Carmen Sebe, partner at Gecad Ventures, on the lessons the technology sector can learn from Romania on the importance of diversity and inclusion.
Despite a great deal of media coverage and high-profile campaigns aimed at redressing the gender equality balance, the global tech industry remains male dominated. The National Centre for Women and Information Technology reports that only six of the 100 largest tech companies have female CEOs at the helm.
But this is not the complete picture. Looking at the figures in Europe specifically, the countries in South Eastern Europe (SEE) are leading the way in challenging gender inequality at work. In Romania, for example, women form 26.3% of workers in the ICT sector, compared to just 17% in the UK. In Bulgaria, the figure is even higher, at 30.28%, although this must be seen in the context that Bulgaria has the highest gender pay gap in the region – 15.4%, compared with just 5.8% in Romania.
Of course, this is only a superficial snapshot, and we need to delve deeper in to the data to draw meaningful conclusions. For example, does the narrower pay gap in Romania point to a more skilled and senior female workforce than, say Bulgaria, where the numbers of female employees are higher, but the pay gap is far wider? That is unclear. On the face of it however, western Europe can learn a lot about encouraging diversity in the ICT workforce from its SEE neighbours, and this must surely start with its education system.
Taking the UK as an example, in 2017 only 36.7 % of those signing up to take core STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), subjects in 2017 were girls. In computing subjects that figure fell to only 10%. In contrast, Romania and Bulgaria have a history of promoting women in science going back to the Olympiads for high school students, started in 1950s and being held in Romania this year.
If the Eastern Europe phenomenon proves anything, it’s that the disparity in tech between women and men is very much driven by the social environment – specifically attitudes towards the ability of girls to succeed in STEM subjects. Based on this strong foundation, countries like Romania have created a technology sector in which the roles for women include senior developers, engineers, technical consultants and development directors, rather than simply entry-level positions.
Once this shift in attitudes is established at the educational level it quickly leads to change, creating better investment opportunities and a more supportive business infrastructure and culture. In order for this to happen though, diversity needs to stop being perceived as a ‘nice to have’ and instead be viewed for what it is. Namely, good business.
For example, in recent years much lip service has been paid to groups of investors focusing on companies with female founders. A look at the actual figures paints a very different picture, with very little actual progress made. I believe this is due to a basic misunderstanding of the value diversity can bring to a business and its bottom line.
In my experience, the importance of leadership diversity when building globally successful teams cannot be understated.
This is not simply a case of establishing gender equality. Businesses that embrace diversity, not only in terms of gender, but also age and race, have wider access to talent and are more likely to have a workforce that understands the needs of a diverse customer base.
As an investor focusing on hi-tech companies across competitive and fast-moving verticals such as Cybersecurity, Fintech, AI and IoT, I am keen to work with companies who understand the need to leave no stone unturned in the search for the right talent. These are the companies of the future that will reshape the technological landscape, and those who fail to grasp the concept of, and need for, workplace diversity are doomed to fail.