Yesterday evening, I was among hundreds of technology start-ups, entrepreneurs and VCs who attended TechCrunch #CrunchUp, an ad hoc gathering of Europe's entrepreneurs. However, when I looked out at the sea of over 300 of Europe's technology gurus, I noticed that I looked very different from the majority of the people there: I was one of a handful of women. The lack of women attending this event illustrates how few women work in the technology sector and how even fewer are involved with start-ups in general.
I have a master's degree from the media and communications department at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, a department overwhelmingly filled by women students. However, judging by the number of women representing technology start-ups in Europe, very few are entering these positions, even though most technology start-ups today aim to take advantage of, or build new platforms for social media - suggesting that, if anything, these skills should be in greater demand. If women have the skills and education to enter into a tech start-up, then where are they?
The under-representation of women in these industries suggests that despite the distance women have come in achieving equality in the workplace and in universities, that they still aren't reaching the same level within burgeoning industries. This trend suggests that the "glass ceiling" still exists for women in the technology industry. The question is: why?
When working with a tech start-up, there is a certain amount of risk and uncertainty that goes along with being a part of something that is completely new. At the same time, there is opportunity, creativity and excitement that you experience being part of something groundbreaking. Do young women not want to take on the risk? If they are just as creative, hardworking and capable as men, then why are they shying away from these opportunities?
I am a member of the 'digital natives' generation; I grew up with the Internet and have only known an existence belonging to a networked society. Learning to use new technologies was part of growing up - for both men and women in my generation. However, even within a society that gives both sexes the opportunity to develop their skills, gender socialisation still continues - pushing women away from pursuing maths, sciences and technology studies.
There needs to be a change in the messages sent to young women - one that reinforces strong female entrepreneur role models. Instead of idolising pop stars, our heroes should be Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey and Caterina Fake According to a recent study by blur Group that asked 1,000 entrepreneurs who they found most inspiring, female entrepreneurs received only 3% of the vote.
Some women may be shying away from the 'geek' image associated with tech start-ups. There needs to be positive messages that enforce the importance of entering into the these industries, or even forging one of your own.
While there are only a handful of women at the top of the tech pyramid, we must not let this imbalance affect who will become our future business leaders. Female entrepreneurs must be more visible, play an active role in mentoring young women, and recruiting them to join the wonderful start-up universe.
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