This observation is made in the preface to Women2020: Time to Act, a report that was the result of a year-long, high-level public-private sector inquiry into the contribution of women to the Europe 2020 strategy. From this dialogue two initiatives were born: The Digital Leadership Institute, with a mission to bridge the gender gap and digital divide globally; and inQube, Europe’s first “female digital accelerator”.
We are all aware of the under-representation of women in the strategic, innovative “ESTEAM” sectors of the economy: Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics. We have been inundated lately with employee data (1 2 3 4) from notable IT companies in the US admitting their gender challenges, and underscoring the fact that only thirty percent of people employed in the ICT sector are women, and percentages for women in tech and management roles are even lower. Our own research confirms these trends in Europe too, and the fact that this has gone on for quite some time: Though women make up fifty percent of young people in Europe and fifty-five percent of those who go to university, they are only thirty percent of students in strategic STEM areas, and this so-called “leaky pipeline” has existed for decades.
Across Europe, the percentage of women in specifically tech studies averages around six percent, with DACH countries leading the pack at eight per cent, and the Benelux trailing with only two per cent. Recent global research indicates that the percentage of women CIOs has not changed in ten years, and that Europe under-performs the rest of the world with only 11.2% women in top IT roles. To round things out, the percentage of women in leadership across the board, IT included, hoovers in the low double-digits, around fourteen percent.
As discouraging as this data is, there is one area of tech where statistics are so scarce and female participation so negligible – 3% in Belgium and 10% in the US – that even constructive discussion is difficult. This area is tech entrepreneurship. And it is here – the weakest link in the women-in-tech “chain” – where inQube and its partners aim to make a difference.
Women own about one-third of all SMEs in Europe, the majority in the service sector. Although women-led startups are more resilient, women starters are less likely to be approved for bank loans, intellectual property protection or VC funding – all key considerations for starting and managing a successful enterprise in the tech sector.
A growing number of women professionals dodge the Old Boys Club by starting their own enterprise later in their careers, but on the startup scene women starters face a parallel, “Young Boys Club” culture that can hold them back. As the recent statistics show, young, educated males are the darlings of Silicon Valley and Venture Capitalists – who themselves are an elite group – and, by hiring and investing in their own kind, they have fostered an exclusive “bropreneur” startup culture that explicitly excludes women and minorities. inQube – Europe’s first female digital accelerator – seeks to redress this imbalance.
We consider the startup culture an “ecosytem”, and more and more, we acknowledge that, just as a rain forest benefits from biodiversity, our own human ecosystems also benefit from the richness, strength and resilience that diversity brings. Research increasingly shows that, for example, diversity in enterprise contributes to improved decision-making, performance and bottom-line.
To increase diversity in the tech entrepreneurship ecosystem by promoting participation of women requires three kinds of action: Skills development, community-building and access to startup resources. Since the gender bias in tech startups is strongly mirrored in the tech startup ecosystem, by not actively seeking to include women we actually succeed at excluding them, even with the best intentions. This failure can be measured by the dearth of female tech starters and success-stories about women tech entrepreneurs – a problem that is especially pronounced in Europe. For this reason, more and varied approaches that specifically target women as tech starters are needed.
inQube is one of many DLI initiatives promoting greater participation of women in ESTEA and it reflects a growing trend to support tech entrepreneurship by women around the world. Other initiatives include mentorship platforms, women-focused VC investment, and angel investor training for women. In this context, inQube’s mission is the following:
- Promote digital, leadership and business skills among women that give them the confidence and capacities to start and lead their own digital enterprises;
- Support mentorship and networking among women professionals of all backgrounds and levels of expertise to share knowledge and experience and breed success; and
- Provide access to resources, from inside and outside the inQube network, necessary for starting and scaling women-led digital enterprises across Europe.
We carry out this mission by hosting an online match-making and mentorship platform for women starters, and by organising virtual and physical events to promote knowledge-sharing and networking among women across Europe. As a “network of networks,” inQube also aims to cultivate closer linkages between, and increase the overall number of initiatives contributing to a healthy and thriving ecosystem for female digital entrepreneurship in Europe.
Growth in tech and other innovative sectors represents the greatest opportunity for the future of the European and global economies. As the Women2020 report also suggests, tapping the under-representation of women in these sectors could deliver another magnitude of opportunity for our society and economy.
Nowhere is the opportunity for Europe’s women to contribute to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth more evident than in the tech startup scene in Europe. And nowhere is the need for action to harness this opportunity, in order to achieve our shared goals for Europe facing 2020, greater.