Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Ireland Can Lead the World in Bridging Gender Gap in Tech

Ireland could become a global leader by involving more women in its tech sector.  That’s according to Ann O’Dea, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Republic, which today (30.06.14) held the inaugural Female Founders Forum in Dublin.

Commenting at the event, Ms. O’Dea said: “Many countries are vying to become world leaders in tech, and Ireland is no exception.  What could really give us the competitive edge is if we focused strongly on encouraging more women into technology, engineering and science. 

“This debate is often framed in the context of gender equality.  But it’s not just about ideals; the truth is it makes good business sense for the tech sector to become more inclusive.  International research has shown that women-led tech companies are more successful than those led by men, achieving 35 per cent higher return on investment.  Furthermore, it’s predicted that women will be a bigger market for tech products and services than men within the next five years, and the best way to tap into this market is by ensuring women hold senior roles in tech companies. 

“One of the key messages from today’s Female Founders Forum is that the investment community and the wider business community need to wake up and realise the potential of proactively ensuring talented women are encouraged to enter and remain within the industry.  At present, the majority of venture capitalists and angel investors are missing a trick by not backing ambitious female-led enterprises.  There are major financial gains to be had if women are encouraged to found tech start-ups and consider careers in tech.”

According to Ms. O’Dea, only five per cent of venture capitalists and approximately 15 per cent of angel investors are women.  “The system for accessing finance, for pitching for investment – that has often been designed by men for men,” she said.  “And it’s no surprise, when the majority of investors are male, that the investment community is more likely to back companies founded by men.  It is just a reality that we are often drawn to people who resemble ourselves.  This is no different when it comes to investment.  It’s also why we need to encourage more successful women to become investors.”

Opportunities for Investment Community
“However, I believe Ireland has the potential to really lead the way in bridging the gender gap in tech and the wider STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] sectors,” Ms. O’Dea continued.  “We are small enough, nimble enough and flexible enough to make change quickly.   We have a thriving start-up culture, and many of the world’s biggest names in tech located here.  We are also increasingly attracting attention from the global investment community, so we have an opportunity to change traditional patterns of behaviour, and to convince investors of the benefits of funding female-led enterprises.”

According to Ms. O’Dea, women make up only 25 per cent of those working in research, tech and science in Ireland, with some of the more technical roles attracting even lower proportions of women.  Only 10 per cent of engineers are female, for example, while for roles such as developers and programmers that figure is even lower. 

“One reason that’s often cited for the under-representation of women in these sectors is a lack of female role models,” she said.  “At Silicon Republic, we have been running a campaign for the past 18 months focused on highlighting talented women in STEM.  What became apparent quite quickly is that, in Ireland, there are remarkable women doing amazing things in these sectors.  In our view, the problem isn’t so much the lack of role models; it’s more that these role models have not traditionally been seen.

“In order for girls to consider a career in STEM, they need to see more great women entrepreneurs in the media and as speakers at major industry events.  People can’t aspire to be something they can’t see.”

Keynote Speakers from Eventbrite and Global Invest Her
The keynote speakers at the Female Founders Forum included Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite, which was recently valued at US$1 billion; and Anne Ravanona, founder and CEO of Global Invest Her, which focuses on getting women entrepreneurs funded faster and increasing gender diversity at work.

A host of Irish female entrepreneurs participated in the event, including: Sonya Lennon, co-founder of Frockadvisor; GrĂ¡inne Barron, CEO and founder of Viddyad; and Lenora O’Brien, founder of Pharmapod.  Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, and Geraldine McCarthy, one of the most senior employees in Dropbox in Ireland, spoke at the event, while the investment community was represented by Dr. Helen McBreen, the only female member of NDRC’s Investment Committee and Dr. Ena Prosser, a Partner with Fountain Healthcare Partners, an Irish-based life science venture capital fund.

100 Top Women in STEM
After the Female Founders Forum, a special reception celebrating 100 Top Women in STEM is being hosted by Silicon Republic.  Guests at the reception will include: Bethany Mayer, one of the most senior figures in HP’s global operations, and founder of the Women’s Innovation Council in the US; Louise Phelan, Vice-President at PayPal; Regina Moran, CEO of Fujitsu Ireland; Anne Kelleher, Vice-President at Intel; and many of the other women included on Silicon Republic’s recently-published list of 100 top women in STEM.