Women’s equality in STEM?
In honour of Women’s Equality Day Marija Butkovic and Michelle Hua, Co-Founders of Women of Wearables UK, discuss and debate the challenges and opportunities for women in or entering the wearable market.
Q: In a previous guest blog, ‘Where are all the women in tech?’, Butkovic wrote about the lack of women in the wearables market. Do you believe the ratio of men to women in wearables is a reflection of an issue common to the tech industry as a whole?
Very often men manage wearable tech teams and then go on to hire male designers and developers who develop technology that most appeals to their gender. This results in a large proportion of wearables appealing only to men, not women, which fails to address a huge chunk of potential wearable tech customers. Although the market has moved toward a feminisation of wearables in the past couple of years, there is still very little out there that seriously takes female physiology or traditionally feminised activity into account.
The other issue is that many investors are men and often don’t understand women’s mindsets when it comes to building wearable products. Some of them even think those are “just” consumer products women are building as a hobby, rather than a proper business.
This gender imbalance makes it more difficult for women to enter and remain in the wearables industry. But it’s getting better. Every year there are more and more women entering this industry, and some of the best start-up entrepreneurs in the space right now are women (both UK and worldwide) – scientists, entrepreneurs, designers and UX experts.
Our organisation, Women of Wearables (WoW UK) aims to inspire, support and connect women in wearables, IoT, augmented and virtual reality. It is an initiative that not only addresses the issue of a lack of women in wearables, but it solves this very problem by inspiring, connecting and supporting them, which in turn encourages more women to enter the wearables industry.
So far the interest has been overwhelming, with women from the US, UK, India, Canada, and many other countries in Europe and Asia.
Being two women in the wearables sector, what do you see as the challenges and opportunities facing women in this market?
First and foremost, there is a lack of female role models in the wearable tech industry. Without female role models, it is difficult for women to be what they can’t see. We need more role models in Europe, which is exactly what WoW UK tries to do – give these amazing women visibility and recognition.
Secondly, finding technical teams. Some female founders don’t have a technical background but they have an amazing technical solution.
Finding support and mentorship; with wearables being a new industry it can be challenging for female founders operating in this space to be supported, particularly if they aren’t based in a major city with physical access to support networks.
Here are some of the key opportunities in this market:
- Using technology to create innovative solutions to help women overcome problems they have
- Becoming a role models for other women in wearables, IoT and AR/VR
- Having the opportunity to increase the women in tech gender imbalance in general.
- Seeing products that are designed by men for men shows women that there is a gap in the market to create wearables for women.
WoW UK creates opportunities for women in wearables to connect with each other and helps ensure not only their businesses and ideas succeed, but for the wearables industry to succeed. This is important not only for startups, but also for big industry leaders.
The commonalities are: female founders of wearable tech startups are often sole founders. They need support, mentorship, workshops and connections to navigate this new industry as well as to gain greater visibility.
What do you think discourages women from entering the wearables sector?
Men usually dominate attendees and speakers at conferences, therefore females often feel intimidated going to these conferences as they are a distinct minority.
Women may also be discouraged due to a lack of access to the tech ecosystem, as tech is seen as a ‘bro culture’. There is also a lack of access to female investors who understand their solutions to their problems.
Female quotas – is it the solution to female equality in the workplace?
Quotas for women to sit on boards, leadership positions, conference speakers and panels leads to tokenism. Technology corporations and conference organisers have a duty to ensure there is a diverse range of speakers (including men, women and people from different backgrounds) to allow equality and opportunities for everyone.
We would feel offended if we were offered any roles because we are women. We would prefer to be offered roles because we are smart, intelligent and offer value to the role. We don’t want to feel privileged, but equal, because we are. Women should have more leadership opportunities.
There is an abundance of women in tech groups and organisations in the UK and worldwide. However we are hopeful that we won’t need as many “women in ….” groups in the future because gender equality will have been reached.
* If you are interested in joining WoW UK, here are some ways to do so:
While WoW UK aims to inspire, support and connect women currently in this industry, it will deliver workshops in London and Manchester to girls between the ages of 11-18 to make their own wearable and e-textiles projects. This encourages more girls to enter the wearables industry by equipping them with the skills they need to reduce the gender gap in the wearables industry. It also shows them how intangible skills such as coding can be converted to making a tangible product that is wearable and uses e-textiles.
The 2016 A-level results in the UK shows a drop in the number of girls taking A-level computing and physics, a core entry requirement for a career in engineering. With only 10% – 20% of girls taking these subjects this is the reason why there are less females in tech industries.
WoW UK wearables workshops aims to encourage more girls to take STEM type subjects which will solve the issue of tech and wearables being a male dominated industry.
WoW UK will also deliver mentorship sessions to teach women digital skills on how to market and promote their wearable tech brand, how to promote and market their wearable tech product, how to write a press release to tech journalists and how to use social media to increase their visibility in a crowded online market. Both Michelle and Marija have their own wearable tech startups and have experience in all stages of product development, which is exactly the reason why we want to share it with our community and help them with their business journeys.