The tech industry needs more women. Here's how to make it happen

13 Nov 2017
Palestinian entrepreneur Samar Hijjo developed the Baby Sitter app aimed at raising awareness of women during pregnancy and after birth.
Palestinian entrepreneur Samar Hijjo developed the Baby Sitter app aimed at raising awareness of women during pregnancy and after birth.

Originally published on World Economic Forum on 9th November, 2017.

Women may hold up half the sky, as per the Chinese proverb, and they account for half of all tech users, but they remain severely underrepresented in the worlds of technology and entrepreneurship.

This is unsustainable and unacceptable. It harms technological development, holding back societal and economic progress.

When airbags began to be introduced into cars the evidence quickly showed that women and children were injured disproportionately. The reason: they were designed by and tested on men.

Today’s global tech industry is no better. Early speech recognition software struggled to recognise women’s voices. In 2014, Apple released a health app that could keep track of a wide-ranging set of health metrics – including blood-alcohol content - but which initially failed to account for menstruation. Despite being equal users of technology, women do not participate equally in its development. The tech industry is male-centric, and it is easy to see why.

Only 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. A recent report found that more than two thirds of US start-ups have no women at all on their board of directors. According to a new World Economic Forum report, the global gender gap will take 100 years to close at the current rate of change.

Just as alarming is that countless life-changing innovations could be failing to reach the marketplace. There remains an embedded gender bias in the funding of start-ups. In the UK, men are 59% more likely to secure angel investment and 86% more likely to be VC-funded in digital start-ups than women. This reflects the imbalance in venture firms. According to one study, just eight percent of partners of the top 100 venture firms globally are women.

‘Tech bros’ have tried to claim that the lack of women in tech can be explained by innate biological differences. This is a plainly ridiculous claim. A climate of systematic bias, a cycle of men funding men, and a working culture that excludes women is at the heart of the problem.

The evidence speaks to the sheer wastefulness of this situation. When women are given opportunity, they excel. Kauffman Foundation research shows that tech companies led by women achieve a 35% higher return on investment than firms led by men. Forbes found that women tech entrepreneurs, despite having received 50% less venture capital funding, produce 20% higher revenues than their male equivalent.

A recent study by PwC and the Crowdfunding Institute showed that campaigns led by women across the world in 2015 and 2016 were 32% more successfulthan those led by men across a wide range of sectors, geography and cultures. Remove the bias of the institutional investor, listen to the crowd, and women thrive.

So how can we encourage more women to reach that stage? There needs to be systematic and sustained efforts, from schools, to universities and workplaces, to encourage women into technology careers.

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Written by: 

Sheridan Ash, Technology and Investments Director, Leader, Women in Technology Programme, PwC (UK)

David Gann, Vice President, Imperial College

Mark Dodgson, Director, Technology and Innovation Management Centre, The University of Queensland Business School