Think Tank for Women In Business & Technology
Growth vs. Impact: Could A Female Perspective Save The Future of Our Economy
Following the success of the first Think Tank session in September 2020, Somi Arian hosted this second conference on 28 of October 2020 for the Women in Business and Technology Think Tank to raise women’s socioeconomic status through the application of technology. The theme of this second conference centred around the question of:
The panellists in attendance for this second Think Tank were:
- Part 1: Prof. Alessandra Cassar, Christophe Georges, Cobey Flynn, Ramona Liberoff, Samar Shams, Kim Meltzer, Michael O’Toole, Rita Kakati-Shah, Sarah Hammond
- Part 2: Daniela Barone Soares, Michelle Foley, Tania Gupta, Debra Bass, Yojna Verma, Joti Balani, Christine MacKay, Joshua Meredith.
Somi Arian opens the discussion by briefly exposing the theme. She points out that over the past seventy years, our economy has experienced an exponential growth thanks to technology and we, in the Western world, have been reaping the benefits and living the luxury of the middle class that this has brought on. Still, recently, the growth seems to have come to a stall and this poses a threat to this aforementioned middle class.
Some might argue that the hold up has to do with the Covid19 pandemic, but the pandemic has only served to accelerate a trend that had already started, a consequence of the accelerated growth of technology and its impact, and has made us realise this rapid growth is not sustainable in the long run.
To open up the discussion, Arian wonders, if this also could have something to do with the different point of views and approaches to business and economy that males and females bring to the table.
Since the 1950s, the world’s population has tripled, and the questions that Arian poses to the panelists are the following: Is this a male driven economy? And if it is, could perhaps levelling the field of males and females, help us reach a certain level of balance to develop a more sustainable future?
She goes on to introduce the first panelist: Professor Alessandra Cassar.
Prof. Alessandra Cassar - Professor of Economics at the University of San Francisco
Alessandra Cassar is Professor of Experimental Economics at the University of San Francisco, where she directs the M.S. in International and Development Economics. Her use of both field and lab experiments to study individual’s behaviour have shown her that women are as competitive as men under the right incentives. She argues that to reach equality in the labor markets, we should begin by changing the system of rewards, and not try to change the women themselves.
Prof. Cassar poses the question of “What women want to compete?” and expands on the fact that her research challenges the hypothesis that women are naturally less competitive than men. This idea has been coined by economists everywhere and offered as an explanation as to why women are normally missing from top ranking economic and political positions.
But maybe this is not true, there are evolutionary differences that go back to Darwin and other scientists of the Victorian era that explain that women tend to be more egalitarian and perhaps more interested in cooperation and long-term growth instead of short-term profit.
What is true is that both sexes have evolved differently and this includes their way of competing, where women reserve their most intense competitive behaviours for the benefit of their offspring. She states that the behavioural differences are the following, males might thrive in hierarchical systems, where there are clear alpha, beta, gamma males, because by competing for the top, they get all the resources, and since nature programmed us for reproduction, they get all the females.
This idea has been coined by economists everywhere and offered as an explanation as to why women are normally missing from top ranking economic and political positions. Since females cannot have 200 children at once, for them, it is more of a matter of quality vs. quantity.
So women prefer to use their competitive behaviour to create a system that is more egalitarian and leads to cooperation. To conclude, Prof. Cassar states that we need to change the system of incentives in order to create sustainable growth. We do not have to change women. Next Somi Arian, introduces the next speaker, Christophe Georges, CEO of Bentley USA, and poses the question of what are his thoughts on why women have not been able to achieve a competitive edge in business and economics.
Christophe Georges - President & CEO of Bentley U.S.A.
Christophe Georges is the President and CEO of Bentley Americas where he has led the brand in its biggest market. He was appointed President & COO of Bentley Motors Inc. in 2007, after serving as Regional Director in Europe for Bentley Motors Limited, where he was responsible for a twenty-fold increase in sales.
Christophe Georges centers on the idea that in order to move forward, companies need more balance. He does not expand on the advantages of having more men or more women, but counters instead, that balance of the two is what will bring about a sustainable future, but this balance is not so easy to achieve.
Only 25% of graduates from engineering schools are women, so even if companies want to change the system, and some of them do, the pool of women in that industry is not very big. In other industries it might be easier because from a societal point of view, we tend to push women towards certain careers because we have preconceived ideas of what women can do and excel at and this is clearly limiting the potential for women to expand to other areas and industries in the future.
He points out that there is some good news and change coming in the way things are evolving thanks to technology and the way in which, in Bentley’s case, they develop and market their products, and the need for more emotional intelligence in the future. Natural changes come about slowly, so Georges exhorts us to be more proactive in bringing about this change. Diversity creates benefits.
“I believe that companies not being diversified or not embracing diversity and inclusion as part of their culture and objectives, will not be successful moving forward.” – Christophe Georges
Following the both interesting counterpart points of view from Prof. Cassar and Christophe Georges, Somi Arian introduces the following panelist, Cobey Flynn. Arian poses the questions of why is it that women seem to have the need to be more self-sufficient, more resilient? Why should they have to do more with less? And can women bring a different approach to the future of our economy to create a more sustainable world?
Cobey Flynn - Innovation Marketer, Global Vice-President of United Mint Campus
Cobey Flynn is a multi-award-winning innovation marketer who has launched over 30 brands from incubator to national/global launch. She is the Global VP of United Mint Campus, where she has replaced classrooms with Project Incubators, which are dynamic co-working spaces where students work on real industry projects. She mentors innovators at multinationals and startups on new-to-world product strategies and through her work has found that women in business seem to do more with less.
Cobey Flynn begins by adding more positivity to Christophe Georges’ statements. She says that 25% of female graduates in engineering every year is, in fact, a large number, and to answer Somi Arian’s first question, explains that it is precisely because people think there are no women available, or do not know where to look for them, that the women that do get those jobs seem to do more with less, because they are proving what they can do.
The first solution Cobey Flynn proposes is to support and fund more women. If this happens, people will see increased wages, higher return on investment, more jobs, and better quality of life. From her experience in innovation, Flynn has gathered data that backs up these statements. A recent study from Boston Consulting Group states that business with women founders make more than twice as revenue per dollar invested than their male counterparts.
Also, Nordea Bank did an eight-year analysis of 11,000 publicly traded companies, and found that companies with a female CEO or head of the board had a 25 per cent annualised return since 2009. This is more than double the 11 percent delivered by the MSCI World Index.
As an investor, what would you choose: 25% return or 11%? You would definitely choose the 25%, and you would definitely choose to invest in women.
Flynn states that we need to stop this narrative that says “we do not know what women are capable of”. This is what ties in directly with women being passed over for promotions and funding. As supported by her data, it is known that women in positions of power, when funded and supported, earn superior returns for the investors. Flynn’s solution is simple and elegant: Support and fund more women, and see more return.
To answer Somi Arian’s second question, Cobey Flynn explains that women are already making an impact by bringing a different approach to sustainability. In Fortune 500 companies, an example of where women are fully funded and supported, evidence shows that teams managed by women average 20% more patents.
To conclude, she expresses that if we have a hope for sustainable anything, future, economy, society, our best bet is to start funding and supporting women at a proper scale. Continuing on the subject of investments, Somi Arian introduces the next speaker, Ramona Liberoff. Her question to Ramona is the following: When looking at the current financial system and its focus on linear growth, we realize that sustainable growth does not always look as straight forward. She asks Liberoff to explain, from her experience in that field, how does she think women can bring a fresh perspective and new values to the system?
Ramona Liberoff - Investor, Advisor, Founder
Ramona Liberoff is an investor, advisor and founder based in Berlin, Germany. She currently works on finding finance solutions to critical, hard to fund UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in markets outside the US and Western Europe. Ramona explained that the world’s to do list, the SDGs, should not be seen as a list but as a system. In order to achieve the goals, every part of the system must be taken into account. It is impossible to focus on climate change if we forget about girls’ education, or hunger if we forget about land use, for example.
Many academics have pointed out that our current financial models are not designed to deal with complex systems although with advances in technology allowing us to analyse more data, and advances in understanding complexity, we are improving in our capacity.
Our greatest barrier is in our mental models. Most of the SDGs are challenging to fund despite the fact that they provide value to us all. Funding them depends on us to reimagine and recontextualize economics. We need to figure out how we are going to fund the future that we want to see.
Regarding Somi Arian’s question of women in finance, Ramona explains that we need to take a look at today’s financial system and focus on how power and vested interests relate to gender in finance.
Women represent only 10-15% of the senior decision makers in finance overall. If we focus on the area of sustainable, innovative, or impact finance, which is approximately 10-20% maximum of capital assets overall, this is an area where women are disproportionately leaders and entrepreneurs, in many organisations above 50%.
Women are bringing about change in this area by pushing forward with technology’s capability to overcome cognitive limitations, creating new structures and models, and blending the language of mainstream finance with system change objectives. By supporting innovative finance and giving our attention and finding ways for asset owners and managers to direct more capital into funding the SDGs, we can offer exciting opportunities to drive more finance, attention, and resources to more systemic innovation.
This will help us get more women into positions of power at the same time.
Up until now, all the different panelists that have intervened have pulled the conversation in different directions. Conference Host, Somi Arian, comments on the complexities of the human psyche and behaviour because it shows that there is no black and white, no simple answer.
This brings about a change in subject, with everything that has been happening around the world, Brexit, a movement towards nationalism in America, and on the other end of the scale, the subject of diversity and being open to what those with diverse backgrounds can bring to the discussion.
With this, Arian introduces our next panelist, Samar Shams.
Samar Shams - Immigration Lawyer, Partner at Spencer West LLP
Samar Shams is a Partner at Spencer West LLP with experience working in traditional and non-traditional law firms. She is based in the United Kingdom, and raises issues of indirect discrimination against women in immigration rules, in particular, sponsorship for migrant women workers.
Similar to the innovations described by Cobey Flynn and Ramona Liberoff in their distinct fields, there are innovative proposals by women in the legal sphere as well. To begin, Shams mentions the example of author Wendy Williams, who proposed the creation of a migrants commissioner role, to lend a voice to immigrants who otherwise do not have a voice within the system.
Samar explains how innovations in the legal industry can give women an opportunity to redress gender inequality, particularly the proportion of women in senior positions. She begins by pointing out that the traditional law firm is a challenging environment for women, even though there are more female solicitors than male, but they only make about 20% of equity partners, and flexible working is not very common in the industry. In the UK, about 40% of women work part-time, compared to about only 13% of men.
This is almost impossible to do in the legal industry, especially in senior positions, but due to this, at the same time, there has been a shift away from traditional law firms towards a more “non-traditional” model in which solicitors are self-employed and operate under the umbrella of the firm. This alternative business model actually can afford women lawyers opportunities for success so that they can benefit more from their work both in terms of recognition, and monetary gain. And they do not have to prove themselves to this majority of male equity partners while at the same time earning about a third of their billings.
There is a lot of data on women in leadership roles having a positive effect on the bottom line which Cobey Flynn also referred to, and how this benefits profitability and the economy as a whole. McKinsey & Company issued a set of reports on the link between profitability and gender diversity which demonstrate that those links are growing stronger.
There is also a lot of data on the benefits of flexible working which is afforded by the traditional business model, not only for the worker as an individual, but for the industry and the economy itself. Under these non-traditional models, women benefit more from the fruits of their labours, than under traditional models. To conclude, Samar Shams believes that women can catalyze a change in the legal industry, gain senior positions which will have a self-perpetuating effect of normalizing the perception of women as leaders as well.
With this, Somi Arian takes us in a completely different direction by introducing the next speaker, Kim Meltzer.
Kim Meltzer - Esports Speaker, Event Producer, Player Experience, and Travel & Hospitality Guru
Kim Meltzer is an Esports industry speaker, Experiential Event Producer, Player Experience, and travel and hospitality guru, as well as en Esports Mom based in California. 25 years of experience in the Corporate Entertainmente and Esports industry, have given Kim a unique point of view to discuss the impact of the digital economy on women.
She explains that thanks to the pandemic, 2020 has presented itself as an opportunity to bring forth a different approach to our personal and professional lives, along with ways of finding a digital aspect to our businesses. Thanks to her experience in the video game industry, she has seen an opportunity for women to bridge the live experience within the digital landscape, and use communication effectively.
She explains that when she entered the esports industry, coming from the travel and hospitality sector, she saw how women’s traits could add to the experience. Women are nurturers and can emotionally decipher a 360 degree approach to everything that we do. We can use this to better communicate in the digital scope in order to engage each other more creatively whether it is in individual or group conversations.
Women use their five senses to understand how to build, or solve, what lies ahead. The issue now, with this pandemic, is that women are not in a room with other people in order to engage those five senses effectively and get instant reaction or feedback. Meltzer sees this year as an opportunity for the future, to go back to learning the five senses again, and learning how to take that one-dimensional digital experience and bringing it into a three-dimensional opportunity, whether that is from an investors standpoint, marketer, etc.
We have forgotten who our audience is, and that is the opportunity women have to bring these humanity back to the conversation. Women are nurturers by trade, and this is an opportunity for us to shine in this aspect and add a piece to it. Women collaborate, not necessarily compete, and this could perhaps be the advantage as we move into the future.
Somi Arian moves on to introduce Michal O’Toole, our next panelist, who will expand on what women can do and the opportunities available to them.
Michael O’Toole - Founder and Managing Director of CareerDrive
Michael O’Toole is the founder and Managing Director of CareerDrive. He served as Tech MD at Morgan Stanley for 15 years and his focus has been on leading mission-critical and large complex programs. In his experience, Michael has observed that women are sometimes given advice to look towards being webmasters or support staff in the technological world, but he believes there are much bigger opportunities for women out there in the industry.
Michael O’Toole begins by pointing out that women are not given the proper advice when encouraged to look into the technology industry. They are prompted to look into areas that will probably not be around in the near future, and when encouraged to look into other areas, the stereotypes about the industry come afloat, it is too complex, too expensive, or that they do not have enough knowledge about servers, storage, etc. Michael claims this is not true, especially in the last 5 years, this has ceased to be so.
There is no need to buy into the underlying infrastructure anymore. There is very little capital expenditure required and women should be looking towards innovation. He quotes Forbes saying that “Women are pushing the frontier of innovation.”
He takes a few random examples out of Forbes list of the top 30 companies run by females, and points out that all of the companies have an element of “doing good” attached to their business which he finds very interesting. He believes that women have a lot of what it takes to create a great startup business.
His first advice for future startup entrepreneurs is to really identify a market need. Almost half of startups fail because they do not have a market. He believes women will be a bit more careful in this, a bit more risk-averse than launching a company with a product which does not have a market. His second advice is to be honest with yourself about resources and to have a clear vision. And his final advice is to create a strong digital presence, this is something all successful businesses today have in common.
His wish is for people to not focus on the knots and bolts of technology, and instead focus on pushing those frontiers of innovation.
Next, Somi Arian introduces Rita Kakati-Shah, a diversity and inclusion strategist.
Rita Kakati-Shah - Award-winning Gender, Diversity, Inclusion, and Career Strategist, Founder and CEO of Uma
Rita Kakati-Shah is an award-winning gender, diversity, inclusion, and career strategist based in New York City. Rita is the founder and CEO of Uma, an international platform that partners with organizations in order to attract, retain, and develop women and minorities in the workforce. Rita believes that increasing women’s influence is better for the global economy.
Rita’s work has taken her across the world advising companies and individuals to really build up the confidence to work on the core skill sets to bring about differences and acknowledge that diversity exists, and how to bring this diversity and different cultural backgrounds back into the workforce. And how to get everyone to perform better.
She states that if men and women played an identical role in the labour market, according to McKinsey, as much as 28 trillion dollars could be added to the global GDP by 2025. However, the reality is very different. She points out that there are only six female CEOs in the FTSE 100 companies, and explains that, on average, they are paid about 54% less than their male counterparts. Additionally, according to another McKinsey report, 25% of women left the workforce during the pandemic because of extra burdens and an unequal split in childcare and household duties. She points out that there is something obviously stopping this change and equality from coming about. Motherhood and inadequate parental leave are just two of them. According to a report by Harvard Business, women who show in their resume that they had a gap in their career because of becoming a mother, are 50% less likely to be called for an interview than if the gap was due to getting fired.
She explains that although there are a lot of cultural and gender biases, there are also societal barriers at play. From a societal perspective, for example, Ipsos MORI and the Global Institute of Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, conducted a study that showed that globally 18% of men think that staying at home and taking care of children makes them less of a man.
When we talk about equality, from a gender perspective, we really need to focus on changing mindsets. It is not just the corporate culture, or society. It’s the educational culture and everything in between. The entire infrastructure in general needs to be changed. Instead of focusing how women can become more like men, it is time for men to take action in understanding women.
Somi Arian goes on to introduce our next speaker and also to say goodbye to the first group of panelists for this Think Tank. She introduces Sarah Hammond as the last of Group 1.
Sarah Hammond - Business Owner/President, Director, Co-Owner, & Investor
Sarah Hammond is a Business Owner/President, Director, Co-Owner, and investor. She is also a Speaker based in Texas. From her experience as CEO in a male-dominated industry she will give insight into how she worked through the challenges and shifts in the business world.
Sarah Hammond works in the electrical air conditioning, refrigeration and plumbing industry, which would be considered by most a male-dominated industry. She poses two examples that have happened to her at work, where the technicians she hired preferred to work elsewhere once they found out the company was run by a woman. She has had to redesign herself, learn a new mindset and develop and weaponize herself in order to succeed in this type of industry.
She shares a few tips on how she achieved this. Number one, learn about yourself, learn about your triggers and leadership style, and be aware of self imposed limitations. She knew that not being a man in the industry, that being different, was what would add value to her business, and she took full advantage of that. She shares a quote from Lao-Tze: “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.”
She studied personality tests, made her employees in leadership positions do this as well. She found mentors, inside the industry, that were male but were not intimidated, who supported her and helped her continue to learn and grow in the industry. Her best advice for all women as they enter any industry is to remember who they are.
With this, Somi Arian closes the first group of panelists and welcomes Group 2. She introduces the first speaker, Daniela Barone Soares.
Daniela Barone Soares - CEO, Director and Chairperson
Daniela Barone Soares is the CEO of Snowball, an impact investing fund, a Non-Executive Director at Halma Plc, and the Chair of Gove.digital. She has dedicated the past 14 years to working at the intersection of the commercial and the impact worlds for both startups and large corporate environments.
Somi Arian poses the question of How we can use capital as a lever of changing behaviour so that we can create systematic change in society, and what women can bring into the conversation?
She begins by proposing a practical change in our economic model into a sustainable one for a healthy and prosperous future on this planet. Daniela’s company, Snowball is on a mission to change the ways in which financial markets operate and to show it is possible to create a deep and positive impact for both people and planet whilst also generating a sound financial return for investors.
Snowball’s investments are intentional in contributing to solutions for people on the planet, they are additional to what might have happened anyway, and they are measurable so that improvements are tracked and stakeholders are involved and informed. They do this while at the same time providing investors with attractive returns. They are very diversified and low risk and they invest globally in things like sustainable forestry, social housing, and renewable energy.
Changing financial systems is a big mission and capital is a great lever for behavior change and thus anchor a transformation in the way industries are incentivised, invested and funded. Snowball achieves this in practice, working in ways often seen in strong female leaders: nurturing relationships with all stakeholders, being open source and transparent with their methodology, and collaborating with competitors. In reality we all need to race together towards a sustainable future.
Snowball challenges the greed in the investment management industry by limiting their own remuneration. As their funds grow, they progressively reduce their fees. Daniela believes that technology will help in creating this change, particularly AI and machine learning, but technology is only an enabler, and right now, what matters most are the human choices: where we invest our money, where we buy, what we buy, and how much we buy, even what we eat. That is what will determine our collective future.
In light of this ongoing pandemic and the recession that is coming because of it, she believes we cannot go back to normal. It was normal that got us here in the first place. It is time to embrace a new way of doing things, perhaps a more female way, so that we can find a new normal.
Continuing on the line of technology, Somi Arian goes ahead to introduce the next panelist, Michelle Foley.
Michelle Foley - Technical & Security Program Manager, & Business Analyst
Michelle Foley is a Technical Program Manager, Security Program Manager, and Business Analyst based in Louisiana. With 20 years of experience in IT and two degrees in life sciences, Michelle has a wide perspective that covers IT, project management, security and science.
Somi Arian poses the following question to Michelle, Do you feel that women are equally or even adequately represented in Cyber Security? And why is women’s presence in this area crucial for our society?
Michelle Foley begins by stating that the ratio of men to women in the workforce is approximately 50%. However, women are dramatically underrepresented in tech, ~20%. At Microsoft for example, the 2019 data set shows 21% of technical roles are held by women, and 30% across all roles (1), compared to 23.7% in 2012. These numbers are improving over time slowly, we’ve gained ~1% per year. In cyber specifically, 17% according to the International Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC2) (2).
She also mentions a skills gap in the industry, and raises the issue that employers cannot really afford to cut into half their hiring pool (by gender) if there are so many unfilled positions in the industry. She states that cyber crime is now more profitable than the drug trade, with 6 trillion dollars expected to be hit by next year. This number is enormous, and a cyber criminal could be anyone, this is why it is important to have diversity in cyber security.
Diversity of thought:
- 91% of all cyber attacks begin with a phishing email. (5)
- 32% of all successful breaches involve the use of phishing techniques.
- The threat actors are already social engineering SMEs.
- Your security team, response plan, awareness training needs to include diversity of human behavior.
- It may only take one person clicking the link or opening that attachment to provide an attacker with a persistence opportunity for your network.
She proposes the following ways to address these skill gaps and to get more women, from a young age, into STEM programs and interested in technology.
- STEM programs – We need to begin these efforts sooner, before girls start losing interest in math and science. In the US, most stem programs start in grades 4 to 6 (6)
- 65% of careers for today’s students do not exist now and will be technology based. We must nurture interest in STEM fields for boys and girls. Don’t let unconscious bias affect decisions we make for small children like ‘boys play with trucks’, ‘girls play with dolls.’
- We need more women in senior LT positions. This year, we hit a milestone, a record number of women CEOs of Fortune500 companies. 7.5% (8)
- Job descriptions: rewrite job descriptions to limit hard “requirements” or “preferred” and focus more on a few critical skills. Women will typically only apply if they meet 100% of job requirements while men will apply at 60% (9)
Tania Gupta - Data and Analytics Director
Tania Gupta is a Data and Analytics Director with 10 years of experience in the data science and analytics space across the Middle East and the UK. As a data analyst, Tania is in a unique position to address the issue of Data Gap when it comes to women.
Data is more than just facts and figures, and bits and bytes. When Tania Gupta speaks about data she mentions that data comes from all the things we do and the things we interact with as we engage with the world. The issue today is that all this data available is not representative of women.
Our data, although enabled by technology, is all still really about existing within the realm of humans and how we, as a society, interact with each other. It is also about innovation, and how we approach problems in different ways and from different perspectives.
When it comes to the data gap, Tania Gupta is in a unique position to speak about it. She works in Data Science and leads a team of men while also being one of the youngest members in the group. She points out that being taken seriously by her peers is not always easy, especially because she looks so young.
The issues that arise from women not being properly represented in our gathered data is that we have people making making big decisions on the back for this data, but since this data is not representative of women and it is often collected and interpreted with a gap and that in itself creates a systemic and inherent bias in all of our decision making.
She states that the thing that we should be thinking about is the idea of introducing more women into the actual interpretation of data. This is actually quite crucial because women bring a different perspective. Data is a human science, and human progress can only come when we’re actually able to engage with bias. Knowing that it exists and bringing a different perspective can actually account for this gap and will make that data lifecycle more meaningful.
There is a need for women data scientists, engineers, but we also need philosophers, economists, policy makers, activists, etc. We need sister carers and mothers to help make the difference in that data gap.
Somi Arian goes on to introduce the next speaker, Debra Bass.
Debra Bass - President & CMO of Nuvo Group
Debra Bass is President and Chief Marketing Officer of Nuvo Group. In addition to her business leadership, Debra is also a renowned advocate of Women serving in various leadership capacities to advance Gender Equality in the workplace and “grow women to grow the business and our world”.
Somi Arian asks her about her work in women’s health issues and about the lack of research and technology in the area. Arian asks Debra if she thinks this is an opportunity to enable more women, create new markets, and bring in higher levels of socioeconomic activity for women. The idea is try to get a glass half full perspective on the issue.
Bass joined Nuvo, an Israeli health tech company with very novel technology for remote pregnancy monitoring and management. They got FDA clearance in 2020 and are poised to enter the US market at the end of the year with global ambitions for expansions in 2021.
Her assertions for this Think Tank is that women’s health has been underserved from an innovation, investment, and female leadership perspective. She claims that this has been a vicious cycle of problems that we need to flip to a virtuous cycle of solutions.
She points out that women are in seats of influence as chief purchasing and influences in healthcare. 90% of women are primary decision makers and key influencers on healthcare. 80% of women direct healthcare spending within their households. Despite many unmet clinical experiential economic needs for women, from menstruation through menopause, and even in broad areas of chronic diseases like cardiovascular health where women are understudied from a data perspective.
Despite all these unmet needs, only a very small portion of R and D funding in big pharma is invested in women’s health, about 4-7%. Since 2011, only 3% of all digital health deals have focused on women’s health and women only comprise 4% of CEOs and 21% of board members at healthcare Fortune 500 companies.
She points out that there is underrepresentation in many areas, and this of course means there is opportunity for growth.
It is time to flip the problem, and find solutions. This is what Debra’s day job and personal mission is all about. She switches the subject to pregnancy care and touches on that there has been no meaningful innovation in pregnancy care in over 50 years! Women are underserved with outdated technology, tools, and care practises. Due to this, there has been an increase in mother mortality at a global scale, with 300,000 related pregnancy or childbirth deaths every year. The current standard of care for monitoring does not respect the fact that women are busy.
Despite advancements in technology in all areas of our lives, women’s healthcare has not kept pace with the rapid technological advancements. There is really an opportunity to introduce technology and make mothers the point of care, and better serve her through digital tools for convenience.
Debra’s personal goal is to make an impact in better serving women and our next generation, by reinventing pregnancy care for the 21st century, with new technology, tools, and practises. We need more women to create the virtuous circle of more innovation, investment and female leaders at the table.
Arian agrees with Debra, and adds that that is precisely the point of this Think Tank and the FemTalent movement. She then introduces the next speaker, Yojna Verma.
Yojna Verma - Associate Director at Constellation Advisers
Yojna Verma serves as an Associate Director at Constellation Advisers, LLC, a management consulting firm in financial services. With over two decades of experience in New York and the Bay Area, she has held high-level roles at companies on Wall Street, including BTIG LLC, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and the New York Stock Exchange, She serves as volunteer treasurer and board member of Leading Women in Technology, a non-profit organisation that empowers women to grow their networks, knowledge, and leadership skills for greater professional and personal impact.
Arian asks Yojna Verma to talk about how the future of financial services, and money in general, is transforming, and what does this mean for women in finance since the nature of the digital economy is so different from the traditional economy.
During her experience in financial services, Yojna has seen a transformation in the digital economy, and maintains that women have been part of this digital economy. She mentions that if Covid19 had happened 20 years ago, there would have been a huge devaluation in financial services in general, but in 2020, we are lucky to be able to maintain our presence in this digital economy.
Regarding women, women have been heavily involved in bringing this change to the digital economy. Diversity is being addressed among all firms and financial services, but Deloitte’s research in 2019 suggested that only 20% of females are executives, and that women in general have only 23% of board representation, which is supposed to be increasing to 31% by 2030. Yojna feels that this is still a very low percentage and the presence of women that has been significant in this industry, needs to find a voice in this male-dominated culture in Wall Street.
She suggests three ways in which women can gain more visibility in the financial world:
1. In order to gain confidence from clients and stakeholders, we need to first gain confidence in ourselves. Women tend to be more reserved than men, and until we start getting confident promoting ourselves, it will be hard for women to display confidence in their work.
2. Networking. This is when platforms like Somi Arian’s FemTalent, and LinkedIn come in very handy to find individuals in similar fields and share experiences, thoughts, and research.
3. Support women, engage women and be led by women. Women in leadership positions need to build a community within the financial services to increase their minority numbers.
By creating a community, this is the only way we are going to more forth. By women supporting women, financial services can continue to reduce the disparity and increase diversity. She includes that women lead with compassion, empathy, and intuition, and these are the things that bring innovation.
Following this interesting intervention, Somi Arian introduces our next speaker, Joti Balani.
Joti Balani - Founder & Managing Director of Freshriver.ai
Joti Balani is Founder and Managing Director of Freshriver.ai, a leading Enterprise Conversational AI & Data Science Consultancy. She has developed Conversational AI & Data Science frameworks, and has executed them at Enterprises including Lowe’s, Citigroup, American Red Cross, Google, and Verizon in the last few years. She is also a leader in strategy and design at Open Voice Network (Linux foundation funded) and Women in Voice/NJ Chapter, both global non-profits looking to build the next generation of emotionally intelligent talent, design and user trust in the Conversational AI space.
Somi asks her about her experience and AI and what are the dangers of not having enough female input in the development of AI, and what could be done to bring more women in.
With over 20 years experience in enterprises, Joti Balani has realized that companies think and speak in terms of capitalism, and that to change the structure we need to speak their language and change it from within. She uses herself as an example, she comes from an all girls family where their father raised his daughter to be whomever they wanted to be. She has been lucky to grow up in a household where being a girl was not seen as a disadvantage, and perhaps it is because of this confidence that she has made it in a very male-dominated industry.
She points out that more than ever, we need to bring humanism into capitalism, and she believes that men are a part of the solution and this journey. When thinking about the human race, enterprises need to realize that this also includes women. Women are potential clients and buyers and if companies do not cater to them, they are never going to win.
This pandemic has shown that there are clear winners and losers, and it has also brought up that the “winners” are swamped by the huge volume of demands and orders. Winner companies have had to resort to conversational AI to handle this huge surge in orders and customer service requests.
When looking at all these new projects from these companies, Balani first begins by trying to figure out who the users are, where’s the journey map and to do these companies need to think about humans, and this includes women. And who can represent women better than a woman on the team? Balani senses, especially in the AI field, that there is no choice of not having women on the team and enterprises seem to be realizing this as well. From a technology standpoint, there is a need to retain more women in the field, to bring in their fresh perspective and empathetic outlook into projects. And also a need to be intentional.
Balani points out that there is a tipping point coming especially in the realm of technology, and people (women included) need to be put in the forefront of design. Women should be helping other women. She adds a tip for women applying to jobs, to only pay attention to the top three bullet points, the rest are just challenges for the applicant!
Somi Arian continues by introducing the next panelist, Christine MacKay.
Christine MacKay - Founder & CEO of Salamander UK
Christine MacKay is a founder of Salamander UK, an Animation Studio based in Eton and Dundee. Christine is a woman working in animation, which is predominantly a male-dominated industry. Her team of talented creatives comprises, in its majority, of females, including at the senior level. She observes that women have the ambition to gain leadership roles in animation, but the culture preempts progress in this industry.
Somi Arian asks her about how our society and popular culture is shaped by films and animation, and the entertainment industry as a whole. And how does she see women bringing a new perspective to animation?
Christine begins by narrating a brief story of what happens when a person Google searches: “Why animation needs a woman’s perspective”.
She mentions that the second link that appears is the question of whether female animated characters should be pretty. She comments on the fact that it is sad that that is even being discussed, but at the same time it also sends attention in that direction. If a woman’s perspective is used in animation, it can be used to battle all the negative effects of gender stereotyping and how women’s issues are portrayed. It could help bring attention to real-life women’s experiences to the screen, and educate young women to understand what should not be normalized and stand against sexism. A woman’s perspective would also introduce a more diverse cast of characters that do not conform to the tiny wasted, big eyed princess. She expresses the need for normal bodies to be represented in film and animation to stop younger girls from trying to live up to impossible standards.
She also mentions the Bechtel Test, a test that measures the representation of women in fiction, and expresses the ridiculousness of the fact that it only has four rules.
- The story must feature two or more female characters.
- Who must talk to each other
- About something besides a man.
- Must have names.
She highlights that although women are climbing the positions of power in film and animation, directing still seems short on women in film and TV. She wonders if it has something to do with it being normalized for women to take orders rather than to give them.
She believes that the overall impact on the economy, and society at large, of having more female perspective in animation, will help close the gender gap. She mentions that her agency has more females than males, including leadership positions, and she thinks this helps produce better role models that do not fit into gender stereotypes. This opens the door to get more women to leadership positions inside the industry and it being normalized will inspire the future generations.
She concludes by using a quote from Simone de Beauvoir, “It can help discourage women being seen as the second sex and encourage equality.”
Finally, Somi Arian introduces the final guest for this second Think Tank, Joshua Meredith.
Joshua Meredith - Director, Professor, & Chairperson
Joshua Meredith, J.D., is the Director of Career Advising and Technology at Yeshiva University. He also teaches Ethics at Yeshiva, Georgetown University, and Muhlenberg College. In addition, he is also the Chair of Hoya Hacks, the Georgetown University Hackathon. He maintains an interest in technology education and in helping women achieve equality.
Joshua Meredith’s job is to make sure students emerging from university are prepared for what comes next in their careers. He makes sure his students think outside the box. As expressed by many other panelists today, we really need to start thinking differently. What is being tried to achieve is how women can become leaders and how they can join the upper echelons of technology companies and run business from that perspective. This is something Joshua has been committed to for many years. He touches on this issue from a few different viewpoints.
Women’s growth in the technology sector is not a one routed problem. It is a multifactorial problem with many avenues to be potentially explored. From an educational perspective, Joshua thinks about four ways that women can create deeper roots in the tech business and how that growth can be really encouraged.
1. The first thing that needs to be done is to talk to men, and educate men on how their conduct, actions, and ethics affect women in the technology workforce. Without talking to them and making them part of the solution, it is difficult to grow equality.
2. Second, Joshua is a big proponent of women continuing to have space in the technology fields. He proposes open environments where women-only groups, such as local coding groups, hackathon courses, etc, can really help grow women’s skill sets.
3. Third, women need to be encouraged at an educational level to apply to the same roles as their male counterparts. Encourage women to be entrepreneurs.
4. Fourth, he believes that women of post college, who did not get a traditional coding infrastructure education, also have a place in the business technology world. There is also a need for educating women who are already past this point and bring them into coding and technology from a technical standpoint.
Over the past 3 month 8,000 people have expressed interest in joining this movement and the team at FemTalent are building a platform where women can raise investment, find work opportunities, network, etc. There is a lot of in-depth work going into building an infrastructure for an end to end platform where women can raise money and then sell their products to the same women on the platform. This kind of infrastructure has never been seen before, and it is an ambitious goal, but there are many more opportunities available now for women thanks to technology.
There is still a long way to go to achieving equality and closing the gender gap, but we have already started on a path towards it, and listening to some of our panelists and their positive outlook gives us hope that we are moving in the right direction.
It is time for a fundamental change in our society’s infrastructure, it is time to change mindsets and set biases straight in order to achieve a more sustainable future for us and our planet and women have a crucial role to play in this.
Throughout history our society has often women’s characteristics as a weakness when it comes to business, technology, finances, etc. Through these biases, society has pushed women towards career paths they deemed a correct fit, pushing women away from STEM careers.
It is time to change this narrative!