Story by Gary Stevens
Despite being synonymous with innovation and progress, the IT and tech industry has a big deep-rooted problem: A boardroom gender gap.
While it is true that positive patterns are beginning to appear – especially in the Nordics – we still have a long way to go. The tech industry is thriving again, but women are lagging behind in the sector, highlighting the diversity problem in the sector.
The Nordic startup ecosystem includes risk-takers who view failure as an opportunity and have pioneered advocating for gender equality on the political, economic, and societal fronts. And now, it has shifted its focus towards the IT sector.
The Nordic Startup and the Diversity Gap – What Is Happening
When exploring entrepreneurship and innovation in the Nordic region, you will come across several inspiring stories about the movers and shakers in the ecosystem. These countries have developed several successful billion-dollar startups, such as Skype, Spotify, and Klarna.
What is the reason behind their tremendous success, though?
You see, Nordic leaders have created a very close cluster despite comprising multiple different countries thanks to low levels of border control. The aim is to make the region feel like a neighborhood by bonding over shared cultural history and language similarities.
But it doesn’t mean that the system is flawless.
Many fintech startups have pledged to bring more women in the industry since only 20% hold executive roles currently. In fact, a Sifted study found out that Europe is still behind the global average for female roles. It is only Spain that meets the global average for female representation at 25%.
TransferWise and Monzo have both taken the initiative to appoint females to leadership roles. While the former has pledged that 40% of senior leadership roles will be female by 2021, the latter has signed the Women in Finance Charter that seeks to fill up at least 40% of the executive committee and board with women by 2020.
More good news is that women have far more options to pursue a tech-based career due to the high number of online programs and courses in cybersecurity, web design, and data science that are currently available. These kinds of programs result in over 90% of graduates working in in-field within six months of graduating, and are designed to give students the skills and experience needed to work in real-world data problems.
We’ll discuss more about these kinds of courses in the next section.
Initiatives Taken by Nordic Startups to Solve the Lack of Diversity in the Tech Niche
The pragmatic Nordic ecosystem has created its own solution to becoming the change in the region and beyond, and present the best public face possible to inspire others.
The following are a few initiatives taken by the new group of Nordic start-ups to tackle the current lack of gender diversity:
Women who desire to become developers should know about SmartCoding, which offers programming courses for women of all ages. This site is supported by Stockholm-based companies like Nordea Bank, Fintech Unicorn Klarna, and MRG Gametek, and allows women to take up evening courses to learn ‘ultra learning’ teaching methods.
Ultra learning is a practice-based and solution-oriented method, focusing on intensive learning. Courses offered include two different levels – beginner or junior – depending on the knowledge level of the applicants.
SmartCoding also seeks to help individuals understand how to resolve practical programming challenges when working on real-time IT projects using different resources, and both online and stationery. This can be especially helpful as many companies today are opting to send data to “the cloud“ for accounting purposes, development, allocation of tasks, and so on.
This started as an initiative of just 16 participants in April 2017, but by the first quarter of 2020, Coding Girls grew to more than 5000 participants.
Recently, IT vendors have been more open to collaboration, amplifying the need for digital transformation. Coding Girls is the perfect representation of this principle being a combination of local communities, an e-learning platform, and leadership programs to support female participants to learn and enhance their programming skills.
The initiative doesn’t offer any structured ultra learning coding courses, and neither does it utilizes any hardware component for training purposes. Instead, Coding Girls prioritizes soft networking in the form of fireside chats, workshops, meetups, and hackathons.
Contrary to SmartCoding, imagiLabs has been specifically created for teenagers in a bid to arouse the interest of females in ICT and programming. It gives the participants the opportunity to join experienced programmers and get first-hand experience in summarizing a programming process in its entirety – from the idea to the execution level.
imagiLabs has also launched an innovative product called imagiCase, which involves the creation of mobile platforms for coding education – all the while being coupled to customizable hardware devices.
With the trend of teaching kids how to code becoming more relevant, imagiLabs can certainly be an excellent option for parents to consider. The fact that the coding concepts are combined with visual representations makes the experience more tangible and appealing to female teenagers.
Additionally, the prototype is already in place. It’s a phone case with embedded LED lights that can be programmed to display color, text, design through programming with the imagiCase mobile app.
Tips to Fix the Diversity Problem in the Tech Industry
Startup owners need to recognize the importance of diversity and how it’s more complex than we often give it credit for. In the case of Nordic entrepreneurs, the realization is already there, but more efficient steps have to be taken.
Drafting Well Laid Out Plans
In many ways, we’re fortunate to live in the times that we do. There are more online business opportunities than ever before, including ecommerce, web design and development, dropshipping, and online teaching, among others. With all of these business opportunities that exist, it’s amazing if anything that the lack of gender diversity in tech startups even exists.
After all, business owners instinctively put a lot of thought when choosing an online business that is profitable and suitable according to their needs. The same focus and initiative need to be channeled when dealing with diversity.
At the same time, startup owners need to think of practical ways to successfully implement strategies that fit their budget and time constraints. After all, ensuring that every team member feels included in the life of the business isn’t an easy feat.
Taking Action After Careful Planning
While doing all the talk about creating a diverse task force is great, it’s equally important to actually do the walk.
Nordic startups need to make the required changes in their hiring, evaluation, and promotion processes, along with drafting internal policies that create more diversity. Removing the hiring bias, in particular, needs more effort since gender, communities, and interests are all complex aspects.
Assuming Greater Responsibility
People who are in a position of power need to prioritize and work on attaining better representation within their companies.
In the past, several female founders have had to find a male co-founder in order to be taken seriously by investors. Others have tried to hide their pregnancies, thinking it will deter investors from backing them when this definitely shouldn’t have been the case.
This is precisely why venture capitals should assume greater responsibility for the diversity of their portfolio companies. Hiring the right team isn’t only crucial for a team‘s success – remote or otherwise – but can also make operations more efficient and smooth.
The Bottom Line
Diversity has different definitions for different people, which makes it very complex. But in the tech industry, things are definitely worse.
Nordic startups are effortlessly turning challenges into opportunities despite the ongoing pandemic, and are coming up with easily replicable solutions that can be helpful to bridge the gender gap. While we cannot expect an overnight change, it’s safe to say that things do look brighter in the future.