Tech In the Future: Achieving Women on Top
The tech industry prides itself on its diversity and unique innovation, so where are the women?
Studies show that when women comprise over 30% of a group, their influence grows disproportionate to their numbers. This idea originated with professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School, who in her 1977 research posited that when women exceed one-third of a group they can form coalitions, provide mutual support, and “affect the culture of the group”. While female representation in global leadership positions is growing (see Angela Merkel, Theresa May, and IMF Director Christine Lagarde among others), representation in the tech industry – in particular in ownership roles – is stagnant or even waning.
Where are we now?
Infographics rejoice that women comprise 18-20% of all computer science students, but this is a stark decrease from the 37% in the mid-1980s. Only approximately 5% of tech start-ups are owned by women, and even in our gender equality haven of Sweden only 8% of VC is directed to female-owned businesses (the comparable US figure stands at 7%). These numbers are particularly striking when considering that female-led businesses tend to fail less and offer greater returns on equity, sales and invested capital than their male-led counterparts.
Sweden is known as an environment conducive to lucrative and successful tech ventures disproportionate to its small population. A surprisingly prolific tech hub, Sweden produces 6.3 billion dollar companies per million population, second only to Silicon Valley’s 8.1. This coupled with a culture and social structure supportive of gender equality has led to more female-led businesses than in other countries, but the numbers still don’t stack up.
Elisabeth Brevenson has bucked the women in tech trend since founding and serving as CEO of Beepsend, though the process hasn’t always been easy. Under her leadership the Malmö-based company has grown from its inception in 2006 as a mobile engagement platform to its current position as a global Tier 1 A2P SMS Messaging Provider. Elisabeth had to source seed funding from prominent local investors and found a dearth of female role models within the industry. “It was a challenging situation, but in tough times I told myself that if the elevator doesn’t work, you just have to take the stairs if you want to make it to the top.” Elisabeth has since assumed the position of role model for young entrepreneurs and relies on the mantra: don’t give up, be persistent, sometimes it takes that extra effort.
Where can we go from here?
Inspiring more women and girls to go into tech begins in childhood and continues into a retention phase throughout their career. In addition to women choosing to study computer science at lower rates than men, they then earn lower salaries, are promoted less and are 45% more likely than their male counterparts to leave their position within the first year. But all is not lost. While ownership rates may be low, there have never been more senior women in tech, particularly high profile female C-suite executives like Susan Wojcicki (YouTube CEO), Ginni Rometty (IBM CEO) and Amy Hood (Microsoft CFO), in addition to the oft-cited Marissa Mayer (Yahoo CEO) and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO).
It is imperative for women in tech to give back. Here are some steps that can help:
- Serve as a mentor to young women interested in tech. Building a one to one relationship is the most direct way for women new to tech to mirror successful behavior and leadership skills. Programs are growing in popularity across the globe, with examples across the globe. This minimal investment can help to build a pipeline of qualified, enthusiastic women in the future.
- Use gender-neutral language in job vacancy announcements in an effort to achieve a gender balanced staff (ERE has an interesting overview of language biases). Gender charged language can repel or attract candidates before they even respond to your ad. Neutral language can help to ensure your job posting is received positively by the best pool of candidates.
- Participate in professional organizations and support communities anywhere, any platform, for any target group. In this day and age there is no reason to feel alone as a woman in tech, as there are professional organizations for every conceivable niche group. Share knowledge and experience while in turn gaining from others’ points of view. This varies from the education-based Girls in Tech, to professional membership Women in Technology to female-centric angel investors such as The Rising Tide Fund.
- Support female-centric investors and challenge the notion that investment is a “boys club”. In 2015, 29% of those seeking funding were women, a decrease of 16%, and the number of female founders who sought and received funding decreased by 20%. Organizations such as Plum Alley and The Rising Tide Fund bridge the gap between women and investment, both as investors and recipients.
- Encourage men to get involved. Collaboration is key and this needn’t be a tug of war between men and women. The objective is to achieve the highest level of innovation, creativity and success which can only come from the best and brightest pool of participants – men and women.
More diverse teams create more value, period. Now is the time to increase female representation in the tech industry to ensure its best and brightest future.