The digital realm surely has great potential to be more egalitarian, more inclusive and less prejudiced than the traditional one. Users often don’t know who is sitting behind the screen, who is handling the request they have sent in, and who is writing the words they are reading. Even so, the digital world remains dominated by men.
Rebecca Enonchong, a tech founder and CEO of AppsTech, has often discussed how hiding her title as a female founder was crucial to helping her company grow. However, she was unable to hide her role from venture capitalists, and this, she says, has been a major limiter on her ability to raise funds.
“We can grow without funding but we can’t scale without funding,” she told an e-commerce conference earlier this year in Geneva, “time and energy have been invested in figuring out what women entrepreneurs need but what we really need is the money itself and access to finance.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Candace Nkoth Bisseck, Program Manager at eTrade for Women Network at UNCTAD, has a more hands-on approach: “There must be policy initiatives to give women leadership positions,” she says, “otherwise, the digital economy will never be gender inclusive.”
When to comes to women in leadership, Eastern Europe leads global rankings for gender-diverse leadership; according to a 2018 Grant Thornton list, 87% of Eastern European businesses have at least one woman in senior management, and an average of 36% of firms’ senior roles are held by a woman. This seems a low bar indeed.
Worse still, global data indicates that the percentage of women in leadership roles is actually on the decline. Women now hold less than a quarter of senior roles worldwide at 24%. In 2017, this figure was a barely more promising 25%. From 2017 to 2018, the share of female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list dropped by a massive 25%: women now represent just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
At the same time, a Harvard Business Review comparing male and female leaders found that not only do women fulfill the stereotype of “taking care”, scoring higher in building relationships, practicing personal development and inspiring others, but they also outscore men in the traditionally masculine “take charge” sphere. In the study, women outpaced men when it came to both taking initiative and driving results.
The leadership question of the year, then, is surely: why the downward trend for women in leadership?
Writer Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic has an interesting theory: people commonly misinterpret confidence as competence and, with women regularly failing to back themselves, men are often believed to be better leaders than their female counterparts.
The key to a more equitable digital world, then, might be found in encouraging women to believe in their own skills and leadership capabilities. It is said that leaders are made, not born; it is high time digital industries fostered the creation of female success stories.