Empowering Women to Reach Their Full Potential!
Think Tank For Women in Business & Technology
This Think Tank was born out of my dream to see women in the top tier of socioeconomic progress, in business and technology. When we look at the list of top 100 thinkers and philosophers of all time, top 100 business minds and entrepreneurs, top 100 politicians, top 100 writers, top 100 scientists, and top 100 most influential people of all time almost 99% of them are male. I’ve been researching the role of women throughout history, looking to understand why our full potential has remained untapped. I believe we can and should have female counterparts of Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, Page, Brin, Bezos, and Musk! These are all individuals who have touched my journey and inspired me in some way. Regardless of how they are viewed by many, these are men who are shaping the future of humanity. I believe we need women in that picture. Women bring a new perspective to leadership in business and technology. We think differently and this will ultimately benefit all of humanity. But having a dream is not enough. You have to do something about it, which is why I created this movement to make it happen.
Please note that the opinions expressed here are mine only. You don’t have to agree with me to be part of this movement. You may have your own reasons for wanting to see women succeed in business and technology. As long as we share the same goal, I hope we can support each other.
What Holds Women Back
I’ve been thinking and researching a lot about what has held women back throughout history. Why don’t we have more female world-class scientists, business leaders, and innovators, even in areas that are historically known as female domains such as cooking, sewing, and dancing, the highest-paid chefs, designers, and dancers are male. Why? I’ve been wracking my brain to figure this out and here is my hypothesis which I’m still researching and developing further. At the moment it’s just my theory and needs a lot more empirical evidence and research but you have to start from somewhere. My conjecture is that somehow it all goes back to information which is the glue that binds three elements that shape all human experience. Those elements are nature, nurture and the self.
- Nature is our biology, and DNA which define our mental and physical components.
- Nurture is driven by our environment which includes culture, education, law, politics, economy, workplace, and technology.
- Self is the third and the last factor which has the ability to decide to what degree we will be defined by our nature or environment. This is the question of free will, which fascinated me as a woman born and brought up in an underprivileged and traditional society which was profoundly oppressive towards women.
- There is however one more element which is outside of these three factors but binds them together. That element is information, (AKA knowledge, data).
The roots of women’s underdevelopment in socioeconomic terms go back to the restriction of data, to women, and about women. Let me explain the origins of this data gap.
Women & Information Gap
For women, the challenge starts with biology at the most fundamental level, where mother nature designed them to be the childbearing sex. The disparity in the flow of data to women began with our hunter-gatherer ancestors when men left the base and went into the wild to hunt. They had to collaborate, compete, and build tools, all of which led to the generation of knowledge, development of technology, and gaining valuable data which was not shared with women.
They say knowledge is power for a reason and the male dominance in homo-sapiens is the exemplar of this fact. In addition to a lack of flow of information to women, the biological effects of childbirth, menstruation, menopause, and their unpaid labour around the house limited their freedom of movement, education, and self-development. The complexity of women’s biology also meant that less focus has been placed on addressing female-only health issues. Over time this lack of flow of information to women and about women became the norm in our culture, education, law, politics, economy, workplace, and technology, that to this date, carry unconscious biases against women. Even in our 21st Century society this still happens. For example, although women sit on the board of some companies or political organisations, the majority of deals happen when men socialise outside of those environments in their evening clubs where women are not present for various cultural and practical reasons.
So, I argue that the first step in levelling the playing field for women is by tackling the data gap in every single area pertaining to nature, nurture, and the self. This means both educating women and educating the society about women. Let me give you just a few examples:
Example From Physics
You’ve probably heard about the Hubble Telescope. Well, did you know that Edwin Hubble built his ideas on top of the finding of Henrietta Leavitt, a female astronomer who worked at the Harvard College Observatory as a “computer”, and examined photographic plates in order to measure and catalogue the brightness of stars. Leavitt’s work enabled astronomers to measure the distance to faraway galaxies. After her death, Edwin Hubble used Leavitt’s work to establish that the universe was expanding. Hubble went on to win a Nobel Prize and gained all the recognition that arguably Leavitt should have gained. Most importantly, as a woman Leavitt was not allowed to operate the telescopes. So her knowledge and experience were restricted to second-hand information as opposed to direct access to the source of knowledge.
Philosophy and Psychology
There are few people who have not heard of Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. However, you probably have never heard of a woman called Lou Andreas-Salomé, who was a Russian-born psychoanalyst, and author. Salomé was a close friend to Nietzche, Freud, Paul Rée, and Rainer Maria Rilke and had a big influence on them. She was one of the first female psychoanalysts to write on female sexuality before she met Freud who later admired her work. She was a complex woman by the standard of her time, and perhaps even today she wouldn’t have been fully accepted for her free-spirited lifestyle and liaisons.
However, Salomé was a super-intelligent woman who impacted some of the biggest minds of her time, but as a woman, she was never able to rise to prominence to the same degree and she is now largely forgotten. When you read Nietzsche and Freud and especially their views of women perhaps it’s worth bearing in mind their close friendships with Salome. In fact, Nietzsche was so madly in love with Salome that he suffered immense depression when he felt that he was rejected by her.
When we talk about computers, we often hear about the idea of the Universal Turing Machine. But in fact, the first person who recognised that an “Analytical Engine”, could have universality in its use case was a woman called Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician and writer who collaborated with Charles Babbage. Even before a computer was ever conceived Lovelace published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine, making her one of the first-ever computer programmers.
Yet, computer science has come to be known as a largely male-dominated field and few people know about Ada Lovelace outside of the industry. Moreover, Lovelace was a Countess which meant that the status of her family was part of the reason she managed to gain her level of education and was able to collaborate with Babbage. Naturally, it would have been impossible for other women of lower background to ever have a chance to gain such opportunities.
From History to Herstory
I’m not going to go down a feminist argument here. I think these are a few great examples of restriction of data to a woman, and about women has deprived our history of female role models in almost every field of knowledge and innovation. We say that there are not enough role models. Well, there are more than you think, we are just not letting them shine through the pages of history.
Should we perhaps go back and rename The Hubble Telescope to the Leavitt Telescope, and the Universal Turing Machine to the Universal Lovelace machine? And should we recognise Salome Lou’s role in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis up there with Freud and Nietzsche? What kind of message are we sending to our young women when we don’t show them female role models such as these and the many other forgotten women in history? Lack of flow of information to women and about women creates a negative feedback loop and which leads to increased inequality. Eventually, this inequality can grow to a point that it may be irreversible.
The Impact of Inequality
Systemic and historical inaccuracies or lack of data has now created a mountain of social and biological complexity that makes it nearly impossible for women to break down the barrier of entry in many areas, let alone excel in them. To give you an analogy, if we compare creating a world-class business to the construction of a building, for someone like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, or Bill Gates, this is like starting from a flat foundation and laying the blocks on top of each other until the building is complete. As white men, it’s been much easier for them to be the right person at the right time, with access to the right information.
Whereas for a woman to achieve the same level of success, first they need to break down the old social and biological structures to level the field before they can even begin laying their foundation. By then, they will have lost valuable years of youth, energy, and stamina. Look at the film industry for example. The history of academy awards goes all the way back to the late 1920s. In almost an entire century there’s only ever been one female director who won the award. That’s because for a woman to reach that level of success, they have to break down doors, demolish long-established norms, and bulldoze their way. The stamina, energy, and sacrifice that it takes to do so are beyond words.
How the Conference Works
Each month we will have a group of panellists to discuss the ten factors that hold women back and we explore how we can solve these problems, especially, through the application of technology. Panellists can submit a proposal to speak at the conference in one of the above areas. Here is a list of what we’re looking for from the panellists in each area.
For this category we are looking for individuals from the medical profession who can speak about the following:
- How does menstruation affect women throughout their lifetime from adolescence to middle age, and what areas of research and technological developments are we missing in order to address this issue.
- Should we perhaps consider having a healthy debate on whether it’s possible/ethical to try and stop periods for women when they are not intending to have children?
- For those women who choose to continue to have a period, can we develop new technologies to help them suffer less emotional and physical pain?
- Childbirth and childcare are among the number one reasons women sight for missing valuable years of career progress.
- Are we doing enough research and development in the medical field to help women recover faster both physically and emotionally after giving birth? What could we do better and how is lack of funding halting research in these areas?
- Menopause is another biological fact that affects women’s productivity, both mentally and physically.
- The medical field seems to have made little progress in dealing with the effects of menopause. What are we missing and what does it take to research and develop ways to alleviate these effects and empower women to continue to be productive and experience a sense of vitality throughout these years.
Here, we are looking for people who come from a background in media, publications, arts, music or any other cultural endeavours that reflect how society thinks about women. Music, arts, fashion and beauty and media are mirrors of our society. They show the good, the bad, and the ugly. We hope to explore the following:
- The world’s population has tripled since the 1950s and a simple glance at statistics reveals that our rate of population growth as a species on earth is not sustainable. This raises the questions
- Should we continue to define women as the childbearing sex and encourage them to see themselves as mothers primarily?
- Should we consider encouraging fewer women to have children and focus on quality over quantity, by making sure that young mothers get the education and support they need to develop intellectually and economically?
- How does popular media hold women back through unconscious biases that discourage them from going into the STEM fields?
- How do music and arts portray women which impacts their career choices and trajectory?
- Is there undue pressure on women to look a certain way no matter how smart and successful they are, and how is this affecting women mentally and financially?
We are looking for individuals from a background in education and academia to discuss how traditional educational systems are failing to attract women to STEM fields and develop them into future leaders in business and technology.
- Are we teaching math and science to women the wrong way? Research has shown that when women solve math problems they use their brain differently. We often use the same approach to teach male and female pupils and it’s worth exploring how this may be causing a disparity between the sexes since an early age.
- How does menstruation, childbirth, childcare, and menopause affect women’s education?
- What are some of the biases in the educational systems, especially in higher education which doesn’t allow women to reach their full potential?
- When we look at the most influential academics, philosophers, psychologists, economists, and scientists, they are mostly men. There are many women who manage to get into these fields but very few or none seem to gain global and multi-generational recognition and of course, it’s important that we have these as role models for future generations.
Ideally, we need an economist here, or individuals with a background in investment banking, wealth management and entrepreneurship who can discuss:
- Why women invest less, own fewer assets, and are generally less wealthy than men. We need to look at statistics both globally and in Europe and the US.
- What are some of the factors that stop women from taking higher financial risks that may subsequently lead to higher rewards?
- Is the financial structure of traditional banking systems biased in a way that puts women at a disadvantage?
- Is fin-tech more “female-friendly”? Or have the old biases carried on in the new systems.
- What is the future of money in a digital economy and what does this mean for women?
- How can we increase women’s financial literacy and help them gain more financial power and control?
We are inviting individuals from a background in the diplomatic and political professions as well as political journalists who can talk about:
- Why have women been historically less present in the top tier of the political sphere?
- What are the statistics for women’s political presence in the world today and how is the trajectory looking for the future.
- Does society treat male and female politicians differently and is this putting women off from running for office?
- It appears that we are currently living through a new era of a cold war between China and the United States, what does this mean for female politicians, and could we expect to see a de-escalation if we could have more women at the table?
- What is the role of governments in the age of technological disruptions?
- Are governments losing their relevance when a handful of technology firms generate vast profits and own valuable data on their constituents? Where do women stand in this picture?
- Are we entering, or indeed, have we entered the age of the sovereign individual and can we expect to see some or even equal number of women among them?
In this category, we are looking for individuals who come from a legal background who have worked extensively with women. We hope to explore how the legal systems around the world may be holding women back from socioeconomic progress. For example:
- Are there biases that predispose certain groups of women to criminal conduct?
- Are there circumstances that make it harder for women to bounce back and rebuild their lives after serving a sentence.
- How can we improve the rate of education especially in STEM areas in women who find themselves in jail?
- How could technology help bring down the rate of crime among women?
- How can we provide better workplace protection from harassment for women in the workplace?
An ideal spokesperson for this category would be Psychologists, life coaches and executive coaches with an extensive background in working with women. We will explore:
- What are the psychological barriers that hold women back from socioeconomic progress?
- Is it true that women are less assertive/aggressive in business and if so, why?
- Do women stress more about perfectionism to the point of being held back? For example, there is an argument that women feel they need to overcompensate for being a female in a male-driven industry. Share your experience if this has been the case in your work with women and how to address it.
- Are women more worried about what others think about them and how they are judged?
- Do women suffer from a lack of support network and collaboration?
- How is women’s mental health impacted by menstruation, childbirth, child care, and menopause?
- How can we use technology to help women gain more control over their mental health and well being?
Here we are inviting panellists with a background in corporate management, who have either worked or coached/consulted at large corporations. We are looking at:
- How hierarchical nature of corporations make harder women to reach the top tier?
- What are the unsaid cultural norms within corporate cultures that put women at a disadvantage?
- Is the “flat” culture of large tech companies really flat and why are women still in the minority in the top tier of these corporations, too?
- Is positive discrimination, A) necessary, B) fair, in dealing with a lack of female representation in STEM fields and in the top 1% of the decision-making suite?
Technology is the name we give to the tools that enable us to reach beyond our limit, whether that limit is an apple on a tree branch that we can’t reach without a stick, or it’s about colonising Mars. From early history, when hunter-gatherers built tools to kill animals, technology has been largely developed and driven by men. Unsurprisingly, this means that women are grossly underrepresented in this field which underpins all aspects of our lives. By its very nature Technology is routed in the STEM fields. Of highest importance for our century is the development of Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology and we need women in these areas and especially in the C-Suite, with pressing urgency. The big question is:
- What does it take to train and develop more female talent to enter into these fields?
As a panellist for this category, you will be ahead of learning and innovation, a CTO, or any other relevant senior management from a technology firm who can discuss the barriers of entry for women in technology. We would also welcome technology consultants and inventors looking at solutions to improve women’s lives through the application of technology.
10- Data Gap
We’ve left this area to the last as it underpins all the above categories. No matter which area we look at there are vast data gaps about women. We have little information about the complexities of women’s biology, how cultural biases affect them, how to educate women in STEM fields, and many other ways that women’s lives and their needs are different.
Our cars, buildings, transportation, political and economic landscape, educational systems, and our technologies are all primarily built with little understanding of the female portion of the population. Even our historical data is often missing important information about women. Women are often left behind and their contribution was forgotten. You’ve probably heard of the Hubble telescope? In a world without the kind of data gap that we are talking about that telescope could have been named after Henrietta Leavitt, a mathematician and astronomer who was instrumental in helping us calculate the size of the universe. If you don’t know the story, be sure to Google it.
We would like to invite data scientists who can help us better understand women, and their biological and psychological characteristics. We also hope to find data scientists who can help us find and correct the historical gaps and restore the role of women through our evolutionary biology and social history.
About Somi Arian
Somi Arian is a tech philosopher, multi-award-winning filmmaker, author, entrepreneur, and a LinkedIn-Top-Voice in the UK. With a background in philosophy of science and technology, Somi describes her role in society as a ‘Transition Architect’. As humans merge with technology, and society enters a new phase of human evolution, Somi works on frameworks to address the challenges ahead.
Somi’s documentary, “The Millennial Disruption”, has won three international awards. Her book, “Career Fear (and how to beat it), addresses the future of work and the skills we all need to gain to survive and thrive in the age of Artificial Intelligence. As a speaker, Somi gives talks and workshops internationally on the impact of technology on society, the business landscape, the future of work, developing thought leadership, and digital transformation both in marketing and in HR.
Somi is the founder of Smart Cookie Media, a modern-day Digital Marketing firm for thought-leaders. She is also the co-founder of Career Drive, an online platform that uses entertainment to teach emotional intelligence, and an investor and advisory board member of NuroKor Bioelectronics, an exciting wearable technology startup. Somi’s latest endeavour is the Think Tank for Women in Business & Technology and an accompanying platform she is building to help materialise the mission of the think thank in empowering women.