Many studies support the fact that there are numerous gaps between men and women, particularly when it comes to ICT. Whether it is the number of girls who receive a STEM education or when it comes to funding of women founders of IT startups and scaleups, the differences are vast.
It's clear that in less developed countries that are characterised by the less advanced levels of education and involvement of women in the labor market, there will be a more considerable difference between men and women when it comes to specific sectors like the tech ecosystem.
On the other hand, it can be expected that in the highly developed and wealthier ecosystems, these differences would be more imperceptible. But it’s not always the case, although certain, small but promising developments are evident.
One such example is the UK tech ecosystem. According to the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), tech startups and scaleups in the UK with at least one woman co-founder in 2022 recorded a 24% increase in capital compared to 2021.
In practical terms that means that:
- £3.6 billion in venture capital funding was raised in 2022 compared to £2.9 billion in 2021.
- Eight companies with women founders and co-founders raised over $100 million in 2022.
- The majority of investments into women-led businesses took place at the pre-seed and seed stage with 158 startups raising early-stage funding.
- Female founders are represented in only 9% of UK unicorns (only 13 of the UK’s 144 tech unicorns).
- Women in the UK founded almost 200 influential startups that together employ around 8000+ people.
So when we look at these numbers it is clear that women are facing a lot of challenges (which men are maybe not aware of) and that diversity in business is very needed so we can build together a successful tech ecosystem. And it starts with supporting women entrepreneurs.
„…We need to better support our women entrepreneurs who are building impact businesses to solve pressing challenges facing society, from the environment to the economy and people…“ Kate Hofman, Founder, and Chief Brand Officer at GrowUp Farms
Fintech, energy, and achieving sustainable development goals
There are examples of successful companies in every sector. However, as is to be expected, since fintech companies make up the majority of venture capital funding it is also the case with women-founded firms in this sector. Companies such as PensionBee, which helps people to amalgamate their pensions on a single platform, and Tumelo, a Bristol-based fintech, which facilitates shareholder democracy with technology to make stewardship more impactful are just some examples.
„…It’s important we keep supporting and challenging future women founders to build businesses that change the world…“ Georgia Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Tumelo
Energy is also one of the biggest sectors generally but also for women founders. Some of the large rounds are raised by companies such as Nyobolt which is focused on delivering end-to-end ultrafast charging battery solutions and Hydro Wind Energy which is creating systems to combine wind and wave energy.
When it comes to creating and running influential tech startups focused on using technology to address the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, women founders are also leading the way. Some examples of such companies are COMPASS Pathways which looks to tackle mental health; Vira Health which has created the menopause app Stella to improve women’s long-term health; Ivy Farm which is developing cultured meat; Peppy, the employee healthcare benefits platform; and Oddbox, the surplus fruit and vegetable startup.
Incentive measures aimed at strengthening the participation of women in the tech sector
For the last few years, statistics show that the UK technological ecosystem is the leader in Europe. This was achieved not only through innovative solutions and individuals (or startups) but also through incentives provided by the Government to this sector. Some of such initiatives are:
- The Technology Talent Charter (initiated by the UK Government in 2016) is an industry-led group bringing together over 700 organizations to improve diversity and inclusion in technology.
- Continuous investments in opportunities to diversify the digital skills pipeline. These investments also include up to £30 million in artificial intelligence and data science conversion course programs, including scholarships awarded to students from underrepresented backgrounds and targeted cyber training programs - so that more women are encouraged to consider a career in tech.
- The Government's Center for Equality launched an industry-led working group (during 2022) chaired by Anne Boden (Chief Executive and Founder of Starling Bank) with the aim of encouraging women entrepreneurs, influencing high-growth investors, and working with organizations across the UK to help achieve the government's goal of increasing the number of female entrepreneurs by half by 2030.
- The Digital Skills Council, launched as part of the Digital Strategy last year, also brings together industry leaders and training experts from Starling, Google, Future Dot Now, Microsoft, and others to drive business action and expand the talent pool in digital and tech.
Progress is happening but very slowly. Previously mentioned initiatives support the fact that the government is aware of the importance of narrowing the gender gap in this area and that in the next couple of years, we might expect some changes and positive trends. The statement of Tech Secretary Michelle Donelan confirms that:
"I want the UK to be the best place for anyone - male or female - to start and grow a tech business, so it's brilliant to see female founded firms attracting more investment than ever before. Together with industry leaders my brand new department will work hard to create the right environment for inspirational women to forge careers in the UK's thriving tech industry and help it reach new heights."
But overall, when the leaders become aware of the possibilities and importance of strengthening women-founded startups and support the incentives to enable as many women as possible to get involved in IT, the changes are starting to happen.