gender equality, gender balanceAs the CEO of  fast-growing AI health company, Feebris, Dr Elina Naydenova is one of the 5% of women holding leadership positions within the technology sector.

Here she explores the various factors which prevent women from entering the tech industry and what can start-ups do to pioneer change. She explains how and why she feels it is important to build a company culture, particularly in tech, that is consistently meritocratic, flexible and above all inclusive.

The Lack of Diversity in Tech

The technology sector remains a male-dominated industry – only 9% of tech workers in the UK are women. While the UK’s start-up scene is at the forefront of global innovation, the industry lags behind when it comes to equal representation.

The make-up of the workforce today continues to influence it’s inclusivity tomorrow by compounding  barriers to entry for women. From lack of female role models within notable organisations (only 5% of tech leaders are women), to extremely poor representation of people of colour in leadership positions, there are a number of entrenched issues  preventing new entrants into tech.

The Original Script

The rapid growth of the digital health industry provides a significant opportunity for new skilled employment (and economic growth) but these opportunities haven’t been realised for a broader group.

The script girls are brought up and educated with rarely includes being an engineer, a computer scientist, a leader in tech. I know it didn’t for me – I was told that science is what boys are usually good at and that girls normally focus on the “softer subjects”. When I reached the final round of the National Physics Competition, I was the only girl in the room. In my Maths & Physics degree, <10% of my colleagues were female. Unsurprisingly, only 3% of young women consider a career in the tech sector as their first choice (Pwc, 2017).

This is something that, as a scientist and technology leader, I am passionate about changing.

Building Diverse Teams and Products is Strategic

By limiting a team’s diversity, we limit its creativity. If we want to create products & services which are used by people of all ages, genders and ethnicities, then their makers need to represent our diverse society. This is perhaps even more important in healthcare than most other industries. We have a responsibility to embed inclusivity and accessibility in the products we develop and we can only achieve this if our teams blend diversity of views, experiences and perspectives.

Yet, it’s easier said than done. Ninety-five percent of the software engineering candidates are male. And when you are a start-up operating at 100 miles per hour, it’s easy to compromise on diversity aspirations in favour of efficiency. But these small compromises for short-term gains can grow into big issues for company culture. So go the extra mile, turn every corner to try and break the vicious cycle.

Changing the Script

Creating cultural change in organisations which were built in a different cultural era is extremely hard. I have experienced the many facets of an ingrained conservative belief system that feels threatened by diversity – in academia, big industry, international development. I have been told that “I should smile more to make my male boss happier” and that “I am not supposed to have ideas”.

Research suggests that if tech companies want to attract and retain women, they need to recognise the role their policies and culture play in causing inequality, and they need to pursue organisational change. Work in the area is ongoing and it has now been shown that the implementation of wider recruitment strategies, specific and measurable performance evaluation criteria, and transparent procedures for assigning reward can all be effective means of promoting gender equality.

As a mission-led start-up, we are in a privileged position – diversity is baked into our DNA. We choose to hire individuals who are driven to address inequalities in healthcare access.

A third of our workforce are female and we continue to remain curious and open-minded about where our next generation of female colleagues comes from. We’ve actively coached and brought women into the business from other sectors including academia and the world of social impact and we value this as a driver for our creativity and competitive advantage. There is still so much for us to do but we are actively working to create an inclusive and diverse working environment and hope we can inspire others to do the same.

To find out more about feebris or contact Elina, please email: [email protected]

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