Time to Drive the “Women in Technology” Conversation Forward


June Sugiyama from Vodafone Americas Foundation shares insight behind how to close the gender gap in technology.

[Editor’s Note: June Sugiyama is Director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation. She will be speaking on a panel during our 2017 Women’s Empowerment Principles Forum called “Future-Ready Women in STEAM,”  which will explore how to accelerate the participation of women and girls in STEAM fields as a necessary prerequisite to empowering women and helping make progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. For more information on our forum or panel discussion, click here.]

Throughout my many years in technology, most recently as the director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation, I have had the great opportunity to partner with many entrepreneurs worldwide who are dedicated to fostering growth and driving social good. It is always exciting to collaborate and create partnerships to make maximum impact. One thing that has always stood out to me, however, is the lack of female leaders in our field. Women make up over half of the population, yet are often underrepresented in the entrepreneurial and the tech world. Although I’ve grown accustomed to walking into a board room or meeting with young startups and tech giants and being one of the few women present in the room, I believe that it’s not only important but beneficial to include women in participatory and decision making roles; we can change the dynamics.

The gender gap in technology is a problem each leader, startup, tech giant, and many other organizations face every day. As an industry, we all need to take ownership and responsibility to ensure that women and girls are empowered to explore job opportunities in technology and are motivated to study the proper STEAM education to do so. The inclusion of women will bring different perspectives to the table, and provide user input and cross sector opportunities. At the Vodafone Americas Foundation, we’ve launched an organizational strategy specifically focused on this mission, in alignment with Vodafone’s commitment as a company to increase the number of women in leadership roles by 30 percent.

I am passionate about closing the gender gap and supporting the environment where women have the opportunity to succeed. Along with a number of other technology leaders, I will join a panel called “Future Ready Women in STEAM” at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum next week to talk through some of the steps we can all take to help close the gender gap. Here are a few points that we are eager to discuss:

  • Changing the Environment: The current environment within many technology companies is not welcoming to women. In fact, 50 percent of women with careers in STEM fields will eventually leave because of hostile work environments, according the Harvard Business Review. That means it’s critical to implement policies that create cultures that are open to women and support their career advancement — and getting men to support them as well.  Vodafone has already started making headway for example, by conducting studies on policies for women, supporting flexible working, and maternity and paternity benefits to help working mothers and families.
  • Change the VC cycle:  One particular field that is particularly affected by the lack of diversity are venture capitalists. The leadership of VCs is overwhelmingly male; only 9.7 percent of all partners at venture capital firms are women, which leads to just 8.3 percent of venture capital-funded U.S. tech startups founded in 2014 to be led by women CEOs, according to PitchBook. By bringing women into this forum, VCs can diversify investments that serve the other half of the population.
  • Providing Education Opportunities: It is important to invest in young women from the very beginning. Education and pipeline development is essential towards empowering women in the long run. In middle school, 74 percent of girls express interest in STEM subjects, but when choosing a college major, just 0.4 percent of high school girls select computer science, according to Girls Who Code. Somewhere along the way, the women did not receive the support and assistance they needed to pursue their interest.  We must find ways to empower girls to explore their interest in STEM programs and give them the opportunity to do so.

The tech industry has long been criticized for lack of women in the workforce, and in leadership, and it’s time to change that. To start, all it takes is a change in perception, look around, do you see women in our offices, are they in the board room, can companies review the hiring policies? Most importantly within our families, are we supportive at home, do we encourage young girls to pursue STEAM, do we teach young boys to work together with girls, are we raising girls to be leaders? With a change in thinking, individual, communities and companies can start to make actual commitments to get women involved and with that, we will be able to measure and see if it’s becoming a reality.

If you’re interested in exploring this conversation more, come check out the panel on Wednesday, March 15, 2:00-2:55 P.M. ET at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum: “Measuring Progress, Making It Count”. See you there!