The technology industry isn’t known for creating space for women to thrive. But in the third quarter of 2021, Saudi Arabia was ahead of the curve: the participation of women in the tech sector was 28%, more than 10% above the European average (17.5%).
As KSA industries work to fulfil the nation’s Vision 2030 goals, this is a powerful time for change within the tech sector. And when it comes to gender diversity, change is necessary. The industry needs to make sure that women and gender-diverse talent can see that opportunities are available to them; and that they’re welcome in tech.
Globally, women in tech often feel excluded from the conversations that would enable them to progress their careers. One survey found that 66% of women in tech felt excluded from important social and networking opportunities because of their gender, while 59% felt they didn’t receive the same opportunities as men – and 90% reported sexist behaviour during events and industry conferences.
Another survey, by TrustRadius, found that 78% of women believe companies should promote more women in leadership positions in order to address the issues of discrimination and gender-based harassment.
Within Saudi Arabia, we’re seeing positive steps towards a more inclusive tech sector. So we’ve gathered advice from some of the most innovative women in tech – to help individuals find their place and their voice in the industry, and to help companies understand what they need to do to create a more hospitable environment for gender-diverse innovators.
Remember that more women in tech is something worth fighting for
When you feel disheartened or unwelcome in tech spaces, remember the bigger picture. Bringing more women into high-level industry roles isn’t just about being inclusive for the sake of being inclusive.
It’s about good business. And it’s about creating a future with tech that works for everyone.
When we asked Ioana Matei (Head of Emerging/Immersive Technologies – Metaverse/Web3) why it’s important that more women work in tech, she said “Oh, there are so many reasons.”
“It has been proven that companies with diverse workforce and leadership performed better than non-diverse ones. The immersive technologies space (metaverse/web3) is putting at the centre the communities and creators. It is a creator-based economy. And when we talk content, only diverse teams and content creators are able to pull off an amazing story that touches everyone, no matter the background, gender, or race.”
“We have seen, over and over again, that when diverse teams are working on hardware, content, business models they are much more successful. This is why with Women in Immersive Technologies we are looking to encourage, train, support and connect women in this space and we have dedicated our efforts to train the new generations.”
Shifting policies and perspectives
Natalie Samovich (Co-Founder at Resilient Group) said:
“I actively contribute to the topic on the EU level. We recently had an event in Brussels on the topic related to investing in women-led startups, women in VCs, gender balance in research and innovation. Every little step counts and it is our day to day approach that makes a difference.”
We asked Ghela Boskovich (Regional Director/Head of Europe at Financial Data and Technology Association) what the FinTech sector in particular needs to do to close the gender gap, and she said:
“Let’s start with codifying legal rights, including right to bodily autonomy, right to vote, right to privacy, right to own one’s own data, right to organise, maternity and paternity leave, right to health care. Then let’s codify information transparency: wage disclosure, pay gap, hiring practices, credit rating composition.”
“Mandating certain policies is a good way to ensure all companies play by the same rules. It doesn’t fix things, but it incentivises certain hiring, wage, and retaining behaviours. Eradicating toxic corporate culture is another thing: enforcing no discrimination policies, no harassment rules, equal pay for positions (again, wage transparency matters), and encouraging flexible work from home arrangements.”
For Elnaz Sarraf (Founder and CEO at ROYBI Robot), it’s important to be aware – as a woman in tech – of the misconceptions and prejudices that might stand in your way. Because as much as progress is being made, there’s still a long way to go. Speaking on the challenges she faced in bringing her AI-powered education product to market, Sarraf said:
“I think the biggest challenge has been fundraising. I am not sure if it actually has much to do with me being a female CEO, but I’ve seen many companies with way less traction than my company secure funding faster.”
“I also feel women are asked different types of questions than men during investor meetings. I remember at some point the investors were asking me strange questions like how much debt the company has, or how do I ensure the company doesn’t fail. They never asked me about the vision, tractions, etc. So, I really got frustrated about this and decided to always bring a male colleague to my meetings.”
“As I expected, the type of questions started changing. They asked about long-term vision, sales, product roadmap, etc. I am not saying this is necessarily related to being a female CEO, but I strongly believe women are treated differently during investment meetings.”
Lean into the value of mentorship
Samovich noted, “Early in my career I learned valuable lessons through mentorships. The advice I received withstood the test of time. Surrounding oneself with inspiring colleagues and networks that can nurture and inspire – it was a good path to follow.”
Carine de Meyere (President and Founder at Women of the World) agreed that company mentorship programs are key to driving female leadership.
“When you have more women in leadership positions they’ll be able to appoint other women as well,” she noted, “and women in the C suite can change an entire mission of a technology company. Female leaders transform industries from within!”
On a personal level, de Meyere added, “I am happy that I can be a beacon of light and hope, of inspiration, of positive energy and of being always available for women if they need my advice. I enjoy mentoring young women in the technology sector because I so often feel that because women are underrepresented, they work 100% harder, are more professional and perfectionist.”
“I want to be seen as a human mentor – telling my mentees to first of all be a human being and then a professional.”
And know that it’s possible to achieve your dreams
This notion that women have a tendency to work harder because they have more to prove – and to get lost in the demands of impossible perfectionism – is important. Female tech entrepreneurs need to recognise their talents and be unafraid to share them; and crucially, they need to know it’s OK not to know everything.
As Samovich shared, it’s important to her not to “be stalled by specialised knowledge acquisition imperative, but always seek information sources, focus on continuous learning and expand my interdisciplinary knowledge horizons.”
Matei said something similar:
“Believe in yourself – no one is an expert in this space. You can always learn. Get connected with like-minded people. Use your network to learn, create opportunities and ask for help. Do ask for help – you will be surprised at the support you will receive. And if you are a woman in a power-position, make it your mission to create opportunities for other women like you.”
Sarraf said the challenges she faced made her stronger. “I know I am a strong woman,” she added, “and can achieve anything I set my mind to.”
“I also want to make my dreams come true so I can pave the way for other women who get into tech. I want to be one of the people that shows the world that women are incredibly talented and smart enough to build unicorn companies. Therefore, I keep moving forward knowing that I will eventually make an impact.”
Women can make an impact. Women are making an impact. And women in tech are essential to a bright future.