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Female tech leaders talk about what we need to #EmbraceEquity on International Women’s Day


International Women’s Day has adopted the theme #EmbraceEquity for 2023. While it has the implicit, and valuable, message that everyone should welcome and benefit from equality, the fact is society, and the tech sector, is still some distance from true equality.

Data from Dealroom might suggest some good news. Startups with at least one woman co-founder raised £3.6 billion in 2022, eight of them securing over $100 million. But when it comes to unicorns, only 9% of have a female founder. Women, despite being a (slight) majority of the population, seem to be very much the minority when it comes to funding.

TFN asked some high-profile women tech leaders from Europe and beyond for their thoughts on International Women’s Day.

Progress, but not enough

Ruby Pillai, founder of green fintech startup iWarranty, notes that women’s situations have changed drastically, with the initial campaign for liberation in the 1960s and 1970s starting because women lacked control over basic parts of their lives. “Individual power and personal freedom depend on having the kind of society that respects women as a group, one that includes and understands women’s experiences,” she told us. “I believe we have travelled quite far, and I feel as a collective, we are more powerful now than ever before. However, gaps remain large in many areas and among marginalised groups.”

Although we have been wrestling with inequality for generations it has never come close to matching the pace of progress elsewhere. We still have large gender pay caps over 50 years since the first equal pay legislation.

Raquel Velasco, VivaCity’s head of product, suggests inequality at the top is part of the reason. “As women, we have continued to prove our worth in the industry, yet we are still often brushed off and undervalued within the field. Unfortunately, as long as industry leadership is predominantly male, women will continue to struggle with equality.” She suggests areas that need action, “instead of companies being transparent with gender pay gap publications, they need to focus on why it exists and aim to remove the wage gap altogether,” she says. “Instead of policies to prevent the loss of progression due to maternity leave, there must be training and coaching to actively support women post-maternity leave. Until these become the standard, further progress cannot be made.”

This may be partly down to the lack of equal employment. Poornima Ramaswamy, Chief Transformation Officer at Qlik said, “it’s been proven time and time again that diversity in the workplace is not just good for society, but also good for business.” Despite this, women, for whatever reason, are not securing jobs. Ramaswarmy highlighted AI, “currently, only 22% of positions in AI are held by women. It’s imperative we improve these numbers, as there are many potential negative consequences, including perpetuating human biases and further marginalising some sectors of society.”

The need for education

Many pointed to the importance of education in tackling inequality, and some are taking practical steps. Anna Brailsford is CEO of Code First Girls, which offers free coding lessons. “The tech industry is critical for the UK’s economic competitiveness, innovation, and security,” says Brailsford. “But the industry is facing a major skills gap, and as things stand, there will be only one qualified woman for every 115 roles by 2025. Many women face significant barriers to entering the industry, starting at school and continuing throughout their lives.”

Grayce CEO, Jo Matkin shares a similar view, “living in a digital age, no matter what career young professionals enter, candidates are expected to have digital literacy skills. To ensure an equal playing field, we must ensure that girls and women are supported in accessing digital education.” The benefits, of that, however, extend beyond women, she says. “Employers should create an inherently inclusive environment. Employees thrive and do their best work if they feel empowered and supported in their decisions in the workplace.”

Female leaders also point to the need for mutual support. Georgia Hanias, who founded fintech Ecology Media, commented, “my greatest hope is the number of women coming up the ranks who are helping other women to navigate the predominantly male tech landscape.” She cited examples like Innovate Finance and Women in Payments. She also quoted former US Secretary of State Madeline Allbright: “there’s a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.”

Optimism for the future

Perhaps the most important thing for female leaders, though, is to keep fighting. Sascha Beins, Director People and Culture at, said, “my key hope for the journey towards equality across all industries is that we don’t lose sight of why we are fighting for it. Each demographic brings a different approach to decision-making, and it’s crucial all employees are empowered.” She is optimistic about the prospects for diversity. “Although I fear that unconscious biases still play a role in corporate policies, I am confident that the positive structures in place across the technology industry are making a real difference and actively improving diversity.”

Velasco also reflects optimism, “equality is not a zero-sum game, we all win when marginalised groups are seen as equals and treated with respect,” she says. “If there is inequality or discrimination towards one marginalised group, then there will be inequality for all marginalised groups. We must come together as a society to acknowledge and challenge bias and discrimination, to truly achieve equality for all.”

Some leaders pointed to the evidence that during the Covid pandemic, those that stood out as the most effective were women, like New Zealand’s Jacinta Ardern. It underlines a point made by Ruby Pillai, that equality is, really, about empowerment: “without power, women’s needs, hopes, and plans are always secondary to somebody else’s. We, women, need to make a full contribution to society, in every walk of life, without letting gender restrict us. We need to be in a position to make our own choices and to achieve things for ourselves. I chose to be optimistic here.”

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