25. April 2012–
Very often, when attending start-up related events, I am the only woman in the room, or at least, the only founder. At the TWIST-Berlin event in February for example, out of 19 start-ups that attended at the pitching contest, there was only one woman pitching: me. Why is that so, and most important of all, what can we do to change it? Believe me, I am fed up talking about "women in tech" and the lack thereof just as much as you probably are. But given the statistics, we still have to do it. And not just when the occasional Tech's Top Women Under 30 comes up in your newsfeed...
A couple facts you should know on women in the tech sector
While women own 40% of businesses, they only run 8% of VC funded tech start-ups. Women in Europe & the US make up for almost 60% of college/university graduates, but less that 20% study computer sciences. And in spite of the fact that women make up for over 50% of all facebook users, there is no single woman on Facebook's seven person board of directors. The same applies to Twitter, Paypal & Foursquare. Apple & Amazon only have one woman on their eight person board.
Here's what we can do to change the current statistics...
1. Education: Getting more women to learn how to code
We need more parents to encourage their daughters to go into computer sciences.
My dad encouraged me to go into tech when I was 12. He said "it's the future," and bought me my first computer back in a time, when it still cost as much as a small car. It came with a handbook of PASCAL. Unfortunately, I didn't know what to do with that book. And as much as my dad knew that computer sciences were "the future" he didn't know how to code himself, and couldn't do much more than encourage. But many years later in college, I did take computer science classes, and now I'm a founder and I know how to communicate with my developers. My dad's brainwash had worked after all, and today I'm grateful for that.
There are a few initiatives cropping up to promote coding in the female tech community. Rails Girls, for instance, was born in Finland. Today it's a global non-profit volunteer community. Their aim is to give tools to a community to women who are interested in building online and mobile platforms. In the sessions, you learn sketching, prototyping & basic programming. (Berlin's Rail Girls at Betahouse last week was a big success.)
2. Role Models & Mentors: Find one, be one
The more successful women in tech we have, the more young girls will be encouraged to study computer science. I love the fact that Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, that Marissa Mayer is a senior VP of Google, and that Cisco's CTO is Padmasree Warrior. But I would love to see the next Mark Zuckerberg being a woman.
Beyond abstract role models that you'll see on the media but never get to know personally, we also need female mentors, who have been in the game a bit longer and will share their experience with us. But where can we find those female mentors?
3. Get together: Start or join a local initiative
One way to network is by creating local initiatives like the Berlin Geekettes. Spearheaded by Jess Erickson, the group started on one evening in late January, when three Berlin based women working in different start-ups decided to get to know each other better over dinner. By Thursday night, the night it was scheduled for, there were seven of us. Jess suggested to create a closed Facebook group where we could exchange information and support each other.
The next day we had a logo and a Facebook group. Three months later, the group has over 100 members, a blog and monthly meetups hosted by a different Berlin-based 'Geekette', inviting female entrepreneurs from around the world to share their experience with us. My network of women has exploded exponentially and I feel much more empowered, because I feel that I now have access to information than before knowing all these women.
Another way for women in tech to network are the Girl Geek Dinners happening around the world. This initiative started in 2005 when a London-based woman "got frustrated about being one fo the only females attending technical events." She got in touch with a few well-known bloggers, generate interest online, and arranged for the first dinner which included 35 people living in or near London. Shortly after, events and companies started sponsoring the meetups. From London, other towns and cities got inspired. They're now all over Europe, in Canada, and here in Germany. (The Girl Geek Dinner Germany is run by Nicole Simon and organized in different German cities including Berlin on a regular basis).
Other initiatives you're running to up the number of women in tech? Did this article make you think of something you want to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image credit: featured image – flickr user michal_hadassah