Our female founders matter, says the economy

Katarina Uherova Hasbani
women in startups an tech in asia

We want to inspire, support and connect tech enabled women entrepreneurs and those just thinking of walking down this path with the tools and network they need to succeed

Something is in the air. Or it’s in the water. Whatever it is, it seems contagious and everyone has it: The fever of women empowerment.

Spearheading – if not symbolizing – this movement, are women in seats of power. Right here at home, we boast a thriving community of women who have broken barriers and stereotypes in the conventionally male-dominated fields of tech and business.

We’ve spoken to a few women techpreneurs in Singapore to find out first, what is it like to be them?

Step into our sneakers and stilettos

Roshni Mahtani, founder of theAsianparent, recalls that a few years back, she would often be overlooked in meetings with her business counterparts while her junior male employees would be asked questions. Few years forward, she is heading today an international business across several countries with several millions (SGD) in VC funding.

Carmen Benitez, Founder of FetchPlus recounts that in the early days of running her company, she would feel pressured to wear tight dresses in order to get meetings with important male decision makers. If she did not dress well (read: femininely), she knew that she would not be able to score those valuable initial meetings and close deals.

Of course, there are the questions: Where are your children when you stay late at work? What do your husband/parents/children think about you running a business? What about combining work and motherhood?

Try these numbers on for size

Research confirms that women are doing what needs to be done by pursuing active careers.

Economically, we will all lose if women are not professionally active. As a region, East Asia and the Pacific reportedly losse between US$42 billion to US$47 billion annually due to women’s limited access to employment opportunities based on the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum.

Businesses see an advantage to keep women in the workforce. A study of over 800 retail and hospitality companies by Gallup found that, “retail units that are diverse and engaged have a 46 per cent higher increase in comparable revenue.”

This is true also for start-ups. Women entrepreneurs report higher average annual sales, US$9.1 million versus men entrepreneurs at US$8.4 million based on BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneurialism Report. Babson College, a reference on the topic of women-led start-ups, reports that businesses with a female executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both 1st (more than 64 per cent higher) and last funding (more than 49 per cent) higher than those led by men.

Women themselves recognise the need and power that comes with a seat at the table. And there is one table that offers particularly rewarding opportunity for the future: The Table of Tech and Digital Entrepreneurship.

Also Read: 4 reasons to hire women in your startup

In today’s age of unicorns, technology-driven companies offer niche precision at a global scale. It can open markets regardless of its physical location. Technology itself, as a tool, is gender neutral. It offers opportunities.

Women already drive an estimated 70-80 per centof consumer spending with their purchasing power and influence. Women in Singapore do not shy away from online usage. Women and men use Facebook almost equally in the age group of 15 to 55 years old: 48.3 per cent of women and 51.7 per cent of men.

Yet, recent studies are alarming on the prospects of women globally, unless more gender parity is achieved. If current gender gap ratios persist from now until 2020, says the World Economic Forum, there will be “nearly one new STEM job per four jobs lost for men, but only one new STEM job per 20 jobs lost for women” because of disruptive labor changes.

We need to include women at the center of the future digital economy to allow our businesses to perform better. What is stopping us from getting there?

At the view from 20 thousand feet above, we can see the destination. The goal is clear: More women succeeding in the digital space. But when one gets closer to the ground, reality hits and change feels slow. While the wave of change is seemingly racing across the world, on the ground, it feels like we’re wading through water, struggling to put one foot in front of the other.

To reach a destination, we need personal stamina, teamwork, and also practical essentials like maps to tell us when we need to change course, which route is most efficient, and when we need to chart a new path.

There are the cultural unspoken practices of gender roles, societal expectations of motherhood that creep into our decision making, and the concerns that pop into every woman’s mind: How do I maintain my career velocity as life’s realities hit? Does it boil down to skills I have or don’t or need to learn? Or is it out of my control — perhaps a lack of support infrastructure like affordable childcare?

There is a reason why Bain & Company found in its 2014 survey that women start off with the same amount of motivation to reach top management as men, but within the first two years, that motivation drops for more than 60 per cent while it remains the same for men.

Which are the hurdles that if solved, make the path that much easier to walk? Which are the tunnels that we need to blast to cross to the other side?

Finding answers, together

Progress made in places like Scandinavia provide some insight into our hurdles, but are there hurdles specific to Asia? To Southeast Asia? To Singapore, even? What maps, tools, and survival kits do female technology entrepreneurs need here in Singapore? What do we need to do as a society to help this group race to the pinnacle?

Also Read: Why women and tech are a rocking combination

These are the questions Female Founders wants to answer. We want to inspire, support and connect tech enabled women entrepreneurs and those just thinking of walking down this path, with the tools and network they need to succeed.

Our vision is to make tech entrepreneurship accessible to any woman who has the right tech or digital idea

If you are or used to be a female entrepreneur who works in a technology driven business, this is a call-to-action for you: Be part of the wave of change and help clear the fog on the ground by contributing to the Female Founders Entrepreneurs Survey.

To build the right tools, policies, infrastructures, we need to know what we’re tackling. Completing this survey will help focus our programmes, tools, and direction for action.

Change makers aren’t just the bold ones. Anyone can be a change maker. As you charge forward on your entrepreneurial path, relay what you see and what you experience back to base camp. Help your fellow marchers. And together, we will scale Mount Everest.

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Female Founders team:

Roshni Mahtani, Meri Rosich, Joanna Catalano, Rupen Desai, Katarina Hasbani, Kerry Brown, Kashmira Chawak, Laura Green Wilkinson, Lavannya Sirimanne, Yinmei Ho, Ruoshan Tao, Ami Iwakami, Edel Horgan, Padmini Pandya, Noemie Alintissar

Thanks to Erin Chen for co-authoring.

 

 

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here.

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