and men hold 91%. Carta says this is the first comprehensive public study of cap table data, or the list of owners or shareholders in a company.

Equity packages are a key component of employee compensation at startups—meaning that salary discrepancies only scratch the surface. Women’s 47 cents to the dollar for equity is striking compared to the gender wage gap, which hovers around 80 cents on the dollar when averaged to include all women.

Part of the problem is that early employees receive larger equity packages—and early-stage startups typically don’t pay much attention to diversity while hiring. It’s only when companies reach the growth stage of around 400 employees—and equity packages have dwindled—that women come close to the 40% mark of a company’s makeup.

Women are also better represented at startups in non-technical roles—and engineers are often awarded better equity packages. In later stages, women are underrepresented in the highly compensated C-suite.

The gender gap in founder equity. Credit: Carta

For founders, the numbers are even starker. Female founders make up 13% of total founders, but hold only a scant 6% of founder equity. In dollars: female founders have a total of $1.8 billion in equity in this study compared to men’s $29.8 billion.

According to the investment collective #Angels, which partnered with Carta on this analysis, there are a few reasons why. Female founders receive less capital, raise money at lower valuations, and give up a bigger proportion of their companies to investors. Women are often founding companies in fields like consumer products that are valued lower by investors than men’s B2B startups.

Women also might receive less equity when it’s divided up with male co-founders or set aside more equity for their employees than male founders do.

“For the average female founder — who sees herself underrepresented amongst funders and founders — her ability to change this reality by investing in the next generation of startups or becoming a backer for a new generation of investors is limited to 6% of the potential wealth creation of founders,” #Angels, which aims to get more women on the cap tables of startups, wrote in a blog post. “The downstream effects of this wealth gap in our frontier industry are significant.”

The gender wage gap has made incremental progress in recent years, but the equity gap is far from closing.