Diversity will be our best investment

YOU don’t have to be immersed in the tech sector to know it has a reputation for not being female-friendly.

Almost every week, stories emerge from Silicon Valley and other tech hotspots of sexist behaviour and the predominance of a “brogrammer” culture that excludes and denigrates women.

Many in tech downplay the rumours of misogyny and deny that the prevailing culture is off-putting for women. Yet, even those companies that proactively work towards gender inclusiveness struggle to advance: In recent weeks alone, powerhouses such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo published diversity reports that make for grim reading.

Yahoo’s global staff is only 37% female; Facebook’s and Google’s percentages are even lower, at 31% and 30% respectively.

In the start-up sector, the story is much the same. Women are less likely than men to found their own business (30% of new businesses are set up by women globally), and — when they do — are less likely to attract the funding needed to expand.

In 2012, women received only 4% of all venture capital funding in the US. International research shows, in fact, that venture capitalists’ willingness to invest in a start-up can be significantly influenced by the gender of the entrepreneur — with women entrepreneurs significantly less likely to get funding than men.

The other bias we face — perhaps a more challenging one — is that women entrepreneurs tend to have lower levels of self-belief than men. When women go after funding, we typically ask for lower amounts, meaning we have to look for more funds quickly and give up more equity. One of the reasons why only 4% of US venture capital went to women in 2012 was because only 16% of female entrepreneurs actively pursued those funds.

So what needs to be done to change the status quo — to promote increased levels of entrepreneurship among women and increased investment in female-led enterprises?

Firstly, we need to look at how we educate young girls and have more women entrepreneur role models. We must address stereotyping in educational choices and encourage more girls to follow science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) courses in higher education and seek employment in these fields.

We must see more great women entrepreneurs in the media and as speakers at major industry events. You can’t aspire to be something you can’t see.

Secondly, equal access to finance for men and women — including basic banking services and financial advice — needs to be assured. There is a lot to be done here and government, big corporates, and small companies all have to play their part.

Lastly, we must dispel some deep-rooted myths, for example: That women are more cautious and risk-adverse than men and, as a result, less effective as entrepreneurs.

This simply isn’t true: Research shows women-led tech companies are more successful than those led by men, achieving 35% higher return on investment.

Increased women’s participation in start-ups isn’t just some high-minded ideal of equality. More high-growth women entrepreneurs in STEM will lead to these sectors thriving and innovating in the future. It’s just good business sense.

As we emerge from the turmoil of the global economic crash, various thought leaders have pointed to women as playing a key role in the world’s economic recovery, including Hilary Clinton and Christine Lagarde.

In the tech sector in Ireland — which is at the core of the Government’s strategy for economic renewal — women are relatively well represented.

The CEO of Fujitsu Ireland is a woman; we have female vice-presidents of Intel and PayPal; and some of the top employees in the Dublin offices of Google, Dropbox, Facebook, and Twitter are women.

We also have a thriving start-up culture, with many female entrepreneurs achieving major success in recent years.

Today, in Dublin, Silicon Republic’s Female Founders Forum is bringing many of these high-achieving women together. The event will look at the results being delivered by female entrepreneurs globally and what needs to be done to ensure greater investment in female-led start-ups in Ireland.

It will be followed by a reception celebrating “Ireland’s 100 Top Women in STEM”, based on a list published recently by Silicon Republic.

Events such as these are crucial for showing women entrepreneurs that supports for their work do exist; for convincing investors that it’s worthwhile to back businesses founded by women; and for highlighting to young women that it’s desirable — and possible — to pursue a successful career in tech.

Let’s not let the brogrammer stereotype win out; the tech sector — particularly once greater numbers of women are involved — has so much more to offer than that.

* Anne Ravanona is Founder and CEO of Global Invest Her, focused on getting women entre-preneurs funded faster and increasing gender diversity at work. She is one of the keynote speakers at Silicon Republic’s Female Founders Forum in Dublin today. She is also championing a campaign to have women’s economic empowerment included on the priority list for the UN’s post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. More on the Female Founders Forum are available at siliconrepublic.com.

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