The gender disparity: COVID-19’s effect on women involvement in the tech startup space

The amount of female tech entrepreneurs in Australia is seeing a gradual increase of 9.6%, following closely behind their male counterparts’ 13.6%. However, COVID-19 has cast a dark cloud on career progressions with only 3.5% of female founders claiming no delays in their careers, as compared to 12.1% of male founders.

Kaspersky’s new women in tech report, where are we now?

Understanding the evolution of women in technology, covers an interesting range of global and region specific statistics of the impact of COVID-19 on women in tech.

The general overview of the effects of COVID-19 on women within the tech space may seem gloomy, but the Australian government has been making an effort to change this view.

With the goal of empowering more female founders, the government launched the Boosting Female Founders Initiative which aimed to provide grants to female founders of startups, in order to scale their businesses into domestic and global markets.

Round 1 of this initiative saw 51 female-founded startup businesses provided with grants that ranged between AU$25,000 and AU$480,000. Beyond government initiatives, the Australian community has actively been encouraging more women to take up roles in the tech industry through supportive organisations, award programs and accelerators.

She Starts is a dedicated startup accelerator program designed to help women entrepreneurs build big tech businesses in Australia which has been around since 2016.

Ventures like these are vital when reports from the startup sector in Australia report women only receive a minor proportion of overall funding when compared to male startups.

Another attempt at bridging the gender gap within the tech industry is The B&T Women Leading Tech Awards.

The awards are looking to recognise the women working whilst trying to give them more awareness. The aim is to inspire more women and young girls to take on roles within the industry and understand that being a leader is very possible.

In Kaspersky’s report, 23.2% of women in Australia were encouraged to pursue a career in IT/tech due to female role models in their community, thus awards may be one way to go.

When you look at the industry in general, the gender gap appears to be closing. But when you take a closer look, you realise there’s still a whole mindset that needs changing.

As women, we’re always facing a bias from men, algorithms, and other women. While there are government grants in place, they come with certain barriers or restrictions in place, making several woman founders ineligible for the same.

Creating an entrepreneurial channel that is friendly towards women and actively encouraging them will attract and inspire a smaller gender gap, according to Noushin Shabab, Senior Security Researcher of Kaspersky ANZ.

Steps could be mapped out in four phases

Phase One: The grassroots level

Women must be targeted while they are young and reminded that working in technology isn’t a deviation from the norm. Organisations like Code Like a Girl were built to help make technology accessible, inclusive, and most importantly, fun.

35.6% of women in Australia already view a role in technology as a clear and established career path and 45% love the added flexibility that comes with it. There just needs to be more activation at the root of the movement i.e. through educational institutions.

Providing incentives and clear pathways for women to pursue technology would be ideal in an educational setting. Giving women a community beyond just the educational sector can also help boost confidence.

Peer support and mentorship can massively help too, which in turn would further aid the movement of supporting fellow women and moving ahead together, instead of fighting solo.

Phase Two: Implement blind hiring practices

In the past few years, there have been increasing calls to improve the representation of women in technology and IT. A recommendation is to implement blind hiring practices that help remove personal biases from the talent acquisition process.

This includes removing identifying information from applications and amending the language in job adverts to eliminate sex bias. Furthermore, ensuring that candidate selection is free from bias through deploying diverse hiring committees instead of individual recruiters to eliminate bias from hiring processes.

Algorithms created by diverse teams can help the candidate’s identification process according to Dr Ronda Zelezny-Co-Founder and Director, Panoply Digital, and Ada’s List member.

Phase Three: Changing mindsets

Breaking gender stereotypes and barriers is a vital step for young women specifically in a male dominated industry. 38.4% of women in Australia still stated that a lack of women in the industry made them wary of starting a career in technology even though 57.2% reported that they’ve noticed the number of women in senior IT/tech roles increase in the last two years.

In most business scenarios, women tend to suffer due to an uneven playing field with expectations to expertly juggle family and children, while handling a job. This inherent mindset leads to men receiving quicker promotions. In a non-Covid environment, leaders can start to think about added flexibility within their workplace.

This could include offering a hybrid working environment, wherein people opt to work certain days in office, and certain days from home. Entirely remote teams as well could benefit from this even playing field, to encourage the growth of women within technology.

Phase Four: Practice what you preach

Close the open-ended loop through added job creation. As the number of women in senior tech roles increase, continue to shine a spotlight on successful female entrepreneurs in educational institutions.

Women in senior positions and female founders ought to support fellow women, and speak up on the process women can take to get success through encouraging incubator and accelerator applications, giving advice, and normalising the process.

As a company, consider hosting partnerships with Universities, targeted at encouraging women to pursue entrepreneurial roles as a form of encouragement. Leverage your financial partnerships with reputable firms to help fellow women if possible.

Kaspersky is a global cybersecurity. Its deep threat intelligence and security expertise is constantly transforming into innovative security solutions and services to protect businesses, critical infrastructure, governments and consumers around the globe.


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