More women are put in positions of leadership at technology companies in the UK than in the US, according to research by the Silicon Valley Bank.
As part of their annual Innovation Economy Outlook survey, they asked 1,200 tech executives at innovation hubs around the world about the representation of women in their companies.
In particular, they looked at the proportion of women in board-level positions and also executive, or c-level, positions. Overall, 46 per cent of the companies surveyed had any women at either of these levels. For those that did, they had an average of 26 per cent women filling board-level roles and 37 per cent filling c-level roles.
Another significant finding they unearthed was the fact that startups are considerably less likely to hire women for leadership roles compared to larger companies.
Healthcare top sector for putting women in positions of power
By comparing sectors in technology, they found that healthcare leads the way when it comes to hiring women for high level roles, with 56 per cent of health tech companies having at least one woman in an executive or board-level position.
Lagging behind are software companies at 44 per cent, hardware companies at 36 per cent, and cleantech (environmental technology such as energy resource management and solar power) companies at 35 per cent.
One likely explanation for this, according to a Nicola Koronka, Communications Manager at Silicon Valley Bank, is that healthcare has historically been female-dominated. “From nursing to midwifery, there has been a gender imbalance from the start and this finding could well be a reflection of the sector's cultural roots,” she says. “This imbalance ends up leaking into the tech and innovation side of the industry, too.”
UK ahead of the US
When the figures are broken down according to board-level and c-level, it is possible to see that only 30 per cent of UK tech firms put women in positions such as chief executive officer or chief financial officer, whereas 37 per cent of tech firms in the US do.
Overal, however, the UK is a small step ahead of the US in welcoming women to positions of power in tech companies: 50 per cent of UK tech companies have females in c-level or board-level positions, whereas 45 per cent of US tech companies do.
Erin Lockwood, the first female managing director at Silicon Valley Bank in the UK, believes that the difference between the UK and the US may be partly due to European countries being more accepting of parents needing flexible schedules in order to meet family responsibilities.
“One of the big differences is their approach to maternity: the UK is much more generous in terms of the amount of time it allows you to take off work and still get paid for it when you have a child: there is more flexibility to take time out and companies have a more supportive policy. In the US, not many women have this option,” she says.
Large companies more likely to put women in high positions than startups
Globally, 49 per cent of larger companies with revenues have women in executive positions, compared with 38 per cent of pre-revenue startups. “Larger companies are more likely to have women at the helm,” the survey says.
The importance of diversity
“When you think about what makes any business successful, it involves having different perspectives and diverse opinions, and putting more women in leadership roles naturally brings this diversity to the table,” says Lockwood.
She adds that in order to make a change, more women need to be introduced to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects) at a young age. “One of the things we are excited about is technology in particular being able to drive some of this shift. Knowing that you can apply your knowledge to developing an amazing app for a cool startup or tech company will make entering the field much more exciting,” she says.
“We need to make sure that we are recognising talent within organisations early on and then growing and mentoring that talent, regardless of gender.”