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Overcoming bias in the tech industry

Technology-community-feature

Article provided by Emma Sayle, Founder and CEO Killing Kittens, Safedate and Sistr

It is a stark fact that the tech industry – like so many industries linked to science, technology, maths and engineering (STEM) – remain disproportionately represented by men.

Just 16 per cent of computer science undergraduates in the UK are women, which means there is an automatic gender bias on graduates reaching the big tech companies. This bias continues deep into the economy, with only one fifth of UK businesses currently run by women and only a third of all UK entrepreneurs are female.  Balancing the books on gender is one of the most important challenges facing our society today because without equal opportunities, we put creativity, growth and diversity at risk.

The lack of female business owners and entrepreneurs is not due to lack of talent or aptitude.  Sistr – an all-female dedicated networking site for women in business – is proof that there are plenty of exceptional and talented women who have launched careers and defined new businesses with phenomenal success.  The long-standing bias towards men in the tech industry makes the achievements of these female-led ventures even more remarkable, especially when you consider only one per cent of investment funding goes to women.

But times are changing and whereas women still are very much the minority in the tech and STEM world, more women than ever before are taking advantage of the digital economy and the fact that anyone can start a business from anywhere, anytime.  The traditional playing field has already changed beyond recognition and the old rules no longer apply, which can only mean more opportunities for women as they start to populate male-biased industries and deliver new business models.

Whilst it will take a long time for more equal representation in tech industry and STEM, there is now a wealth of talented and influential female-led communities that are committed to helping women access all areas of business, as well as launching their own ventures.  This support and inspiration is key to helping today’s business-women push past attitude and gender barriers to reach their full and rightful potential.  What is remarkable about these communities, like Sistr, is the number of qualified mentors who have willingly agreed to give up their time to talk to women and share their own experiences of female leadership in business, helping them to navigate the challenges and bias they face in their careers today.

Perhaps one of the most obvious bias that many women will face is that of parenthood, a bias that is prevalent not just in male-dominated sectors but from society as a whole.  Subconsciously or not, there is an assumption that younger, childless women will want to have children and will therefore stop working at some point; whereas women with children are doubted on their ability to manage their career successfully alongside their parenting role.  For older mothers who have decided they want to launch a business, there is an undercurrent of it being seen as little more than a hobby now that they have children and are not in full-time work.

Taking on a male-led industry requires grit and determination because the fact remains that women continue to be unfairly judged on many variables that have nothing to do with their competency and ability to lead a business.  Re-balancing the gender equation in tech is key to creating a work environment that celebrates and supports diversity, rather than making women feel they have to be more ‘male’ in order to succeed.  Women need to have more self-belief in their ability to succeed and this is where a supportive mentor and access to like-minded female-networks can make a powerful difference.

Ultimately, in order to really tackle gender disparity, we need to start from the grass roots up to help educate the next generation that gender is not a barrier to any industry.  There has to be a deliberate and conscious change in dialogue, from the earliest of ages in our homes and schools, to stem the flow of gender-bias reaching the workplace, because if a young woman starts to doubt if she has got what it takes to launch her own business, the damage has already been done.

Emma Sayle featuredAbout the author

Emma is the Founder of Sistr, a platform that enables professional businesswomen to network, offer advice and mentor each other.

Find out more at sistrapp.com. You can also sponsor Emma and the rest of the Sisterhood for their Channel Swim.


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Launching a new platform

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Article provided by Emma Sayle, Founder and CEO Killing Kittens, Safedate and Sistr

The very essence of our online lives – from social media to personal banking- has been built on successful tech platforms, yet so many platforms struggle to deliver on their investment, with an estimated 50 per cent of all UK start-ups failing. 

As women still only represent a significant minority of these start-ups – not to mention only a third of all entrepreneurs in the UK – launching a new tech platform as a woman can be an even greater challenge.

Researching, planning and timing are the cornerstones of a successful launch. First, you need to push aside assumptions and perceptions about what you think your users want and find out exactly what the need is, who is going to use it and why users would want to engage with it.  Take a step back and make sure you have allowed for enough time to research and understand your target audience. It is all too easy to trip up on preconceived ideas that have been badly tested, if at all. Consider that you will feasibly have more than one audience for any given function, and not all users will access the platform in the same way. Ensure that you have considered how your platform will appeal to different user groups.

One of the biggest failures people make when launching tech platforms is not giving enough time to this crucial research stage, as they are often caught up in the pressure and excitement to get the platform up and running.  When we decided to build our Sistr networking platform for women to connect to other women in business, we already knew we had a loyal customer base of clients who recognised that we were 100 per cent committed to female empowerment.  However, we still invested in an initial soft-launch to check our proposition with a smaller group of users. By choosing a niche area like this – in our case it was a group of loyal customers - you can retain a much stronger sense of control instead of trying to launch too broadly in an effort to capture every type of audience.  This is where thinking smaller can really pay off in the first stages of going to launch; you have to be absolutely clear about who you want to attract to the site.

Businesses are only going to know what their audience really wants if they have invested time talking to them in the first place.  Allow plenty of time to really engage in some serious networking to find out what it is that interests them and where that gap between wanting it and having it lies.  We spent over six months talking to our audience but it was worth every minute of the investment because we had 700 members signed up within two weeks of the soft launch.

The importance of this open communication is just as vital after the launch as it is beforehand.  Customer feedback will be the DNA of your platform as you move forward, helping to keep it as user-friendly as possible and with relevant content and easy functionality. We have now surveyed our initial members to find out what they think of the Sistr site and the type of content and services they would like to see in the future.

It is this feedback loop that will ensure the continued relevance of the site to our users. The reciprocal nature of our networking platform meant we not only had to attract women to the site who wanted mentoring and support, we also had to ensure that women offering advice and mentoring ( all for free)  saw the value in giving up their time to others. Getting this balance right between user and provider is another critical success factor for a platform’s longevity.

Not everyone competing in the tech industry is from a traditional tech background and women more than men have long been unrepresented in this area.  My own background was very much off-line, having originally developed Killing Kittens as an events business, so launching into the highly competitive sex-tech industry was a huge learning curve for me. But for every woman who is out there trying to do it, there is a woman somewhere who has already stepped in those shoes and knows exactly what you are going through.

Much more still needs to be done to attract and encourage more women in enterprise whether it is setting up their own businesses or having the confidence to launch a platform.  Things are slowly starting to move in the right direction, thanks in large part to the wealth of knowledge and experience that female networking groups can offer their peers, something which I am extremely passionate about as an integral part in helping women achieve greater representation in business.

This type of supportive infrastructure means greater access than ever before to experts who can help support women with all elements of their business proposition; from helping them develop and perfect their business pitch to putting them in touch with a variety of investors and different funding options. Evidence has shown that a supportive network and peer support have been proven to positively influence the success of new businesses; hopefully as we move forward with greater representation in the tech sector, many of those businesses will start to be female-led.

Emma Sayle featuredAbout the author

Emma is the Founder of Sistr, a platform that enables professional businesswomen to network, offer advice and mentor each other.

Find out more at sistrapp.com. You can also sponsor Emma and the rest of the Sisterhood for their Channel Swim.