Women tech founders need to become thought leaders, and here are key reasons why we need to get rid of subconscious biases

e27.co/kashmira.chawak
female entrepreneurs

While we are working toward better gender equality, there are still some subtle and subconscious biases that we need to address

Two years ago, I was in a room filled with communications professionals when our presenter asked us to name a brilliant orator. Many prominent names were thrown in – politicians, journalists, entertainers and even a dictator. The names kept flooding in till our presenter stopped us to point out that in a class that was about 95% female, not even one of names taken was a woman.

We all think we are above biases. I call myself a feminist, am passionate about gender equality and yet sitting in that class room, I had my “uh-oh” moment.  I had fallen prey to a bias I didn’t know existed in me, and having worked in the technology sector for the past few years, I would be lying if I said this was an isolated incident.

It’s no secret that women are grossly underrepresented in the technology sector, more so if we weigh-in the startup ecosystem. The why’s and how’s of it can be discussed and debated endlessly and yet the fact remains that the industry is miles away from being deemed gender neutral. Gender sensitive policies will never completely work if the mindsets and beliefs of the community stay the same — and who better than women founders who are working in and sometimes, around the system to lead these changes. These changes will be driven not just through gender equality discussions but also by creating and nurturing industry thought leaders.

Also read: Women in engineering: Inspiring stories and sage advice from 3 female Grab engineers

Here are the top three reasons why women tech founders need to be thought leaders today:

Evolving the work culture

According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, a hostile work environment is one of the key reasons for high rate of female turnover in tech companies. The stream of stories like that of Susan Fowler that regularly pop up on our newsfeeds is a testimony to that.

Moreover, biases aren’t necessarily straightforward, and these can be subtle and, sometimes, genuinely stem out of ignorance. While none of this can be changed overnight, it does need fixing. Women founders have the right credentials to be thought leaders and spark conversations around these sensitive issues. Talking about their perspective on gender equality based on personal experiences is extremely important to gradually sensitize the community.

Taking centre stage

I wouldn’t say that there is a shortage of women role models in the industry, but there are women founders who don’t get the visibility they deserve. Sometimes, women founders also tend to shy away from opportunities that come their way.

If you are looking for examples, just drop by at the closest tech event and notice the number of panels that are male dominated. In the last few years, many event organizers are trying earnestly to bring gender balance in their conferences. However, they will tell you that the number of speaker applications that they receive from women is way lesser than that of men. Women founders need to proactively build thought leadership and positively assert equal centre stage opportunities. One of the best ways to sensitize the community about stereotypes and biases is just by “being present” and distinguishing perceptions from reality.

Leading by example

Being thought leaders gives women founders an opportunity to reach out and inspire other women who are looking to be a part of the technology or entrepreneurship ecosystem. Women also tend to gravitate towards working at female-led companies as the environment tends to be more diverse.  Moreover, women founders as thought leaders set great examples for girls examining tech as a career option.

A need for changing perception of female leadership

When you work for a man, you work for your “boss”. When you work for a woman, you work for a “lady boss”. There are innumerable stereotypes associated with working for female bosses. The perennial use of the term “PMSing” synonymously with temper fits, irrespective of gender, is an example of casual sexism at its best.

Also read: Our female founders matter, says the economy

While I wouldn’t want to get into the political correctness of it all, there is a need for change at countless different levels to change our everyday language on these topics. Women founders as thought leaders have the ability to be the face of this change.

We live in the world of “social” where there is always an avenue at hand to express your opinion and emerge as a thought leader. However, it’s starting the “real conversation” that is more difficult. At times, it’s just easier to look away than to change the system. During others, you have had enough, and you break the system to find your way. While we work towards building an ideal gender equal world, and yet strive to run our business in this skewed one, just knowing there are women out there hustling is what makes all the difference!

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Female Founders, a social movement inspiring and supporting tech founders, has organised a session jointly with e27 this Thursday which will give you practical advice on how to write a great thought leadership piece. Join us on 19th April at 6pm. Register here.

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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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