Issues such as a lack of mentorship for women in tech, the scarcity of investment into female-owned startups, and barriers to entry due to traditional gender roles all came under the spotlight at the solution-oriented Women in Tech webinar recently hosted by Cape Town / Stockholm Connect (CSC).
Opening the event, Lara Rosmarin, Head of Entrepreneur Development and Incubation at the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi), said:
“We know that there are various economic benefits to advancing female workplace equality, and although some improvements have been made to advance women in tech, more needs to be done.
To change the way that talent is developed and deployed in today’s world requires the undoing and re-learning of age-old thought processes, and the formation of new norms and values, especially in education systems and labour markets.”
Next up, the Swedish Minister for Foreign Trade and Nordic Affairs, Anna Hallberg, shared that it is crucial to increase female participation in a male-dominated sector like the tech industry where many new jobs are likely to appear in the future.
“Equality makes economic sense. We need to make it easier for women to establish fast-growing startups, gain access to financing, and start exporting.”
Representing the Directorate for Economic Opportunities & Asset Management at the City of Cape Town, Faith Kolala added:
“We support women in tech as well as women in business generally because we want to ensure equality, gender parity, and employment for women. We also want to ensure that women are taking part in the economies of the future.”
Providing a Swedish perspective, Michaela Berglund, CEO of Feminvest, revealed that only 1% of private equity is going towards female entrepreneurs in Sweden and that women globally typically ask for smaller rounds than their male counterparts when looking for funding. “We need to put pressure on investment firms to increase these numbers. We also need education in schools to encourage both young women and young men early on to take risks.”
Sharing a South African perspective, Suraya Hamdulay, VP of Strategy at 2U, said that women must be at the centre of technology integration as they are the biggest beneficiaries of tech intervention.
She added that women need to be paid adequately and equally, and should have proportionately more access to skills, knowledge and training, as well as access to opportunities for progression, within organizations.
“We need to put pressure on organizations and urge them to be far more thoughtful and deliberate about how they use existing programmes to actually advance women participation.”
On this point, Carolina Emanuelson, Partner Manager at Hack for Earth Foundation, noted that business leaders need to see inclusion as different competencies, perspectives and skills adding value to their companies and that these can actually contribute to the rise of a company, especially in the tech sector.
“If Sweden is to continue being one of the leading countries in the world when it comes to innovation, we can’t afford to exclude women from the tech scene. Inclusion should be a strategic choice for companies and organizations.”
With women entrepreneurs needing an enabling environment to thrive, Matsi Modise, Founding CEO of Furaha Afrika Holdings; Vice Chairperson of SiMODiSA; and Chairperson of the South African Startup Act Steering Committee, shared how a South African Startup Act could be beneficial.
“By influencing policy and engaging government stakeholders, this could remove some of the barriers that are currently inhibiting technology startups and make it easy for them to stay in South Africa.”
A highlight of the event was the panel discussion on ‘The Importance of Role Models in Encouraging Young Women into the Tech Sector.
During the discussion, Alison Collier, Managing Director of Endeavor South Africa, shared that, across Endeavor’s portfolio of 30 entrepreneurs, 80% of the jobs created over the last three years were by businesses led or co-founded by women.
“There’s a very active focus from these founders to invest in women and to upskill and train the females in their teams. We need to share these positive stories and shine a light on role models who are doing wonderful things in the market today.”
The event culminated with a panel discussion on ‘Financing Female Startups – The future of women in tech and how we get there’. Dare Okoudjou, CEO & CO-founder of MFS Africa (and one of only two male speakers invited) shared:
“Would you, as a business leader, cut yourself off from half of the workforce? If you get women into leadership, they attract other women, who then attract other women, going all the way down the rungs of a business.”
Bringing the webinar to an official close, Rupa Thakrar Bagoon, Acting Country Manager for Business Sweden South Africa, said: “This event is just the start of something bigger.”
It is envisaged that, in the long term, the discussions arising from the event will lead to intensified networking and cross-border collaboration between Swedish and South African female-owned startups and entrepreneurs.
“Diversity and the inclusion of more women in the tech industry cannot be part of a one-time campaign. To achieve this, continuous work needs to be done to develop, maintain and cultivate it.
We must also celebrate female tech leaders, ensure that young girls have strong role models in the form of other successful women, and make sure that women have a seat at the table so they can engage men on the topic of gender equality,” concluded Wesgro’s Acting CEO, Yaw Peprah.
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