Mindset, skills, collaboration: achieving gender parity in tech

“I never felt different from my male colleagues until I got pregnant. When I went on maternity leave, I felt guilty about not contributing to my former business's targets – and coming back to work was even worse. It made me feel angry for being a woman,” shared one of Sweep’s employees at our gender parity workshop on International Women’s Day. 

This isn’t just a problem for the tech industry, it is a cross sector issue that must be tackled. If we look at numbers, under a quarter of the tech workforce (22%) is represented by women in the industry, according to a study from McKinsey, and female founders secured just 1.1% of all VC investment in Europe in 2021. This speaks to the many challenges women face today, whether it be parental leave or general discrimination in the industry. Strengthening the presence of women leaders within companies, whether in their teams or in their management bodies, must continue to be a priority for the tech sector.

This month marks Women’s History Month and provides an opportunity to reflect on whether the startup ecosystem is moving closer to gender parity, and how it can attract more women. 

Women in tech: achieving gender parity

There are many reasons behind the inequality we see in the tech industry – lack of mentorship, lack of representation, and an existing industry expectation for men to excel in certain requisite skills can all put women at a disadvantage. These can perpetuate a cycle of inequality, maintaining an unjustified glass ceiling which in turn leads to fewer promotions, networking opportunities or job offers, and ultimately a lack of progression towards leadership positions. Just 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women today (Source Pwc).

For those working within the startup or VC ecosystem, pregnancy and parental leave can represent a huge challenge that enhances inequality. Jobs in the startup sector often bring with them a sense of flexibility, but can also lack structured policies around parental leave. There is also an unspoken expectation for women to resist taking the leave they are entitled to for fear of stepping back from the business or investment at a pivotal stage. Strong parental leave policies can be shown to reduce the pay gap which many women face, and ought to be more commonplace across tech startups.

While there are some changes businesses can make to be more welcoming, such as introducing parental leave policies, some problems require education and the ripping up of stereotypes. For example, only three percent of females today say a career in technology is their first choice. This exposes a need that we must do more to ensure this prevailing mindset changes both at a societal and individual level.

Advice for entrepreneurs 

I believe it’s important for women to aim for leadership roles with the mindset that the only one that can best serve you is yourself. Once you adopt this way of thinking, your intuition won't fail you and you'll start fighting for the role you deserve. 

As a female founder and entrepreneur in a male dominated industry, my advice to women aiming for leadership roles would be to spend quality time with the most important people to you. It’s true when they say ‘you’re the average of the people you spend the most time with’. Find the right crowd who’ll help you level up year after year, whether that be colleagues or co-founders, family or friends.

Advice that has never failed me is to make sure to prioritise your time to learn new things. As a leader, particularly in a fast-paced industry, this can be a challenge but it is ultimately one of the most rewarding. Last year I disciplined myself to dedicate four hours per day across at least five days per week to productive learning time. Last year, I reached 10,000 hours with my entrepreneurial marathon hat on – and aim to increase my learning time in 2023.

As well as developing your skills, building confidence is important in setting you apart as a leader. My past 20 years of entrepreneurial background has nurtured my ability and trust in myself to the point that I feel I can solve any problem over time, with the right people around me.

Women as leaders in tech: the opportunity

Despite the challenges that women are facing, last year the number of enterprises founded by women more than doubled from 2018, and more women are finding themselves in leadership roles than ever before.

Taking action towards a more equal tech industry is good for business – £250 billion could be added to the UK economy if women matched men in starting and scaling up businesses. We can also expect to see a rise in innovation: as more women choose to pursue careers in tech, more diverse approaches to problems will develop and we will see the result of previously untapped potential thriving. This is particularly vital in climate tech where innovation and helping businesses take climate action will determine the future health of the planet and build a low carbon and equitable future.

By acknowledging the problems women face, we can collectively look to resolve them, and help create a tech industry where gender parity is rewarded and where women have the opportunity to lead and scale innovation at the global level.