Despite Silicon Valley’s reputation for being a boy’s club, these entrepreneurs have been shaking up the tech startup scene with a uniquely female flair.
The 2016 job market is a vastly different place from what it was in previous years in a lot of ways, but in what should be the most forward thinking sectors, the gender balance is still stubbornly traditional.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2015 revealed that women only hold 26% of all tech jobs. Furthermore, as the job market moves through a technological revolution, women only stand to gain one new STEM job for every twenty six lost in other disrupted industries (compared to one for every four for men).
This skew is reinforced by a generally prevailing sexist, hostile culture. Researcher Carole Simard remarks: “Because in tech you have so few women to begin with, then that really reinforces these power dynamics between men and women.”
Is the STEM field really more sexist than any other industry? It’s hard to measure sexism, but wages make a useful proxy metric. The wage gap itself is 3% — smaller than in many other industries. However, a more telling figure is the expectation gap, or the difference in what men and women ask for in salary negotiation. Men expect 18% more compensation for data science roles, and 12% more in software engineering — and as the ratio of men to women in the role increases, so does the gap.
The report by Hired found that the most recent cohort of women entering the job market are asking for 2% more than their male counterparts, suggesting that older generations of women are less aware of their value, or perhaps less willing to appear to have an inflated self-opinion.
Though STEM and tech might not be any more sexist than other industries, gender bias in this field has the potential to be much more damaging. The tech field is one of the better paying industries, and is perhaps better insulated against the coming wave of technological unemployment. Failing to check bias now could lead to an even less favorable job market for women in the future.
Those stats paint a bleak picture, and it’s understandable that many women are daunted by the idea of breaking into a field that seems intrinsically structured to keep them out. But the ones that refuse to be discouraged have been making huge inroad: the success of the following female-headed businesses prove women are more than capable of thriving in the STEM and tech industries.
Having a company’s product go viral is the advertising equivalent of winning the lottery, so a lot of attention has been poured into the phenomenon of virality. Ten years ago, the idea of harnessing social sharing to catapult a brand into public awareness was much less firmly entrenched in the advertising consciousness, but Sarah Wood was prepared to take a bet on it, along with Unruly cofounder Matt Cooke. Unruly’s proven digital marketplace strategy led to their being acquired by News Corp for £114 million.
Wood’s career has been shaped by motherhood: she was initially prompted to start the company due to being dissatisfied with childcare arrangements at her job. She is outspoken about the importance of childcare to business success and the economy:
Childcare is challenging, expensive and a reason women struggle to come back to their careers. The Government could increase childcare tax relief. That would help incentivise mums to come back to their jobs — we need more mums in the workplace to compete globally.”
Moreover, when Unruly hopped the pond, they enlisted Devra Prywes to launch their public presence. Now the VP of Marketing and Insight, Devra will be presenting at L&T’s monthly Happy Hour presented in conjunction with Oz Content and Startup Socials tomorrow in NYC.
Devra will present seven viral videos, conduct a survey, and analyze the results. Her presentation will be followed by a Q&A and you definitely don’t want to miss it! There are still tickets available and we hope to see you there!
Taskrabbit’s users have a hungry golden Labrador to thank for the popular odd-job marketplace. In 2008, Leah Busque and her husband were late for dinner when they realized they were out of dog food. If only there were an app to get someone to run the errand for them… Thus, TaskRabbit was born.
Despite the unfavorable economic climate, Busque left her job at IBM to start the company. Taskrabbit hit the market as part of the vanguard of the then-new sharing economy trend, and was swiftly adopted by millions of users in their test markets of Boston and San Francisco.
Despite early success, Busque was quick to respond when the pilot model became unwieldy, asking her team “If you started TaskRabbit today, what would the world look like?” Product Manager Andi Jih provided the nucleus of their new setup, where taskers are algorithmically matched with a small selection of taskers.
Busque recently stepped down as CEO, planning to continue part-time giving “help with TaskRabbit’s business development and strategic goals, including meeting with prospective investors.” Former COO Stacy Brown-Philpot succeeded her in April 2016 and made waves with one of her first actions.
Building a strong, diverse and inclusive community is key to any sector’s growth…The community we represent as a company is the United States of America. Our company should represent the USA as well.
Despite the huge inroads made by women workers into the tech industry, sexual harassment remains a major problem. This was underscored recently by Whitney Wolfe’s shocking departure from Tinder, followed by a suit levelled against her co-founder Justin Mateen and CEO Sean Rad.
Wolfe’s experience prompted her to bring a truly female-friendly dating app to the market. Bumble has the same basic interface as Tinder, but with several key differences. Women make the first move, sparing them the usual tidal wave of unsolicited and often uncivil messages that characterizes many other online dating platforms. In addition, Bumble is trialling a “VIBee section” for users who best abide by community guidelines, and have launched a BFF feature to help women find platonic female friends.
Bumble are still newcomers, so are yet to prove their model’s profitability. But Wolfe is confident: their early adoption figures were reportedly even better than Tinder’s, and their gender ratio is close to 50:50. Wolfe points out that women hold the key to one of the knottiest problems in online dating:
“Everyone in the dating business wants to know what women want – it’s the billion-dollar question. But it’s simple: put one in charge and you find out.”
Google’s sixteenth employee, Susan Wojcicki spearheaded Google’s 2006 acquisition of Youtube, which, at the time, was the search engine’s largest ever purchase at $1.65 billion and considered something of a gamble. It paid off.
When she took the helm in 2014, the company was valued at $20 billion. Despite their billion daily views, she refuses to take their success for granted, not only seeking to outcompete other online video platforms, but also working to further expand their advertising empire, and entering the emerging 360 market.
Maternity leave is a particularly stubborn bar to women’s progression in business, and as a mother of five, who was pregnant with her first-born when she joined Google, Wojcicki is uniquely well placed to comment. Like Wood, she believes that offering generous maternity leave helps companies retain high quality employees, pointing out that Google halved maternal quit rates by extending leave from 12 months to 18. She argues from her own experience that returning mothers can represent even more value to a company:
“Best of all, mothers come back to the workforce with new insights. I know from experience that being a mother gave me a broader sense of purpose, more compassion and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently.”
These entrepreneurs leveraged their business instincts and technical ability along with unique insights to break into male-dominated fields and challenge outdated ideas. Their ideas and ways of working are helping to influence and sculpt rapidly changing industries, as well as challenging stereotypes.