Go girls! Why it’s essential we get more girls studying STEM for the future of medtech


In this, the second of a three-part series looking at the myths versus realities of what it’s like to be a female founder of a health tech business, Tina Woods shares insights gained from a recent AXA Health Tech & You survey conducted by OnePoll, a survey of 2,000 people (980 women and 1,020 men) and follow-up research with 20 women entrepreneurs. This research has been conducted to support the new Women Entrepreneurs category of the AXA Health Tech & You Awards programme with Awards taking place on 9 May (entries now closed, see here for more information).


According to the recent OnePoll survey, most people think that the key to encouraging women to start a business in the technology sector is education, and 43 per cent of those surveyed said more girls should be encouraged to study STEM subjects. Another way to encourage more women into the tech sector is addressing gender pay gaps, with 43 per cent of respondents stating men earn more than women; for female respondents, this figure goes up to 50 per cent. When asked about increased funding opportunities for women, 29 per cent of female respondents agreed there should be more, compared to 19 per cent of male respondents. Affordable, accessible childcare/family support is also believed to be a core motivator to encourage more women into tech- with 36 per cent of female respondents saying this could help encourage women to start a tech business, compared to just 21 per cent of male respondents.

Turning to research with female founders themselves, 47 per cent of them believe the sector is ‘unwelcoming for women’. In order of priority, the top five factors cited as the main reasons for the lack of women starting a business in the digital health sector according to female founders are:

  1. A lack of money and investment for female entrepreneurs (63 per cent)
  2. Women lacking in confidence to start a business (53 per cent)
  3. A lack of women with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) qualifications (47 per cent)
  4. A lack of contacts and networking opportunities for female entrepreneurs (42 per cent)
  5. Women finding it difficult to juggle work/life balance and family commitments (26 per cent)

Money troubles

So, it’s not education but rather a lack of investment that is still the critical issue for women to advance in the tech industry, according to women founders. This has been highlighted in a number of recent reports. A recent Tech Crunch study – CrunchBase Women In Venture – revealed that female-owned companies were only receiving 10 per cent of global venture capital funds despite delivering strong returns, with the majority of funding directed at male-led businesses.

In March 2017, Fortune reported that for each women-led company that received venture capital funding in 2016, 16 other male-led companies got cash.

And just last month, latest data from TechIreland said that that Irish start-ups with women founders secured only €79.4m worth of investment out of a total of €580.2m raised in 2017, or just under 14 per cent of the total amount. The bottom line is that more female investors are also needed to advance women in tech – making critical investment decisions that will help women-founded businesses.

But confidence and exposure to more women role models is still key to encourage more girls to enter tech. A study just out by Tech City UK looking at career aspirations of young found that technology was top of men’s professional wish list, but young women are being left behind due to a perceived lack of skills or self-belief. Another recent study carried out by Microsoft, 53 per cent of girls between the ages of 11 and 30 said there are a lot of role models available to encourage them to pursue STEM careers, but 62 per cent said they want more encouragement and access to role models from coders and developers. Cindy Rose, UK CEO of Microsoft, said this is an indicator that girls should be encouraged into STEM and given access to role models as early as possible to grow their interest and confidence in the industry.

Is M&A the only way to grow? McKinsey & Co reveals the answer

We have been working with global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company to bring some key insight directly to medtech innovators. In the next of a three part series, McKinsey & Co delve into the important topic of mergers and acquisitions and their importance for growth in the medtech industry.


Creating barriers

Looking further, Microsoft’s research found six factors that prevent or impact whether girls in the UK choose to pursue STEM:

  1. Access to female role models in STEM careers
  2. Access to hands-on experience in STEM subjects
  3. Feeling that men and women are not treated equally in STEM roles
  4. Having teachers who encourage the pursuit of STEM
  5. Learning about how STEM subjects can solve real-world problems
  6. Peer pressure

Marija Butkovic, CEO of Women of Wearables, says: ‘Tech industry in general is very male dominated. There were only a handful of us in wearable tech three years ago when I moved to London. We need more female role models if we want to solve this problem. Young girls and women who want to pursue their career in STEM, particularly health tech, need to feel safe and be encouraged to start their journey in these industries. Women can do everything boys can do. Yet, so many women have that imposter syndrome that they are not good enough or capable enough for having a career in tech.’

Bettina Experton, Founder & CEO of Humetrix, would give the following advice to her ‘14-year-old self’: ‘if you are curious, creative and want to change the world with a big idea you want to apply as an entrepreneur – you can do it! Being a young woman is more likely a plus than a minus. You may at times be underestimated but can turn this to your advantage… as I bootstrapped the four companies I founded, I did not have to face the funding challenges some women entrepreneurs have been experiencing in trying to seek VC funding. And in many instances by being one of the very few woman CEO of an IT company, I have often been more noticed in a crowd of look-alike dark suited engineers or C-suite executives!’

So, the message to young women contemplating tech is – just do it! Having more women and addressing the diversity gap in the technology industry could go a long way in closing digital skills gaps in the UK, too. Eileen Burbidge, chair of Tech City, says that including more people in the industry widens the pool of talented people to choose from. And good news is on the horizon with the recent budget aiming to help the tech sector grow with extra funding announced for AI, skills and technology to boost economic growth. As part of this, there will be more funds available for maths and computer science training in schools. Go girls!

About the author

Tina Woods is founder of Collider Health, a health innovation catalyst that works with organisations to think and do differently and transform health with meaningful impact. She is also the founder of ColliderSCIENCE, a social enterprise to inspire young people in science and engineering and equip them with the skills to create their future.


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