Another year has come to an end and it’s about time we sum up the good, the bad, and the exceptional of the past 365 days. Just in time for our New Year’s resolutions, it’s our civic duty to reflect on the most important issues of the past year, including the empowerment (and mistreatment) of women in the workplace.
The topic has been trending not only in Hollywood but everywhere in the world, with women coming out with powerful, inspiring stories and men fiercely joining the cause – or being unreasonably terrified by it.
Either way, no one can ignore the vast resonance of the #metoo phenomenon. The movement and the hashtag accomplished so much, on so many levels in 2018. From exposing sexual predators to banning songs, from campaigning for a makeover of beauty pageants to challenging the US Supreme Court’s nomination, the movement has manifested in a variegated and groundbreaking manner.
2018 followed in the footsteps of 2017, the year in which the movement was launched and the silence was broken. In the face of the public outcry that started pouring out on social media, not even international institutions could remain silent and appeared to have used this time to set out to right a few, macroscopic wrongs.
In November 2017, for example, the European Commission announced actions to reduce the gender pay gap, called for arrangements to facilitate the adoption of the directive on gender balance in the largest listed companies, and encouraged governments and social partners to adopt measures to improve gender balance in decision-making.
As shown by these initiatives and documented in the 2018 report on equality between women and men in the EU the #metoo era has also shaken the sexist foundations of Europe. As this year’s report demonstrates, the #metoo cascade effect has allowed for legal measures to be adopted by several Member States that introduced quotas that significantly improved the ratio of women at top positions.
As the contribution of women in business becomes more visible, a new study by BCG’s analysis finds that startups founded or co-founded by women performed better than male-founded startups over time – and this despite them being comparatively underfunded.
The fact that women perform well as entrepreneurs and under conditions of self-employment is not surprising and has multiple, statistically sound explanations. It has to do with a systemic problem at subordinate employment levels, which causes the number of female employees to dramatically decrease in the higher ranks of organisations.
For the women who fill the ranks of European tech startups, however, the script is often flipped. In fact, not only do women founders and CEOs feel generally more confident in taking on positions of leadership – as our interviews clearly reveal – but they are actually offered more possibilities to thrive and are more numerous than ever before.
Here are the testimonies of five women founders, self-starters, and startuppers who are challenging the status quo and the male-dominated tech industry with a new set of rules.
Bozena has 15 years of experience in marketing and technology businesses, coming from high-adrenaline roles at startups, media, and tech companies. She is now the CEO and co-founder of the leading gaming startup GAMEE, founded in Prague in 2014.
“It is a great time for women to enter the industry”
Working in a male-dominated industry such as the tech industry isn’t easy, but, Bozena tells us that lately she sees “More and more women joining the gaming industry across many roles, from designers to company leaders and founders.”
However, her experience in the male-dominated workplace is all but discriminatory. “It was, in fact, the opposite,” she said. “As many companies promote diversity and give priority to having a diverse team, it is a great time for women to enter the industry.”
Even though Bozena recognizes that there still is unconscious bias regarding gender, she urges other women to stop limiting themselves in terms of gender: “You are a founder and a woman, these are two different roles and you can certainly have both. ‘Woman founder’ – that does not really mean anything to me.”
Sofia is the CEO and founder of Mrs Wordsmith, an innovative vocabulary platform that applies data science and Hollywood creativity to transform the way children learn and improve their lexicon. Mrs. Wordsmith, a venture-backed edtech startup, is creating the world’s most innovative vocabulary program.
“Hire slowly and get to know people”
According to Sofia, “Creating opportunities is directly correlated to the strength of your idea.” To her, building a team is the most challenging part of a business when you are a woman, because it implies “Bringing on board people who have predispositions and biases. Hiring and managing as a woman has its own set of challenges that need to be learned and addressed.”
From her experiences, she has a word of advice for the women who want to take the lead and need to have their voices heard by their subordinates: “My advice is to hire slowly and get to know people. Be decisive and early when the chemistry is not there.”
Polina is the co-founder and Head of Global PR/Brand Marketing at JOB TODAY, based in Luxembourg. JOB TODAY is Europe’s leading mobile hiring app that helps businesses find staff within 24 hours. Since its launch in 2015, the company has attracted over 400k businesses to the platform, processed over 100 million job applications, and brought on board world-class investors such as Accel, Mangrove, Felix, and Flint.
Paolina’s job is to leverage technology to change the ways people find jobs, making hiring easier by connecting employers to available candidates in a matter of minutes, from the comfort of a mobile device.
“I fundamentally believe that women were born to be entrepreneurs”
HR tech is different from many other tech sectors in terms of gender. Polina explains: “HR tech is a wonderful industry to be in to be honest, as it offers the best of both worlds: the HR sector which is typically female-dominated and the IT sector where males still represent the majority of the workforce.”
Polina also says she has never been discriminated against because she is a woman. On the contrary, she says she thinks that women are natural entrepreneurs: “I have never felt any difference in treatment or consideration because I am a woman. I fundamentally believe that women were born to be entrepreneurs. We have a natural predisposition to take on several roles, to assume different responsibilities. Communicating, managing conflicts, organizing, scheduling and so on. These are tasks that we carry out on a daily basis in our private lives and we can therefore easily apply those skills to our office lives.”
When it comes to giving advice to other women startup founders in order to combat discrimination she has inspirational words: “As a general rule – any founder, female or male – should not hesitate to ask for help. Neither should we dwell on what people think or expect from us. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be a little bit crazy anyways – as building your business is a risky and unpredictable path, it doesn’t matter if you are male or female. The only limits we impose on ourselves are in our heads. I really love this quote by one successful female entrepreneur in Hollywood (show-business is considered a male-dominated industry as well): ‘If it has been done – of course you can do it. And if it has not been done – you have to do it!’.”
Julie is an entrepreneur who founded her third business, Raremark, in 2015. Based in London, Raremark helps families affected by a rare disease find useful information and connections. Julie works in the traditionally male-dominated world of drug development, which, she says is “Scientific and technical, with many regulatory hurdles to jump.”
Biotech is a very competitive world, though not necessarily exclusive. Julie notes: “Few women attract funding in this space, but I can’t say that I’ve personally ever experienced sexism.”
“Build a team at home and at work to support you on the journey”
However, according to Julie’s experience gender balance in her sector is still far from being realised: “Not many women take the risks to set up a business and attract talent and funding [in this industry] because it is an inherently risky business. They know that it will take a toll on their family and their finances: you really have to be extremely passionate about the change that you want to scale a business and have a lot of support at home. My advice would be to build a team at home and at work to support you on the journey – then seize the opportunity, overcome the challenges that you will inevitably face, learn from the process and be willing to listen to the counsel of others more experienced than you.”
Lydia is the co-founder of Forward Health, a startup whose goal is to connect healthcare teams around the world, and empower health professionals to spend more time with their patients, doing the things that matter.
Founded in 2016 in London, Forward was mentioned as no. 2 in “The UK’s Hottest Healthtech Startups”, 70 Ways to Save the NHS, featured on ITV and BBC news, and profiled in The Times, The Guardian, Forbes, and The Telegraph.
Lydia, like Bozena, recognises that the technology industry is male dominated, however, “This is not to say there aren’t some incredible women out there doing amazing things – it’s just that classically technology has appealed to men more than to women. Take the gaming world, for example.”
“Planning your life and career with militant precision can be effective, but it will never truly surprise you. Be open to whatever comes your way and do your best with it.”
She adds that something is changing in tech and new skills are now necessary as the market evolves. Women might be the right fit to fill the gap: “I believe this (predominance of men over women in tech) is likely to change as technology has an increasingly ‘human’ face – take Alexa, or the latest dating app. These technologies require a fusion of different forms of intuition and skill to be effective and to really take off, and this is surely where organisations with a high level of diversity will win out.”
Lydia also points out that when it comes to sexism in the workplace, female solidarity is key: “I am lucky enough to say that I haven’t faced sexism in my sector; in fact, women in technology are increasingly celebrated, and I feel strongly about encouraging other women to enter the space. There is so much happening in technology that is changing our lives so rapidly that we all need to engage with it, particularly in areas where it matters most, like health, education and community.”
Finally, even when things don’t pan out the way they were supposed to, she suggests you try and find the bright side: “Someone once gave me some very good advice, which I could paraphrase as, rather than strive towards success shunning all other distractions, see those distractions as opportunities in themselves, and seize them, even if previously you didn’t think you would or could. Planning your life and career with militant precision can be effective, but it will never truly surprise you. Be open to whatever comes your way and do your best with it. I never expected to work in tech or be a co-founder of a healthcare company, but I don’t look back now. And if you find yourself outnumbered, by age, religion, ethnicity, background or gender, remember that you’re likely to hold a set of unique opinions and values that everyone can learn from, so use them to your advantage and surprise the people around you!”
In conclusion, while we can’t help but notice that most interviewees still lament a notable lack of women in business and in positions of powers, the general picture drawn by them seems to be positive. They also seem to confirm that more and more female entrepreneurs belonging to the 2018 European startup tech ecosystem are positively conscious of their leadership skills and feel generally empowered and non-threatened by their male counterparts.
While we hope that next year brings even more progress in gender issues and that new leaders take the words of advice of our interviewees and fight back inequalities, we can already draw a few conclusions and debunk one single pernicious myth. As these interviews have demonstrated, in 2018 not only do women in tech make money, create jobs, and change the world as we know it, but they even take some time off their busy schedule to lend other women a helping hand when they need it the most.