By Ekaterina Smirnova, Executive Director of the Aurora Tech Award

The underrepresentation of women in the tech industry is not just a gender issue; it’s keeping both economic prosperity and innovation at bay, hindering progress.

Recent studies, including the figures unveiled in Atomico’s State of European Tech report, reveal a persistent and troubling gender disparity: all-women founding teams garnered a mere 3% of all venture capital funding in 2023. Even more concerning, this figure has barely shifted from 2019. Mixed-gender teams fared slightly better, receiving 15%, but a staggering 82% of funding flowed to all-male teams.

Sadly, such disparities are a global phenomenon that’s not unique to Europe. In the U.S., just 2.1% of venture capital (VC) funding was awarded to female-founded startups, according to Ernst & Young (EY). Accessing capital is such a major challenge for women founders that they only accounted for 15% of U.S. technology startups in 2022, and women entrepreneurs continue to face significant barriers around fundraising and other key areas today, particularly within the tech industry.

In emerging markets, where capital is harder to access for all startups, compared with their European or U.S. peers, this problem is even more pronounced for female founders. Our research suggests that the share of VC funding that goes to women-founded startups in developing countries hovers around just 1%. This underscores the necessity of initiatives like the Aurora Tech Award, which spotlights and supports women tech founders in emerging markets. Such initiatives provide recognition, guidance and financial awards, serving as beacons of hope and recognition for women in tech. Perhaps even more importantly, they provide a crucial lever in correcting a systemic imbalance.

The Aurora Tech Award, founded in 2021 by a US-based global mobility and urban services platform inDrive, unveiled this week its 2024 shortlist of women tech startup founders, who are actively challenging gender bias in the tech industry. The shortlisted finalists were chosen from 649 applications from 102 countries, a record-breaking number of applicants, which doubled compared with a year earlier.

All of the 20 shortlisted finalists are helping their communities in some way, with AI-enabled and health-focused startups dominating the list. For example, Daniella Castro, Co-founder and CTO of Huna, is working to provide accessible AI-based solutions for early cancer detection and the detection of various chronic diseases in Brazil, while Botswana’s Sarah Molema, Founder of Deaftronics, is using solar-powered hearing aid technology to help people in developing countries combat hearing loss. In Nigeria, Folake Owodunni’s Emergency Response Africa is working to make healthcare more accessible across the continent.

Looking at these and other inspiring companies on the Aurora Tech Award’s shortlist this year brings home the idea that supporting women founders in tech goes beyond rectifying gender inequity. Diverse leadership brings diverse perspectives, leading to more innovative and inclusive products and solutions.

Research by McKinsey & Company highlighted that companies with gender-diverse executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability. Ignoring half of the world’s talent pool limits the potential for breakthroughs and hinders economic growth. Women-led startups, often driven by a unique understanding of diverse consumer needs, have demonstrated remarkable resilience and innovation, even in challenging markets.

Moreover, the ripple effect of supporting women in tech leadership positions is profound. Female role models in leadership positions inspire more women and girls to pursue careers in STEM fields, thereby addressing the gender gap right from the educational pipeline. Initiatives like the Aurora Tech Awards not only provide financial support but also mentorship, networking opportunities, and visibility — all crucial elements for a startup’s growth and success.

The tech industry, known for its disruptive and innovative ethos, must lead by example in disrupting its own gender biases. This involves reexamining recruitment, promotion, and funding processes to ensure they are equitable. It also means creating an environment where women can thrive, including offering flexible working conditions, support for parental responsibilities, and addressing any form of discrimination or harassment.

I truly believe that the underrepresentation of women in tech entrepreneurship is not just a statistic; it’s a reflection of lost opportunities — for innovation, economic growth, and societal advancement. Initiatives like the Aurora Tech Awards are vital in addressing this imbalance, but they cannot operate in a vacuum. A concerted effort from investors, corporations, and governments is essential to create a more inclusive and equitable tech ecosystem. By supporting and empowering women founders, we’re not just championing gender equality; we’re investing in a more diverse, innovative, and prosperous future for all. I look forward to doing my part with the Aurora Tech Award, which will announce its 2024 winner on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Stay tuned!

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