Lateral thinking helps bring women into tech sector

While Australian women are underrepresented in STEM fields, that isn’t stopping women from excelling in tech startups, according to a new survey of Australian female tech entrepreneurs.


The survey, conducted by Terem Technologies, included qualitative responses from nearly 50 Australian female tech entrepreneurs , which pointed to a host of barriers contributing to inequality in the industry


It found that while the government and various groups are working to make STEM education more accessible and suited to women, female entrepreneurs are finding “lateral” ways to become involved with tech companies.


“The current generation of women are finding a lateral way to enter this male-dominated field, using their domain experience and leadership skills to solve problems with unique products,” the study says.


“They will be role models and, it is to be hoped, become mentors to other women with technical ideas to be realised.”


Finding other ways into the tech industry

Only 19% of the female entrepreneurs surveyed had a background in STEM, while only 4% had a computer science background. In contrast, nearly half had a degree in business, commerce or economics.


The survey found the majority of female entrepreneurs are managing tech teams, with 50% in outsourcing roles, 32% finding a tech-based co-founder, and 14% employing technical staff.


Founder and director of the Inside Academy Alexandra Kinloch says you don’t need to have a background in STEM to be involved in a tech startup.


“There is a perception, or at least has been a perception in the past, that you needed to have technical skills in order to run a startup,” Kinloch says.


“I don’t believe that is the case and not all startups require cutting edge technology. I believe that the number of women-led startups in Australia will increase dramatically in the next five years.”


According to an Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute report only 28% of employed STEM-qualified Australians were female in 2011, and this number fell to 14% when looking at engineering.


Many barriers in place

According to the Startup Muster Surveys, the number of female tech entrepreneurs in Australia is rising slowly, from 16% in 2011 to 19% in 2013. Responses to Terem Technologies latest survey shed some light on the barriers facing women in the tech industry.


More than a third of those surveyed named a perceived lack of expertise and confidence as factors preventing women from being involved with tech startups, while 27% pointed to negative attitudes playing a role.


Nearly 30% of those surveyed said they felt they didn’t have the same access to network advantages as their male counterparts.


Terem Technologies CEO Scott Middleton says he hopes this study will highlight these disadvantages and barriers, and help people to work to remove them.


“Hopefully this survey highlights to those thinking about jumping in that they can: the women we surveyed are overcoming all kinds of hurdles to succeed and thrive,” he says.


“We hope that they will inspire many more like them and that the numbers of female entrepreneurs will climb rapidly as role models become more visible.”


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Denham Sadler is the editor of StartupSmart. He was previously a journalist at the publication and has worked as a freelancer for the Guardian, the Saturday Paper and the ABC. In his spare time he likes puns and jaffles.