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Overcoming tech’s gender gap with role models | As told by European founders and investors

Women make up half of our global population. But, they are cut out from leading positions of power, and top-level professional careers, and are faced with entrenched inequality on a daily basis. 

On International Women’s Day, the lack of equality and the gaps that exist between men and women on a societal, economic, environmental and political level are highlighted, but, it is something that we need to highlight every day.

We spoke with Carina Harding, Antonia Schein, Katarzyna Kopeć, Tatjana Zabasu Mikuž and Zuzanna Stamirowska to learn more about the reality of the situation. 

It’s reported (by Figures and 50inTech) that the average unadjusted pay gap across tech companies in Europe is 19%. Over 60% of women at European tech startups don’t know their value and nearly one-third of women in midlevel role feels underpaid. 

Not only do women face inequality when it comes to salary, but they are also discriminated against when it comes to accessing funding in the VC and startup ecosystem, and, accessing opportunities in tech still remains incredibly male-dominated. When it comes to VC, the GP balance is at a point of imbalance. The entire European continent counts 87% male GPs and only 13% female. not only does this mean that fewer women are able to access high-ranking roles in VC, but it evidently has a knock-on effect on which teams get funding. The connection is laid clear when you note that in 2021 female-founded companies in Europe received only 1.8% of the VC funding. 

Antonia Schein, Co-Founder and Chief Growth Officer at Codary: “Unfortunately, female founders do not get the same access to funding as male founders who get almost nine times as much capital on average as female teams.”

Carina Harding, an investor at Picus Capital: “The first VC firms were founded by men and, over the years, these companies developed a strong network of male investors and founders. VC sometimes still seems to be a “closed club” where people don’t get in very easily. And, most VC firms are quite small, so jobs are rare and not always promoted publicly. This means that for those, who don’t have a direct network into these firms, the VC career track isn’t really on their radar.”

Entrenched inequality has led to many women doubting their abilities. It’s reported that 60% of women who consider setting up their own company, decide not to do so because of self-doubt. It’s connected to the phenomenon called imposter syndrome which is becoming increasingly prevalent in the tech industry. 

Imposter syndrome refers to the feeling of being undeserving of achievement and the feeling of not being as competent as others might think. It involves feelings of self-doubt that persist despite education, experience and accomplishments, and it’s incredibly prevalent amongst women who do manage to make it in tech. 

Speaking about her experience, Carina commented: “if we look at the business world, women are still in the minority in leadership positions and I believe this can result in doubting oneself more. Personally, I was quite insecure about my strengths and skills at the beginning of my career. On the one hand, working in a male-dominated ecosystem can make you feel more confident because you know that “you made it”. On the other hand, there is always a voice in your head asking “Do I really fit in?”. And I think this is only the starting point of asking yourself if you are really good enough.”

“In my view, more diversity and equality in the industry, particularly among leaders, will help diminish these doubts for young women. If we have role models who have a similar background to our own, we can relate to them and feel more confident because they serve as proof points. As a consequence, it’s very important to empower young women by sharing your own story, speaking up and offering support to those who may need some external motivation and inspiration at the beginning of their careers.”

Tatjana Zabasu Mikuž, Managing Partner at a Balkan-based South Central Ventures Fund added: “Women are definitely more aware of their weaknesses. From my experience, men tend to be much more confident and have a «know-it-all» attitude, while you often see female founders emphasizing the uncertainties and areas in which they lack experience or knowledge to at least the same extent as their strengths.”

One way things can change is through mentorship, network-building and boosting the presence of women to create more references and role models. Together, we can shape the future, creating a more inclusive generation of tech. 

Inspiring a new generation

Thanks to different initiatives across Europe, there are a number of different platforms, firms and events that are highlighting female founders and investors that are rewriting the story of VC and startups. 

Amanda Maiwald, another Co-Founder at Codary: “There are many programs that highlight female founders and put them into the spotlight, being an important way to inspire more girls and women to start a company.”

In doing so, we can contribute to creating role models for a new generation of tech leaders and workers. Showing that this industry doesn’t have to be dominated by white men, but rather it can be as colourful, as diverse and as intersectional as our global population is. 

Carina Harding: “We need more strong women in venture capital who act as role models. We need to make them and their story in VC more visible. In addition, HR managers who want to support the change should really pay attention to job postings and information on career websites being as gender-neutral as possible. A lot can be done with the right language. I believe that perhaps more young women would dare to enter the industry if they feel they’re being addressed.”

Zuzanna Stamirowska, Co-Founder and CEO at Pathway added how important it is to “guarantee a growing pipeline of talented people from all backgrounds, ensure that career paths are known and offer an interesting trajectory, build a culture where people feel they belong and where they can thrive. And then, more personally I think having women who are extremely successful in their careers and who are visible is the best way to inspire peers and future generations of women to join this exciting ecosystem.”

In doing so, we not only inspire change but also allow for better solutions to come be developed and more impactful innovation to shine. It’s been proven time and time again that more-diverse teams and more inclusive startups have better outcomes. 

Breaking the cycle

Networks and references hold the key to getting more women into VC. Leveraging these can help boost confidence and provide a stepping stone for women who are otherwise left out of the running. 

Katarzyna Kopeć: “Equal treatment of genders is something that should be implemented in every sector. In the VC industry women should be encouraged more and heard without being stigmatized. I strongly believe that looking at the project from the perspective of its value, and not the gender of its founders may allow VC to make high-value deals and also women founders to be a part of a change in the world to make it a better place for everyone.”

The ecosystem needs to change in the long run on a systemic level, and it begins by creating a strong community, united to support one another to succeed. 

Carina Harding: “VCs need to have a plan on how to support young, female talent in their companies, provide them with the right trainings and mentorship. This should be on every partner’s agenda if they really want to change the industry and make their own leadership board more diverse. My biggest advice for young women aiming to enter VC: Be bold and reach out to people who already work in the space.”

Patricia Allen
Patricia Allen
is the Head of Content at EU-Startups. With a background in politics, Patricia has a real passion for how shared ideas across communities and cultures can bring new initiatives and innovations for the future. She spends her time bringing you the latest news and updates of startups across Europe, and curating our social media.
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