I would like to explore the causes of this mismatch, the impact it has on the sector, and what we can do to fix it.
Over the past few weeks I have spoken with some female Edtech founders and investors to find out what men can do to help, rather than hinder, their cause.
Why does this matter? We see a huge innovation gap where those with great ideas can’t launch businesses due – in part – to their gender. It means that there are vital voices missing from the discussion. It means that events which the sector uses to influence our decisions are not listening to half of the population and those decisions are the poorer for it.
The main causes identified are: finance, confidence and networks.
Certainly there is a cultural effect that presents entrepreneurship as a more male pursuit and men in general have more opportunity, without the same expectations of home-making and child-raising. Leanne Katz of Mama Codes – my first interviewee – notes that, even when running events with her team at the Science Museum, she is wont to hear people asking her, surprised, “Is it your business?”
A lack of access to finance results in 91% of finance going to companies with no women in the founding team. 10% of education-specific VC firms are led by women – a proportion which is actually higher than the 6% of generalist VC firms led by women. Even if only from the perspective of rational self-interest, male investors should see this as a huge opportunity.
One founder told me of her experience of walking into a room of 65 men in their twenties without kids to pitch her kid-centric solution. A diverse investment team will immediately put you at an advantage in these situations.
All-male founding teams should also take note. Investments into companies with no female directors on their board average £2.9m, whereas adding a single female board member corresponds with a typical increase of £500,000.
Technology startups often struggle with staff diversity as well, due to the shortage of female software developers. Only 4% of software engineers in the UK are female, which is, again, unrepresentative of the user base. Interviewees often identified the cultivation of staff diversity as one of the most important things that men could do.
Stop second guessing women!
Amanda, CEO of Scribeasy explains the frustration of being a non-technical founder trying to run a company according to the lean methodology of rapid iterations, especially when one has non-experts questioning their decisions.
By bringing more women into ed tech we ensure that the next generation of learning tools are being designed with both boys and girls in mind.
Finally, one of the key ways that men can help is by resisting inequitable practices. I recently turned down a speaking slot at a conference. As a startup representative that places a premium on visibility, it really pained me to do so but the speaking agenda was 75% men and accepting that slot would make me part of the problem. After all, what impact does it have on our discourse when one voice is represented up to three times as much as another?
Most teachers will tell you that girls and boys, on average, learn and act differently. We can’t know for sure whether the ways that we all think and act differently are innate or are a social construct, but we can see the effects. Innovations are drawn mainly from one half of this divide and the flames of these companies are fanned by the same half. If this continues, then we risk creating ed tech solutions – and an educational environment – that cater to the dispositions and temperaments of half of our population and serves us all worse as a result.
For me this whole issue isn’t about virtue signalling but is about choosing not to be part of the problem. On the whole, there are numerous mechanisms that suggest that a more diverse tech sector would lead to a healthier education system and this, surely, is what we should aim to create if we seek to foster equity, innovation, and excellence.