New non-profit wants gender equality in tech across Asia

Women in IT

A new initiative seeks to promote gender equality in the world of tech entrepreneurship and inspire more women to enter thestartup ecosystem. Launched in Singapore, Female Founders is a non-profit organization founded by a group of experienced entrepreneurs and led by Tickled Media founder and CEO Roshni Mahtani and App Strategy Labs founder and CEO Dr. Meri Rosich.

Women in Singapore still represent only about 5 percent of technology startups and 8 percent of boards, according to the group. The goal of Female Founders is to increase the number of female-led organizations to 20 percent by 2020, Mahtani says.

Big on data

The organization’s mission, revealed in an inaugural event at INSEAD’s Singapore branch, will be threefold.

Through research, it will seek to gather hard data on women’s presence and role in entrepreneurship, in the markets where the organization operates. It will start with chapters in Singapore, Japan, and India, and the founders hope to eventually take it global. “We want to understand what the issue is, what the cause is,” Mahtani tells Tech in Asia.

As the cause of fewer women in the enterprise space can vary from country to country, Female Founders doesn’t want to rely on anecdotal evidence and hearsay. Rather, it intends to look at a country’s entire startup ecosystem, from businesses to investors, to get a better understanding of how it involves women. “We want to have empirical data that shows us the trends and why things are happening,” Mahtani says.

Using this research, the group will recommend policies and industry best practices to governments, media, and private parties such as venture capitalists. And finally, through advocacy, it will seek to promote notable women professionals, recognized in their industry, showcase female founder stories, and produce role models to inspire more women to start their own business or take more roles that are traditionally male-dominated in the technical and VC spaces.

“We have to encourage women to push themselves, to go into areas where they are not typically as well represented as others,” Rosich explains. The group will also look to increase visibility for successful women at trade events and discussion panels – an area whose dire track record has spawned a Tumblr page. “So one of the projects we’re going to be working on is role models and women who can speak at conferences and panels and who are amazing technical leaders,” Rosich adds.

Education matters

The event in Singapore highlighted women who have had successful careers either as entrepreneurs or as business leaders. Professionals like Pranoti Nagarkar Israni, Zimplistic’s founder and CTO, and Rosalind Chow Koo, founder and CEO of insurance and wellness marketplace CXA, shared their experience in building a business around an idea, or seeking investment. An underlying theme across the speakers’ stories was the importance of education – something that a lot of today’s top tech entrepreneurs are only too happy to tell you is inconsequential to success.

But a lot of women in Asia grow up in countries and cultures where they are not expected to go to university, much less start a business of their own. For them, higher education can make a world of difference. And although things have changed a lot in this space, and for the better, there is still work to do.

“I think even now in MBA courses, females are typically 5 to 20 percent, and they’re only 20 percent because admissions have a strong mandate to bring in more females,” Rosich says. Female Founders aims to work with organizations like UN women, which is making headway with programs such as STEM (which stands for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). It’s all about promoting the value of education in sectors that are not traditionally popular among young women.

Female Founders is now sending out the call for supporters – volunteers, members, sponsors, and partners – to help promote its work. “The whole network is not just for women,” Mahtani says. “We believe that for change to occur, we also need the men in the ecosystem to work alongside women. So anyone who is interested in promoting gender equality in entrepreneurship, we’d like them to join us.”

Source: Tech In Asia



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