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Why the ICT sector needs to promote gender equality?


The number of young people, particularly girls and women, graduating in ICT is shrinking and not keeping up with the growing amount of digital jobs that demand highly skilled professionals. As a result, Europe may face thousands of unfilled jobs and a declination of competitiveness in this sector. Moreover, when looking at entrepreneurship, the number of female founders is nearly half of that of males and only 19% of the European ICT entrepreneurs are women.

Given the global challenge of employment and that technology and entrepreneurship are key elements for the creation of jobs and the economies’ development, it is essential to empower and encourage women to participate actively in the technological changes that our societies are undergoing.

To help potential founders understand the challenges of the entrepreneurial journey ahead, the European Commission launched FACE (Failure Aversion Change in Europe) Entrepreneurship. This campaign, led by the Spanish Communication Group Grupo Secuoya, aims to boost entrepreneurship by tackling the emotional side of starting up and sharing the examples of experienced entrepreneurs. (Featured image: FACE Entrepreneurship’s event in Munich on 14 of April 2016. From left to right: Elizabete Dikmane, cofounder of KikLearn, Natalia Rizzi, co-organizer of Startup Europe Week Florence and Freya Oehle, cofounder of Spottster)

The male-female ratio entrepreneurial activity in Europe has increased, although slowly, in the last few years. According to the last Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Women’s Report this is thanks to the new initiatives and programs to stimulate startup activity among women, and researchers are publishing studies on women’s entrepreneurship in this region.

Why don’t we have more women and girls in ICT entrepreneurship?

To promote entrepreneurship among girls and women, it’s also necessary to understand how female entrepreneurs feel about the path they’ve chosen. FACE Entrepreneurship interviewed a wide range of female founders, who shared their opinion and experiences.

Cheryl Miller, cofounder of Digital Leadership Institute is a recognized digital social entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience in promoting science and technology among women and girls. She got into this after exploring the question of why we don’t have more women and girls in STEM and ICT entrepreneurship. Cheryl blames for this the society’s patriarchal attitude towards females. “It took me 30 years to understand that I would be miserable just trying to fit in the ‘square hole’, so I decided to start my own thing that would also help other women do the same,” she argues.

For Tina Mashaalahi, cofounder of Kweekweek, the main reason is that “females, generally, are not as confident and don’t tend to put themselves out there as much as men.” This British entrepreneur recognizes that she struggled to achieve it, but in the end she managed to get a balance in the number of men and women working at her startup.

Janneke Niessen, cofounder of the Dutch company Improve Digital, also mentions the stereotypes that people show when they think of a successful entrepreneur. “They always picture a white guy, not a woman”, she argues. Moreover, she points out that “a lot of women feel technology is not something they should be active in” and highlights the importance of providing role models that female can identify with in order to encourage them to take a more active role, not only in technology, but in society.

When it comes to a business related to fashion or bakery, people would trust that, as a woman, you can do it, but that really changes when you start talking about technical things such as Big Data.

Is being a woman in ICT entrepreneurship a challenge or an advantage?

Many female founders consider that the reduced number of women starting up their own business is an advantage for those embarking in the entrepreneurial journey. Since they are fewer, more attention is paid to those who take the leap of faith.

“When I was in the TechCrunch Hakathon, I was the third girl out of 72 other people, so I got attention immediately”, tells Elizabete Dikmane, an 18 years old student from Latvia and cofounder of KikLearn. This opinion is shared by Cristina Luminea, cofounder of the Irish startup ThoughtBox. “Let me put it to you in this way: you are in a room full of people, all doing the same thing, and you are the only woman there. Whoever is hiring or investing, who do you think they’ll remember?”, she argues.

On the other hand, they also acknowledge that, as a woman, you will usually have to deal with stereotypes and prejudices. Freya Oehle, cofounder of the German startup Spottster, explains that “As a female founder, you go out there and try to raise attention and you are often told ‘Are you sure you want to do that? Don’t you want to have a family?’ And you always have to argue that founding a business and having a family are not two things that are set apart from each other.” She also adds that, when it comes to a business related to fashion or bakery, people would trust that, as a woman, you can do it, but that really changes when you start talking about technical things such as Big Data.

Of course it is more difficult in many cases as women, but that shouldn’t stop us in any way.

Great improvements, but still a long road ahead

The male-female ratio entrepreneurial activity in Europe has increased, although slowly, in the last few years. According to the last Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Women’s Report this is thanks to the new “initiatives and programs to stimulate startup activity among women, and researchers are publishing studies on women’s entrepreneurship in this region.”

As Mashaalahi appoints, there is still a long road to achieve gender equality, but it’s getting better. “Of course it is more difficult in many cases as women, but that shouldn’t stop us in any way”, she concludes.

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