The million dollar question – how can we get more women in tech and innovation?

Maria Amelie is an award-winning writer and startup-journalist. She is currently working on her 4th book that is going to be about unknown Norwegian tech startups that have conquered the world. She is also a proud board member in TENK. 

Trondheim is becoming known for its vibrant tech and innovation ecosystem. Their first grassroots innovation week, ‘Trondheim Playground’ took place during the last week of August. While there, I visited Innovator, an Oscar-like event for entrepreneurs in the Trondheim area. I got to be a part of the jury for ‘Young Innovation’ award, which has a goal of supporting female researchers and entrepreneurs under the age of 40.

It was Nuria Espallargas, NTNU’s all-time youngest professor and co-founder of Seram Coatings, who took home the award with amazing merit. She is a fantastic, world-famous researcher.

This year there were over 25 strong candidates nominated for the ‘Young Innovation’ prize, a step up from the 5 nominations in its first year in 2006. It was a truly difficult task to choose a winner. Some of the candidates nominated themselves, which is a good thing because self-promotion is often untypical in both Norwegian culture and for women in general. There were of course men that nominated their female colleagues, or those they mentor. Which is also a good thing, because nobody succeeds in a vacuum without any help.

Too Early To Celebrate

Despite all this positivity, there is still no reason to celebrate gender-equality in science and technology. Not yet. It is still the case that few girls choose STEM-education; not many women work with technology; and there is pretty much a lack of female tech-entrepreneurs in Norway —and worldwide.

A recent study from TNS Gallup and ODA-network for Norwegian women in IT reveals that only one in five of those working in IT are women. Only 10% of developers are women. A study from the Center for Talent Innovation shows that U.S. women working in science, engineering and tech fields are 45% more likely than their male peers to leave the industry within a year. 80% of them say they love their work, but they report experiencing too many barriers to reaching to the top.

Just hire women. Just hire them. This is how you can get more female employees and leaders.

So, the million dollar question is: how can we change this?

I think the answer can be found in the story of Ada Lovelace. She was born in 1915 and was daughter to the famous poet Lord Byron. He was famous, but she became famous mostly due to her math and informatics research. Ada is considered to be the first computer programmer. Her notes on the Analytical Engine are recognized as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. The programming language ‘Ada’ happens to be named after her. Who knows, maybe without her research, it would have taken us a lot longer to be where we are today with our iPhones, java and LOL cats.

So how did she manage to achieve all this in a time when women were not even allowed to study at Universities? The answer is; her mother was interested in mathematics. Several mathematicians tutored young Ada from an early age. Contemporary research shows that children notice their parent’s math-anxieties. It could be one of the causes for why, especially girls early on, foster a negative relationship to math. Ada was lucky to have a mother with a passion for math.

She continued with her studies even after marriage. Her mentor, the researcher Mary Sommerville, introduced her to the famous math professor, Charles Babbage. They became friends, and colleagues, and then they changed the course of history in computer programming. Ada had a mentor, network and means that helped her on her way to change the world.

The Importance of «The Little Things»

This is as equally relevant in 2015 as it was in 1840. The Center for Talent Innovation states that 86% of US women don’t have sponsors, someone who can advocate on their behalf and open doors for them. Many technology companies have understood this. One worth mentioning in Norway is Evry, an IT company who has on average a 23% female employee rate and 25% female leadership, compared to the 19% average in IT. This is a step, but not enough. They have however come a long way working on equality challenges by focusing on networks and mentors for their female employees. It is also ‘the little things’ on their radar – like how many women are on stage during their events, and the discourse about women in the company, and in job advertisements. They collaborate with ‘Operasjon Dagsverk’ and invite young girls from high school to network and learn more about what it is like to work in an IT-company.

I once interviewed a female professor in diversity and business. I asked her the same question: how do we entice more female employees and leaders into work culture?

I had my pen ready to note a long list of tips, but she only said one thing:

“Just hire women. Just hire them. This is how you can get more female employees and leaders. If there are not enough women who apply for your jobs, then go out and find them. Hire those who do not have all the experience you require, and teach them. If you really mean that you want to increase gender diversity – then don’t just talk about it, do something about it”.

The million dollar answer: a little less conversation, a little more action please.


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