Technology’s Role in Women’s Empowerment
By Allison Lopez
As a seasoned business woman, I lost $20,000 trying to build a website! I had done my research, but I still hired incorrectly. At the time, I remembered feeling very frustrated and confused, not empowered. I later learned that I wasn’t even armed with the right questions to ask potential designers, and in fact the website I wanted would require a team, not one designer. This experience drove me to learn everything I could about websites and ultimately fostered a full blown addiction to tracking technology.
Six years later, what role is technology playing in women’s empowerment? This is a question I came to after noticing through my consulting business, that women are resisting technology. This pushed me to do research, which quickly illustrated the tech industry is made up of less than 25% women with an even smaller percentage at the C-Suite level. Further research showed that women own a huge portion of businesses in the USA, but the average earnings are far below males. To top it off, less than 6% of women-led projects are backed by venture capitalists. In short, many women are in business, but are not taking part in the tech startup boom.
WHY and WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Why? One explanation is that there’s a pipeline issue…A great number of girls are losing interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects at middle school level. Another explanation is gender bias in the tech industry. It is rarely discussed that all the women currently in business or outside of business might be lacking exposure to technology. It’s not to be assumed that women in business know more than women outside of business. Women in corporations cannot depend on company training as companies themselves are trying to figure out what they need. Women can grow in their industries by learning what is new in their field helping contribute to what their companies might find useful. That means independent learning to stay ahead. Exposure to technology currently depends on a woman’s lifestyle. However, rest assured that whatever lifestyle a woman lives, it will eventually be infiltrated by technology.
WTF?! WOMEN, TECHNOLOGY & FINANCE
Between the research and my negative website experience, I couldn’t stop myself from doing something about getting women into tech. The thoughts about what happened to me and what I was seeing kept twirling in my head. I finally gathered a few women, formed an advisory council, and started Women Tech & Finance (WTF)—a company with a mission to provide a platform for women to learn about technology.
I have listened to many women dismissing technology as though it doesn’t pertain to them. There is much conversation regarding unconscious gender bias and we must be aware of this reality. The systems and the ways we think are still influenced by the past. It will take men and women working together to drive these changes. Here is why…we as women need to pay attention: It has long been proven that knowledge is power and if that power is going to be effected by the tech sector, which is predominately male, we ought to, at minimum, understand it to ensure our progression.
Technology is moving at an exponential speed. We can no longer escape the basics (i.e. mobile devices, social media and Google), not to mention emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality and genome sequencing. We have already seen technology disrupting our traditional systems and ultimately changing our culture. We are facing a complete social shift on many levels from personal to business. Leading the charge are companies with innovative business models fueled by tech. Just look at companies like Facebook, changing the way we communicate; Uber, a car service company that owns zero cars; and Instagram, but no more Kodak. Yes, we are in a time of great disruption and the changes are coming at a faster rate.
MASTERING THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
The topic at this year’s World Economic Forum was “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution? It’s the convergence of new technologies in physical, biological and digital, resulting in dramatic changes in government, business and society as a whole. Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, wrote The Fourth Industrial Revolution in which he analyzes the advantages and risks of our time. Schwab expresses how we can benefit and undo past revolutions’ mistakes or we could create security issues and greater inequality at many levels. The concern is that organizations and governments may not move fast enough to keep up with emerging technologies. As women, we need to take our place in leading these changes, instead of adopting rules that might not necessary be made in our favor when left to an industry that is predominately made up of men.
OPPORTUNITIES DO EXIST
There is no doubt that technology is here to stay and will continue to get more complicated. It is imperative that women take responsibility to be part of the technology era. There has never been a time in history like today, where women have easy access to tools that can help them gain empowerment. Technology is the catalyst for opportunity, should a conscious effort be made to embrace it. Yes, the tech industry might be struggling with gender bias issues like the rest of the world but women don’t have to put up with it as tech offers alternatives.
The internet and emerging technologies has created an opening for entrepreneurship, and self-learning that women can leverage. For example, a 3D printer could be purchased for under $2000 and with little practice, designs downloaded from sites to create jewelry that could be placed for sale on platforms such as www.etsy.com. There are even free websites such as www.weebly.com to get started in ecommerce. First-time production could be crowdfunded on sites like www.kickstarter.com.
BASIC STEPS TO EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY IN YOUR BUSINESS AND LIFE
The list of technology tools, platforms and innovations that women can utilize to position themselves in a place of power is very long.
STEP 1: Commit to participate in the tech game. Ask yourself, how will tech impact what I am currently doing or how can I use tech to better my life? What can I learn to help myself and loved ones navigate this new world?
STEP 2: Let your fingers do the googling
STEP 3: Connect with people in tech. It will still take humans to make things happen. Collaboration is now a huge part of technology culture as we are realizing that tech is moving so quickly and it makes sense to work together for the betterment of all involved.
TECHNOLOGY ORGANIZATIONS ARE HERE TO HELP
As we are on the cusp of entering the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, where change is predicted to be rampant, there is an opening to finally eliminate gender inequality.
There are many wonderful organizations in our community that are working hard to build our technology ecosystem. Check out these places for events on technology and the new entrepreneur culture: