The Need for Women in the Digital Age

The im­pact of di­ver­sity can­not be un­der­stated. Es­ti­mates from McKin­sey found that if women were work­ing to their full po­ten­tial, the global GDP would in­crease by USD28 tril­lion by 2025.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - S NAPSHOTS - CHEYENNE HOLLIS

But there is per­haps no big­ger chal­lenge to reach­ing equal­ity this than in the startup space.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search from Crunch­base, only 12 of the uni­corns born in 2018 had at least one fe­male founder. The trend has con­tin­ued into 2019 with ten fe­male-founded com­pa­nies be­com­ing uni­corns dur­ing the first half of the year. And while 2019 was the sec­ond-best year on record when it came to money in­vested in fe­male-led star­tups, the play­ing field re­mains un­even for women en­trepreneur­s.

A study con­ducted by Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group in con­junc­tion with MassChal­lenge, a US-based global net­work of ac­cel­er­a­tors, showed true dis­crep­ancy re­mains. In­vest­ments in com­pa­nies founded or co­founded by women av­er­aged USD 935,000. This was sig­nif­i­cantly less than the USD 2.1 mil­lion in­vested in com­pa­nies founded by male en­trepreneur­s on av­er­age.

De­spite the dif­fer­ence in

in­vest­ment, women-founded star­tups were more suc­cess­ful on av­er­age. The same re­port found that the fe­male-led star­tups col­lected ten per­cent more in cu­mu­la­tive rev­enue over a five-year pe­riod.

“Star­tups with women as founders are less likely to re­ceive fund­ing than male-founded com­pa­nies, but they are equally as likely to gen­er­ate rev­enue. That is amaz­ing when you think about it.” Ms Char­lene Liu, Co-Founder of Ladies Who Tech China and Women in Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy, says. “There is no log­i­cal rea­son for fe­male-founded star­tups to not re­ceive equal fund­ing. In fact, many in­vestors are likely hurt­ing their bot­tom line by not in­vest­ing in fe­male-led star­tups.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ms Liu, one rea­son for this is that men usu­ally over­sell their vision and pro­jec­tions, which can be en­tic­ing to po­ten­tial in­vestors. On the other hand, women are far less ag­gres­sive when it comes to their busi­ness out­look and in some cases are con­tent to ac­cept less than their male coun­ter­parts.

But this is only part of the story. Un­der­stand­ing why this re­mains a prob­lem and find­ing a so­lu­tion re­quires a much deeper look at the sit­u­a­tion.

Women in the digital age

Ms Heidi Wiig, Pro­fes­sor in In­no­va­tion and En­trepreneur­ship at BINor­we­gian Busi­ness School, told the au­di­ence at the Nor­way-Asia Busi­ness Sum­mit 2019 that Nor­way is gen­der equal, but this has not trans­lated to an in­crease in fe­male en­trepreneur­s. She added that China is much fur­ther down on the gen­der in­dex and also suf­fers from a lack of fe­male en­trepreneur­s.

And de­spite progress be­ing made else­where, the chal­lenge of the tra­di­tional gen­der gap is com­pounded with other is­sues as the world moves fur­ther into the digital age.

“We are see­ing an in­crease in fe­male ed­u­ca­tion lev­els and women are par­tic­i­pat­ing more in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, engi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics (STEM) dis­ci­plines. But women are still un­der­rep­re­sented in the digital sec­tors,” Ms Wiig ex­plains. “This has cre­ated a digital gen­der gap that we must strive to re­duce. If it is al­lowed to grow, women will find it more dif­fi­cult to not only gain a foothold in both the

digital-first tech­nol­ogy and startup space, but also other ar­eas.”

She con­tin­ues, “That is be­cause the digital gen­der gap is laid over the tra­di­tional gen­der gap. We still see a lack of fe­male CEOs and mid­dle man­agers glob­ally. The com­bi­na­tion of the two gaps is making it harder for a tran­si­tion to take place.”

Ms Wiig points out that most women who cur­rently make it to the man­age­ment level work in sup­port man­age­ment func­tions. Mean­while, strate­gic man­age­ment func­tions are male dom­i­nated. The story is very sim­i­lar when you look to­wards en­trepreneur­s.

“We are see­ing con­straints that pre­vent women from even try­ing when it comes to be­ing en­trepreneur­s and startup founders,” Ms Wiig states. “For ex­am­ple, get­ting fi­nance for a fe­maleled startup is more dif­fi­cult than for a male one. Ad­di­tion­ally, women must fight stereo­types that re­main per­va­sive. Progress is be­ing made, but we must keep work­ing to­wards equal­ity.”

Ms Liu was up­beat about the fact gen­der di­ver­sity in STEM is in­creas­ing. But she warned that even when women en­ter these, or any other, work­forces, they face chal­lenges.

“The cor­po­rate lad­der is more dif­fi­cult for women to as­cend. Even if women man­age to climb the lad­der, they are faced with a gen­der pay gap,” Ms Liu says. “But this doesn’t make sense, espe­cially in STEM dis­ci­plines. Re­sources here are sorely lack­ing and there is a grow­ing need for tal­ent in these fields. This is just one of many ob­sta­cle we must re­move.”

The digital age is of­fer­ing fe­male en­trepreneur­s new ways to over­come tra­di­tional chal­lenges that have cre­ated the var­i­ous gaps. This can help em­power women with so­lu­tions that had been un­avail­able in the past.

“De­spite the chal­lenges, we are see­ing a new wave of op­por­tu­ni­ties for fe­male en­trepreneur­s. For ex­am­ple, busi­nesses can be founded at a lower cost and with greater flex­i­bil­ity than in the past,” Ms Wiig says. “The ‘old boys’ way of net­work­ing and fi­nanc­ing can be by­passed as women have greater ac­cess to new net­works and mar­kets. It is much eas­ier to con­nect to busi­ness growth to­day than in pre­vi­ous years.”

As so­ci­ety moves fur­ther into the digital age and tech­nol­ogy ad­vances, new op­por­tu­ni­ties will emerge. This new wave of op­por­tu­ni­ties for fe­male en­trepreneur­s must be cul­ti­vated to make sure gen­der isn’t a fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing who can act on them.

“Tech­nol­ogy cre­ates chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties, some of which we know and some of which we won’t re­alise un­til later. That means the digital trans­for­ma­tion will favour those who are best pre­pared to cap­ture value. Cap­tur­ing this value must be open to ev­ery­one, not just one group,” Ms Wiig notes.

Aware­ness with ac­tion

As work to­wards clos­ing the digital gen­der gap, the tra­di­tional gen­der gap and the gen­der gap pro­gresses, there re­mains a need to shine a brighter light on each one. Aware­ness is some­thing many women don’t even re­alise un­til they are pre­sented with pro­fes­sional chal­lenges caused by one, or all, of the gaps.

“I didn’t re­ally con­sider gen­der grow­ing up in Nor­way. I could al­ways do what I wanted. Even in law school, gen­der di­ver­sity wasn’t some­thing I recog­nised. It didn’t hit me un­til I en­tered the workforce and saw a lack of gen­der di­ver­sity with my own eyes,” Ms Therese

Trulsen, Se­nior Lawyer and Chief Rep­re­sen­ta­tive at Wik­borg Rein China In Cor­po­rate Law, re­calls. “I re­mem­ber walk­ing into a meet­ing with over 20 col­leagues and be­ing the only woman in the room. More than 50 per­cent of the law stu­dents in Nor­way are fe­male, but it wasn’t ac­cu­rately rep­re­sented in cor­po­rate law.”

She cited the sup­port she re­ceived at Wik­borg Rein as well as the com­pany’s gen­der equal­ity tar­gets as be­ing im­por­tant mea­sures that en­sured women were get­ting a fair shot.

“One of the key things busi­nesses can do is set tar­gets. Aware­ness is im­por­tant, but it also needs to be ac­tion­able. It has to be more than just talk,” Ms Trulsen states. “Of course, we don’t want quo­tas to se­lect can­di­dates based on gen­der alone. You don’t want to be hired be­cause you’re fe­male, you want to be hired be­cause you are the best can­di­date for the position. This isn’t a ques­tion of be­ing male or be­ing fe­male, it is an equal­ity is­sue. Right now women don’t al­ways have equal op­por­tu­ni­ties in busi­ness. We must find ways to en­sure ev­ery­one has a level play­ing field.”

As Ms Liu notes, women have a rich his­tory when it comes to in­vent­ing, busi­ness, tech­nol­ogy or any­thing else when pro­vided a level play­ing field. This in­cludes be­ing suc­cess­ful en­trepreneur­s when given the chance. Women can also bring a much-needed per­spec­tive that can pro­vide needed in­sights for busi­nesses.

“We need di­ver­sity. We need di­ver­sity in think­ing and in do­ing. At the end of the day, we need di­ver­sity be­cause it af­fects ev­ery­one,” Ms Liu pro­claims. “These ef­forts start at home. They then need to con­tinue into schools. This is a time when aware­ness can be built. The move­ment must carry over into the work­place. And fi­nally they will be seen in so­ci­ety. This is some­thing ev­ery­one can con­trib­ute to and some­thing we can all make ac­tion­able.”

PHOTO: NORSI

PHOTO: NABS 2019

Above left: Ms Heidi Wiig be­lieves more progress is need to close the digital gen­der gap. Above: Ac­cord­ing to Ms Char­lene Liu, in­vestors hurt their bot­tom line by not in­vest­ing in fe­male-led star­tups

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