Women Still Lead Just 7 Percent of the Fortune 500. Ceresa Just Raised $1M to Change That.

by Nona Tepper
August 5, 2020
Photo: Ceresa

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher was elected as Britain’s first female prime minister. At the time, newspapers screamed it was a sign the glass ceiling had been shattered, Ceresa CEO Anna Robinson said. But more than 40 years later, just 37 women lead Fortune 500 companies, which still represents the greatest number in the magazine’s 65-year history.

“Realizing that we have not made the progress that we said we would for a whole generation, maybe two generations, there’s no guarantee that this is progressing any more,” Robinson told Built In. “We could be having these same conversations 40 years from now.”

In 2018, Robinson founded Ceresa, a leadership training startup that aims to increase corporate representation among underrepresented communities, particularly women. The Austin startup announced Wednesday it received $1 million in funding, which it plans to spend on marketing its nine-month virtual training program to consumers.

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Today, individual buyers represent just 10 percent of Ceresa’s business; the rest is made up of employees from tech and financial services companies BCG, Bumble and Kazoo.

“There’s a real possibility for this to become a much more direct-to-consumer offering, where individuals can really take control of their career growth and leadership development,” Robinson said.

At the start of the program, Ceresa participants meet with an executive coach who helps them reflect on their professional goals. Their career aspirations are broken down into data points and fed into the startup’s algorithm, which crunches “tens of thousands” of numbers to identify the best mentor fit, Robinson said. From that cohort, a Ceresa employee then makes the final pick.

Today, prospective mentors must be invited by a current Ceresa mentor to participate in the company’s program. Robinson said the startup has intentionally created a diverse pool of more than 300 mentors, whose racial make-up is about equal to that of the United States population. She said the gender breakdown is “heavily weighted toward women.”

The startup just started accepting men as mentors earlier this year, Robinson said, as both a business move — a leadership program only for women is harder to sell than a program that serves all genders — as well as recognition that identity is intersectional.

“There are many women for whom gender is not the most important aspect of the challenges they’re facing professionally,” Robinson said.

Next Coast Ventures and LiveOak Venture Partners led the early seed round. 

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