From sexual harassment suits and female founder fundraising horror stories to last summer's data dump of diversity numbers from tech companies, there's no arguing with the fact that Silicon Valley has work to do when it comes to diversity.

So if you're a woman or person of color in startups and you're looking to improve the atmosphere that surrounds you, what can you do? New research offers an intriguing (if not incredibly practical option). Just move across the pond.

Diversity data that isn't depressing

The survey of some 222 British early-stage companies from accelerator Wayra UK found that Britain's startup ecosystem is doing far better than many of its peers around the world when it comes to building an inclusive and representative workforce.

The research revealed that, compared to the US, those working in UK startups were five times more likely to be female and ten times more likely to be an ethnicity other than white or Asian. More than a third of startup workers are from outside of Britain and 59 percent speak a language other than English.

Women in the UK startup scene aren't consigned to support roles either. Almost one in three (29 percent) identified themselves as being in a leadership role, while startups are 36 percent more likely to have female leadership than large, FTSE100 businesses.

A competitive advantage

The startups Wayra spoke to are celebrating their diversity, not just as a matter of social justice and human opportunity, but also as a significant business advantage. "Those working within British start-ups also believe diversity to be a key driver in their acceleration with over 78.9 percent declaring that it has helped their business compete; 75 percent declaring it has helped them overcome challenges and 71.5 percent agreeing it helped them find new markets," the research release reports.

What's the explanation for the UK's significantly cheerier diversity numbers? The fact that the heart of the startup ecosystem is incredibly cosmopolitan London certainly doesn't hurt. "For too long, cultural differences and even languages were seen as putting the UK at some kind of disadvantage. But this research clearly demonstrates the impact the UK's rich social makeup is having on the growth and performance of our fledgling businesses," commented diversity consultant Simon Fanshawe OBE.

Not a diversity paradise

Of course, while this research gives British startups reason to cheer, it by no means indicates that the UK is a flawless paradise when it comes to diversity. Men are still 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than women, for instance. And while the ecosystem may be more diverse than Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv, it remains 79 percent white (compared to 82 percent in Silicon Valley and 89 percent in New York). A third of a startup scene being female may count as an improvement, but it's worth stressing that women do still make up 50 percent of the population. Work remains to be done.

Also, stereotypical gender divides persist, with the study finding that not a single male respondent worked in the lifestyle sector, while not one woman was working in banking and finance.

Published on: Jun 17, 2015