female tech entrepreneurs, start ups

Article provided by Murray Morrison, Founder of Tassomai.com

For the past 20 years, I have been working in education and building an edtech company.

It has been a challenging journey, but I know that those challenges would have been all the greater had I been a woman. From the education perspective, I see endemic problems that make me fear we are still a generation away from the women tech entrepreneurs we need.

When our institutions do not nurture diversity, we all suffer.

Beyond the manifest unfairness of the situation, there is an opportunity cost to society as a whole. We currently live in a world where the things we use each day have been built by men. Because they have been built by men, they are – consciously or not – designed for men.

Changing this picture would mean more women in tech creating better products that serve all of our needs better. And a more balanced tech ecosystem will accelerate the virtuous circle – the more women tech entrepreneurs there are, the more there will be in future. 

But to do so means not only changing the way we hire staff, but the way we fund businesses, the way we develop and train our people, and the way we support our schools and teachers in developing a curriculum for the society we wish to see. 

Our education system is not set up for creating WTEs

The received wisdom is that, for anyone to forge new ideas in tech, they should have a background in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects. 

Of students studying these subjects in the UK, girls are a disproportionate minority. Particularly maths and physics where, beyond GCSE, the number of girls attenuate heavily. In a subject like computing – of increasing importance to our developing workforce – girls represent around 20 per cent of exam entrants. This is perpetuated by the inevitably skewed gender balance of the teaching profession in those subjects.

We could blame the damaging cultural stereotype of maths or physics intrinsically not being “for girls”, but there’s another aspect: in subjects that depend upon the recall and application of facts to formulaic questioning, there’s a lingering perception of ‘maleness’ to the approach that I fear leads girls to think they don’t belong. Contrast with languages, literature or humanities: here, learning follows a more discursive, socratic model of discussion and development of ideas. It’s easy to see how, as a society, we falsely impose our constructs of each gender’s strengths to draw the conclusion that STEM subjects are for boys.

Finally, the reality of the mixed classroom environment too easily draws the teachers’ attention, for better or worse, on certain students. Those who have their hands up with answers – or cause trouble with disruptive behaviour – are the ones who get the most attention. It’s not surprising that girls suffer in that dynamic – though schools around the country are constantly striving to mitigate this issue.

At Tassomai, we provide a self-quizzing app as a means for any student to practise and improve their knowledge. Schools frequently tell us that the major beneficiaries are those who previously may not have felt they could succeed in STEM subjects. But while edtech may be helping, this is a tiny dent in a bigger problem – one that will only truly be fixed if we can review the curriculum to better suit more diverse learning styles and recruit women to teach subjects like computer science.

Too few workplaces nurture female talent

Beyond education, our workplaces are still not set up to pull through female talent, starting with recruitment, and continuing through company culture. 

Most job advertisements have long lists of requirements for the potential applicant. It is likely that a male applicant who satisfies more than half of those requirements will take a punt, but  women are less likely to apply if they cannot confidently tick all the boxes. 

In light of that, we changed our hiring process to list only the most essential requirements, and focus instead on attracting a range of applicants with our development-focused culture; the result was a far healthier recruitment process.

In tech-related companies, where women hires are the exception, it’s no fun being one of those pioneers. Whereas men are afforded flexibility to learn from mistakes, women have to be far more conservative in their approach if they fear an error will make them vulnerable in the eyes of their colleagues. Meanwhile, as in schools, the misguided assumption that men have more aptitude for logical, iterative and focused work draws them into emerging career paths like data science and product design but diverts female talent away.

Unfortunately, it’s entirely that approach – developing analytical skills, learning from mistakes and turning potential embarrassment into the next innovation – that fosters the entrepreneurial spirit. If we cannot improve the hiring and working practices of our businesses, we risk holding female talent back and reducing the success of our organisations – and the future organisations that spring from them.

Business creation is not (currently) for girls

It’s clear to me how much of what I have achieved was made easier by virtue of my being male. I’ve been given trust by employers and investors; I’ve been granted authority before I was ready and had my mistakes indulged as I learned how to do better. I’m reminded of Ginger Rogers’ remark that she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards – and in heels. I understand how fortunate I’ve been.

From my vantage point in education technology, I see the work beginning in schools to support more girls in pursuit of tech careers. Employers need to demand more from all of our institutions – and ourselves – to accelerate these initiatives. 

As an economy, and as a society, we will all benefit from more women entrepreneurs in tech, but to get there still requires sustained, systemic change. We must continually remind ourselves of our need to improve the world, to define a new normal, and to have the stamina to keep pushing, at every institutional level, for change.

Murray MorrisonAbout the author

Murray Morrison is a leading education and revision expert. He is an edtech entrepreneur and the founder of Tassomai.com, the UK’s leading online learning programme used in school’s.