In this, the first 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 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 and applications for 2018 entries closes on 1st March
Over half of consumers (53 per cent) believe the tech industry is male dominated, according to the survey. This rose to 100 per cent when female tech entrepreneurs were asked the same question. And they should know.
Furthermore, 95 per cent of these women entrepreneurs believe the technology industry has gender pay gaps with men earning more than women, and 65 per cent either disagreed strongly or disagreed that women would find it difficult keeping up the skills needed to do the job in the technology industry.
The number of women in tech in Europe is on average 16% per cent. With stats like these it doesn’t seem that surprising that in 2017, the mega Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas had to admit it would not have any women in any of its top keynote slots for a second year in a row. CES senior vice president Karen Chupka confessed, ‘As upsetting as it is, there is a limited pool when it comes to women in these positions. We feel your pain. It bothers us, too. The tech industry and every industry must do better’.
The recently published book Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley gives a colourful account on male domination in Silicon Valley and why diversity in tech has become such a critical issue. On this side of the pond, Maggie Philbin, CEO of TeenTech and winner of the most influential females in UK IT award in 2016, says the focus in the tech industry should also be on diversity and not solely gender in the report, shifting the landscape of gender and diversity. Closing the tech gender gap requires a shift in culture and it needs to start early. The gender issues in STEM education are a major contributor to the problems with diversity. A recent article by Code Like a Girl argues that to change a male dominated culture we first need to overcome prejudice and unconscious bias amongst all of us, starting with parents and teachers first.
This is echoed in recent report, Girls in STEM, that highlighted how from a very young age girls are all too often persuaded to believe that, in certain subjects, their abilities are defined by their gender. The report showed that more than four out of five parents (82 per cent) and teachers (88 per cent) agree that there is unconscious gender stereotyping and bias when it comes to STEM subjects and careers. More than half of both parents (52 per cent) and teachers (57 per cent) admit to having personally made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys.
The report concluded it is that it’s up to all of us – parents, teachers, politicians or leaders of industry – to change these misconceptions, to stoke girls’ natural curiosity and show them that the STEM disciplines are full of exciting and genuinely fulfilling possibilities.
Why will the technology sector benefit from more women entering it? In the OnePoll survey, over half of respondents felt more women entering the sector will help develop better and more relevant solutions. This rose to 100 per cent in the research with female founders – who either agreed or strongly agreed that more women entering the tech sector will help develop solutions that are better (21 per cent agreed, 79 per cent strongly agreed) and more relevant (16 per cent agree, 84 per cent strongly agree).
This is behind the remarkable success of Tania Boler, who founded Elvie: ‘I never planned or dreamt of running a technology company. I just saw a big health problem (pelvic floor health), which was clearly preventable with better exercise. The more I researched the issue, the more I realised what was missing was any robust technology to support women, so I started Elvie! It is a very exciting time to work on women’s health tech. Basic womanhood – be it from periods or menopause to pregnancy and post-natal care – has been completely overlooked by technological advances. Women deserve better technology so it is an exciting space.’
Mary Matthews, CEO of Memrica, agrees adding, ‘Women have a better insight into their own health and that of people around them, they will take confidence from today’s role models and turn ideas into action and this will translate into higher profiles and success for women led enterprises.’
Big firms are cottoning on that diversity works, and that adding more women adds to the bottom line too. As Harvard Business Review recently found: diversity makes companies more successful and so does adding women to make teams smarter. Yes, while a lack of diversity in organisations is costing the UK economy money, experts claim we can’t increase the number of women in tech without the support of men. To achieve gender parity in the technology industry, men in influential positions need to show their support for diversity too, according to a recent report. But we can be optimistic: fathers are often not the problem when trying to encourage young girls into tech, as they want their daughters to do well in whatever field they choose. Anne Bruinvels, Founder & CEO of Px HealthCare, said ‘my dad is the main reason I became a scientist. His enthusiasm, intellect and passion for scientific medical research were too much to resist.’
Our next article in this series will drill down into how we can get more women into technology. The final article in the series will focus on women empowerment and the importance of role models.
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