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Gender equality - What is happening in the tech industry?
by Jocelyn Ho
12 Jul 2017

With its innovative applications and forward-thinking ideas, the tech sector has become one of the fastest growing industries in the world.  Tech companies provide some of the greatest opportunities to make an impact on sustainability issues and are already doing so by contributing to socio-economic development.  As a major facilitator of sustainability initiatives, it is expected that sustainability concepts would also be embedded into their internal operations and implementing gender equality should be a no-brainer.

On the contrary, sexism turns out to be quite prevalent within the industry, with increasing reports of sexual harassment cases surfacing in recent months.  Last month, the CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, resigned as a result of pressure from investors after a series of reports on sexual harassment cases that took place within its operations.  The Uber incident led women at other high-profile tech companies like Tesla and UploadVR to come forward and tell their stories as well.  These cases are not the only problem, as many such reports were mishandled by their internal HR department and upper management, with some cases even resulting in dismissal of the victims.

At Uber, this has caused panic among investors, projected a poor image of the company, and have forced the company to make major changes in their governance structure.  Uber’s case demonstrates how this can indeed significantly impact the return of investment even in large companies.  Consumers nowadays are increasingly concerned with the sustainability performance of their providers, the expectations for operating a sustainable business are high, and promoting gender equality is a necessity. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop here.  Women entrepreneurs in the industry often have difficulty finding investors compared to their male counterparts.  Investors and venture capitalists (VCs) are comfortable with funding “girl stuff” but when it comes to proprietary technologies, women founders are not taken seriously1.  Statistics show that about 38% of new businesses in the US are started by women, but only between 2% and 6% of those founders receive VC funding.  In 2016, venture capitalists invested $58.2 billion in companies with all-male founders. Meanwhile, women received just $1.46 billion in VC money2. As a result, 80% of female tech leaders have had to use their personal savings as their main source of funding in starting a new business3.

The truth of the matter is, the tech industry is dominated by males and has a long way to go in terms of gender equality.  The proportion of women leaders in the tech industry remains low with only 5% of women holding these positions4.  The gender inequality gap still exists in the developed world and the tech industry is a prime example of this.

To close this gap, we must realise and understand the overall benefits of practicing gender equality.  Diversity leads to better problem solving as you have a group of people with differing insights.  Secondly, we must realise the benefits women can bring to business.  Women are perceived as being more honest and ethical and better mentors compared to men.  A gender-diverse workforce also allows the company to serve an increasingly diverse customer base5.  Women-led private technology companies are more capital-efficient, achieving 35 percent higher return on investment.  When venture-backed, they bring in 12 percent higher revenue than male-owned tech companies6.

(Figure source: )

On a positive note, changes can be made more easily than you might think.  Employing women in senior management positions and throughout the organisation can make positive differences in the company and industry.  Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is a perfect example of this.  As one of the top leaders of the company, she has implemented first-of-its-kind initiatives for female employees.  Facebook provides priority parking space for pregnant staff to minimise the walking distance from their cars to the office.  In 2015, Sandberg initiated an egg-freezing policy for female staff – should female staff choose to undergo such a procedure, Facebook would cover USD$20,000 of its cost7.   One year later, other companies like Apple and Google joined the band wagon, changing the way the entire industry views and values women. By improving female staff’s well-being, you create a stable and committed workforce and over-time this translates into monetary benefits.  A study by Peterson Institute for International Economics concluded that for profitable firms, a move from no female leaders to 30% representation is associated with a 15% increase in the net revenue margin8.

Since the release of the Uber scandals, they are now taking steps towards the right direction to address their gender issues.  Since March this year, Uber began voluntarily disclosing employee diversity data on their website9 (Uber is not listed company and have no mandatory requirements to release the information).  Last month, they even announced two new women senior executives to be added to their management team10.   After a hard lesson learned, Uber is now on its way to becoming one of the few tech companies who manages gender equality proactively.

We are seeing two very different approaches between two tech giants, Uber and Facebook.  For Uber, the lack of consideration for women’s rights and improper handling of sexual harassment reports in the past have led to loss of valuable women employees and a tarnished image of the company, leading to high investor risks.  For Facebook, the continuous inclusion of a woman leader has led to increased well-being of female staff and a positive company image.  From these examples, we can see importance of gender equality and its impacts to business.  Although tangible payoffs may not seem obvious in the short-term, the lesson learned from Uber and research data mentioned are proof that proper management of gender equality will lower investor risks, improve company image and employee well-being, retain women staff and hence yield higher return of investment.

1. Why VCs Aren’t Funding Women-led Startups, 2016:

2. Venture Capital’s Funding Gender Gap is Actually Getting Worse, 2017:

3. Why VCs Aren’t Funding Women-led Startups, 2016:

4. The Lack of Women in Tech is More than a P ipeline Problem, 2016:

7. Sheryl Sandberg Explains Why Facebook Covers Egg-Freezing, 2015:

8. Noland, Moran, Kotschwar, 2016.  Is Gender Diversity Profitable?  Evidence from a Global Survey:

9. Uber diversity report, 2017:

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