The past and future of women in tech can be represented by the trials and triumphs of Veena Gundavelli, founder and CEO of Emagia, a leading fintech company.
An immigrant from India, Veena founded Emagia in 2003 after her first company collapsed three years earlier. This was in Silicon Valley shortly after the dotcom crash when only 9% of businesses were owned by women as compared to 21% in 2019.
When Veena sought funding, these were her experiences:
“I started to confidently pitch my proposals to many VCs and I was rejected by everyone. The apprehension that most of them had is being a woman would I be able to scale up things…would I be able to manage and make things happen? Would there be progress?”
She added there were times when she would be sitting and waiting for her turn to pitch, and almost always she would be the only woman there.
15 years later, Emagia was tagged one of the “Top 10 Virtual Assistant Technology Solution Providers of 2018.”
In 2019, Veena won Silicon Valley’s Women in IT Entrepreneur of the Year award.
That same year, she told author Mehul Darooka of How Did I Fund My Startup:
“[Women] deserve to be given equal weight and importance. Only then will you see how they emerge as the winners and great influencers of this universe.”
The Story of Women in Tech has Been Rocky
Never mind that we’ve had tech celebrities such as Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer Jean Bartik, Betty Holberton, Marilyn Wescoff, Ruth Teiterlbaum and Frances Spence — referred to as “Computers”, because they invented the Army’s first all-electronic digital computer (ENIAC); Grace Hopper “the first lady of software”; Margaret Hamilton, project director of software engineering in MIT’s Instrumentation Laboratory; Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s one-time President and CEO; or Simone Giertz “Queen of Shitty Robots” — among others.
Still, while women make up more than 50% of the U.S. workforce, only 20% of professionals in tech are female. Of these, a mere 33% hold leadership positions, according to the National CIO Review.
The Future Women in Tech Offers a Rosier Forecast
More tech-based classes for females
Luckily, schools, colleges and organizations across the country are working to increase their education and exposure of women to tech. First off, a growing number of K-12 schools across the U.S. have begun to offer STEM programs for school-aged girls.
In 2011, women made up 41% of Harvard’s computer science degree program.
The number dropped to 37% by 2019, but Harvard introduced a Women in Computer Science program, where members receive special advising, networking events, and mentorship.
Harvard also launched “WECode,” the largest student-run conference for women in computer science. Other schools and universities across the U.S. — such as these for instance — initiated similar programs to bring more women into technical roles and fields.
On top of that, a handful of universities and colleges that included Harvard, Manchester Community College, Harvey Mudd College, and Loyola University Chicago launched WiSTEM (Women’s Inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics).
WiSTEM aims to familiarize women with the challenges and opportunities faced by women entrepreneurs. It offers mentorship by top male and female business leaders and connects participants to leading venture companies.
More competitions for females
When it comes to competitions for women in tech, one of the most notable initiatives is sponsored by NRG Energy called FIRST.
Children who can’t afford college are given scholarships to fund, design, brand, build, and program industrial-size robots. More than 33% of female participants have gone on to study engineering, and FIRST has made it their mission to support #WomenInSTEM.
Similarly, the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge encourages students aged 13-18 to innovate responses to issues in aerospace and aviation, cyber-technology and security, energy and the environment, and health and nutrition.
More than half of Conrad Challenge participants are girls.
In an interview for Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, its founder and CEO Nancy Conrad noted that women love to have an impact on society. Women are incredibly talented at visioning and understanding how the dots connect. Women tend to think of circles rather than linear ways. Conrad believes that type of thinking is baked into our DNA.
For older post-high school-age females who lacked the chance to go to university, or who want to straddle home with work, a growing number of online courses and sites, such as SkillCrush, offer the chance to learn tech skills that can help them earn an income from home.
MeToo for women in Tech — the growth of female-designed products
October, 16, 2019, Britain? Culture Secretary, Nicky Morgan, warned tech executives in London that technology designed and built by men is: “Making life harder for women and can lead to physical harm”.
Her examples included devices like smartphones that are designed according to men’s hands, rather than women’s hands, as well as crash test dummies that represented men’s bodies, resulting in women more likely to be injured in a car crash.
Over in the U.S., this same workforce imbalance was represented by Apple that initially released its Health App with the intent of making almost every aspect of your body’s daily functions quantifiable.
There was only one slight problem — Apple forgot to take women’s menstrual or reproductive cycle into account!
Once this was pointed out, Apple instantly redesigned its Health App — still it’s another example of the extent to which the STEM industry is male-dominated and lacks a female perspective.
To take one instance: toys that teach coding are largely designed by men and, therefore, tend to appeal to boys. To rectify that situation, SmartGurlz, launched in 2011, teaches girls to code robots within 60 seconds with its attractive pink devices that have doll-like features.
The company boasts: “The software is specially designed to engage your daughter’s brain in the right way for her to learn… SmartGurlz Inspires the female leaders of tomorrow, today. Our mission is to create the creators of the future, one girl at a time.”
Mindset reboot about women in tech for women
Would you believe that America’s first Beauty Queen has brains and brawn as well as beauty!
Well, here’s the news, quoting MSN: Miss Virginia Camille Schrier earned the title of Miss America 2020 on Thursday night, beating out 50 other contestants for the prestigious crown after performing the show’s first-ever science demonstration in the talent portion.
This next-generation Beauty Queen put the lie to the stereotype that blond or sexy women lack brains or that studious or intelligent women are dull and dowdy.
For both genders, that’s the mindset reboot that a woman? beauty can co-exist with intelligence — that one quality does not preclude the other.
As for women, they’re starting to learn that not only is tech important but that it can also help them make a difference in the world.
A recent Microsoft study found that 72% of its female respondents rejected a career in high-tech on the grounds that they wanted a job that helps the world, and they considered technology didn’t fit that representation.
That mindset is beginning to change with women like Whitney Wolfe, who founded dating app Bumble followed by Tinder.
“The reason I started Bumble was because I wanted a solution to the experience I went through and it was something that I could see many women face,” she told Machine Design, a resource for mechanical engineers. “So, I built a dating app where only women could make the first move, and we built a brand that was built on the foundations of female first, empowerment and respect.”
Mindset reboot about women in tech for men
Then there’s the mindset reboot for men.
A mere four years ago, James Damore, an engineer at Google, was fired for posting a memo claiming that women were biologically and psychologically less suited to working in high-tech career fields.
The idea that women are disproportionately capable of working in STEM fields is a tired stereotype and propagated by individuals who use “scientific backing” to argue that women are disqualified by reason of brain structure, inherent psychological traits, or even temperament.
Want proof that the ideology is changing?
Not only was our Miss America 2020 chosen partly because she showed her judges how hydrogen peroxide decomposes, but Mission Unstoppable, a new CBS series, showcases leading women in STEM.
These include superstars in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. On top of that, more than 200 professional cheerleaders for the NBA, NFL and UFL banded to form the Science Cheerleaders.
Their mission is to encourage women to consider careers in technology and to “playfully” challenge science and cheerleading stereotypes.
Declining salary gap for women in tech
With assertive females staffing tech fields, the pay gap is actually smaller for tech than it is for other sectors.
And reports, such as these by Glassdoor and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggest this pattern will continue. That’s partly thanks to companies such as Intel and Salesforce that make concerted efforts to bridge the gap.
The shrinking wage gap is also due to women’s new-found confidence in their STEM skills. Furthermore, as Women in Tech notes: “With women with less than two years of experience better at negotiating pay than their male coworkers and a continuing skills shortage in the tech sector, it seems that the only way is up for rates of pay for female techies.”
Indeed, while robots displace some jobs, artificial intelligence (AI) can’t replace positions that need emotional skills in which females typically excel — and this extends to tech, too.
Some futurists forecast that female applicants would be offered competitive pay.
There’s no doubt that the world of work is changing and while some reports project that women may have trouble competing in high-tech jobs and salary with men, others suggest that women will join the high-tech force in larger numbers than before and enjoy improved wages, according to a 2019 literature review by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Endless opportunities for women in tech
Improved changes for women in tech aren’t confined to female-oriented STEM programs, a shrinking pay gap, female-designed tech products or a reformed perception of women’s intelligence.
Women of the future will find more and better-paying job opportunities in tech, too.
Women in Tech cited a 2019 survey, where more than half of 1,500 women aged between 18 and 39 who worked in technology said they were recently given opportunities to advance in IT.
Meanwhile, some of technology’s biggest companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google and Intel, have pledged to improve the future of women in both low and high-tech.
Google, Apple, and FaceBook, for example, have launched diversity campaigns in recent years. Others, such as financial software giant Intuit, focus on retaining and attracting women to their workforces.
Intuit’s women’s network, for example: “Helps women power prosper at Intuit.”
It’s “Women in Tech” blog interviews successful women technologists; promotes events for female technologists; and talks about how women can “change the future of technology together”, among other items.
Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company, offers its female technicians daycare. These top eight companies for women in tech strive to give their female employees flexible work structure, great compensation, quality commissions and a positive environment.
As Dave Gibbs, STEM computing and technology specialist at the National STEM Learning Centre and Network told TechWomen: “There is so much opportunity out there for women going to work in technology. Now that the companies are beginning to wake up to the value of women in the industry, both as customers and employees, there are endless possibilities to explore.”
More venture company funding for women in tech
While Veena Gundavelli found it excruciating to win funding for Emagia more than 20 years ago — times they are a changin’.
True, a recent YouGov survey found that women-run businesses receive only 9% of funding for US startups, while qualified female founders receive no more than a pithy 2.2% of VC investment.
Still Pip Jamieson, founder and CEO of creative networking platform The Dots, promised better times ahead: “Today… there are alternative funding vehicles that women can capitalize on, such as crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and crowd investment platforms like Seeders & Crowdcube. There are also amazing organisations like Angel Academe, (an angel network that only invests in businesses founded or co-founded by women).”
Jamieson also spoke of forward-thinking venture capitalists who actively pursue female founders and hire more female investment partners to root out bias from their investment processes.
In Canada, there’s also the $200 million Women In Technology (WIT) Venture Fund that aims to double the number of majority women-owned businesses in that country by 2025
“Things won’t change overnight,” Jamieson concluded. “But being an optimist I’m beyond excited for the future!”
December, 9, 2019, BioAg technology pest control company, Pheronym, sent a cargo load of tiny worms to space.
These roundworms, formally called nematodes, were to be used to see whether the pest-control worms could move through the soil without gravity, so researchers could train the worms to dig deeper into soil on Earth.
As the SpaceX Dragon capsule, with its box of 120,000 nematodes, took off from the Kennedy Space Center, Dr. Fatma Kaplan, Project Director and CEO of Pheronym, tweeted her delight: “It’s a scientist’s dream come true.¨
That’s particular so for a woman who 10, 20, certainly 60 years ago would hardly have had such opportunities to participate in innovative projects, as women do today.
In today’s era of #MeToo, #SeeHer and Google’s #IAmRemarkable, where women carve a #MeToo in tech too.
Result? More females graduate from STEM classes across the country; there’s a massive awareness of diversity and inclusion efforts across the industry; women are encouraged to design and develop technology in new ways; and perceptions of women’s intelligence have improved. All of this assures endless opportunities for women in tech.
“Female representation has gotten much better in the 25 years that I have worked in the tech space,” Sandra Swindle, SVP and CRM technology delivery leader at Merkle told MarTech Advisor.
Change is on the way.