How women entrepreneurs can be empowered to shape the digital future

Sibel Kulaksiz and Talal Rafi

Women were largely excluded from the first, second, and third industrial revolutions, leading two centuries of economic domination by men. The foundations for the fourth are digital and being laid right now. The absence of women would be a major blow to closing the gender gap in the 21st century.

Women score better than men in most leadership skills and in key skills such as problem solving and innovation. Yet, only 7.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. Women entrepreneurs tend to be in sectors that are less profitable and less capital intensive. The world is losing due to gender inequality. Advancing women’s equality, in a best case scenario can add as much as US$28 trillion according to McKinsey & Company.

Digital gender divide

There is a profound digital gender divide in the world. The share of women leaders in the UK tech sector stands at just 5 percent. The 2018 OECD report showed that 327 million fewer women than men have a smartphone and can access the mobile Internet. Women are constrained by the lack of digital resources, lack of financial resources, and fear of online safety. Socio-cultural thinking discourages women to set foot in the tech sector.

Influencing the 21st century

The tech industry will continue to bring change in habits and behaviors and will create significant wealth. Tech companies have already changed our lives in many ways and they are at the forefront of bringing in the new trends. The absence of women entrepreneurs in the tech sector will lead to a digital world being designed for the 21st century without female leadership.  With 60 percent of the global GDP set to be digitized by 2022, it is critical for women entrepreneurs to get on board.

What is needed to close the digital gender gap?

More women in the tech sector will help address the issues women face and can lead to more women tech entrepreneurs

As more women work in the tech sector, they will build experience to later start their own tech startups. Extending digital knowledge, access and providing connected devices to lower income females will be impactful. Regulations should be placed to have companies introduce a minimum quota for women hired. Tax incentives should be given to companies in the tech sector who support greater gender equality. In the US, only 24 percent of workers in the tech sector are female. A gender certification process for companies giving opportunities for women could be brought in by governments.

Women have to be digitally upskilled with edtech solutions 

Women entrepreneurs need to upskill fast as many of the future businesses will be in a digitally transformed state. E-Learning requires 40-60 percent less time which is a great opportunity for all. For example, Coursera, UdaCity and EdX are effective open online courses. Edtech provides E-Learning platforms that leverage digital technologies to access educational curriculum. Quizlet is an online application which allows students to learn various subjects through games and learning tools using AI powered tutoring. Top Hat is another great tool for managing online learning.

Boardroom representation of women has to be increased to give more leadership roles to women

Globally, women hold around 17 percent of corporate board seats. Research shows women are better in most leadership skills than men but still only 5.3 percent of Board Chairs are women. Furthermore, women entrepreneurs are discriminated against when seeking loans and investments. There must be a concerted effort to have more women on the corporate boards of banks and venture capital firms, and to mobilize funding for women entrepreneurs.

Tech incubators and accelerators have to be inclusive for women entrepreneurs with scalability and ecosystem support

Most women owned businesses are smaller in size. Tech accelerators should be inclusive to give the resources, investment and guidance for women entrepreneurs to scale up. A UK government study showed that over 60 percent of startups say having been in an accelerator was vital for their success. Governments and international organizations could help women entrepreneurs work with global accelerators based in Silicon Valley.

Women tech role models have to be promoted to empower the next generation of women to enter the tech sector

A 2017 PwC survey found that 78 percent of students could not name a famous woman working in the tech sector. Only 3 percent of females in the UK say a career in tech is their first choice. Development organizations, business corporations and the media have to promote successful women tech entrepreneurs and make them role models.

Without robust actions, progress toward gender equality will be unacceptably slow. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report, it will take 257 years to achieve economic gender parity. Closing this gender gap faster should be a global priority  which can only be achieved through bold actions by all international partners.

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