Tech Philosopher Somi Arian is the founder of the Think Tank for Women in Business & Technology and the FemPeak platform.
The initiative began in July 2020 with Somi’s announcement on LinkedIn. (See the embedded post to the left). Our mission is to raise women’s socioeconomic status and see women in the top tier of business, technology, science, and philosophy.
There are ten giant tech corporations, five in the US and five in China, that are determining the future of humanity as we merge with technology in the 21st Century. Not a single one of these companies are founded and run by women. It is imperative to have a female perspective in the room where the future of humanity is decided. We’re building a super-platform to be a stepping stone for women to realise their full potential. We want to see an equal number of women at the table and in the driver seat.
In this Century, as we build new industries and new economic models, our political systems and educational institutions undergo profound changes driven by technology.
The Think Tank events take place on http://fempeak.ai; you can now sign up on the platform directly and join a community of professionals that actively support women.
A PREMISE WORTH CONSIDERING
Let’s start with a simple question: 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. Here is a premise worth considering. Somehow it all appears to stem from the flow of information between three elements that shape all of the human experience. Those elements are nature, nurture and the self.
- Nature is our biology, the DNA which defines our mental and physical components.
- Nurture is driven by our environment, including culture, education, law, politics, economy, workplace, and technology.
- The Self is the third and the last factor that can decide to what degree our nature or environment will define us.
- There is, however, one more element that is outside of these three factors but binds them together. That element is information (AKA knowledge, data). I argue that the roots of women’s underdevelopment in socioeconomic terms go back to restricting the flow of data/information to women and women. Let me explain the origins of this data gap, which is the premise of this movement, our conferences and the platform we are building to address.
WOMEN & INFORMATION GAP
The challenge starts with biology at the most fundamental level for women, where mother nature designed them to be the childbearing sex. The disparity in the data flow 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, which led to knowledge, technology development, and valuable data 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 information flow to women, the biological effects of childbirth, menstruation, menopause, and 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 had been placed on addressing female-only health issues. Over time, this lack of information to women and women became the norm in our culture, education, law, politics, economy, workplace, and technology, carrying 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, most 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 of nature, nurture, and the self. This means both educating women and educating society about women. Let me give you just a few examples:
EXAMPLE FROM PHYSICS
You’ve probably heard of the Hubble Telescope. Did you know that Edwin Hubble built his ideas on top of Henrietta Leavitt’s finding? She worked at the Harvard College Observatory as a “computer” and examined photographic plates to measure and catalogue the brightness of stars? Leavitt’s work enabled astronomers to measure the distance to faraway galaxies. After her death, Hubble used Leavitt’s work to establish that the universe was expanding. Hubble went on to win a Nobel Prize and gained recognition that arguably Leavitt should have earned. Most importantly, as a woman, Leavitt was not allowed to operate the telescopes. So her knowledge and experience were restricted to second-hand information instead of direct access to the source of knowledge.
PHILOSOPHY & PSYCHOLOGY
Few people 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 of Nietzche, Freud, Paul Rée, and Rainer Maria Rilke and significantly influenced them. She was one of the first female psychoanalysts to write on female sexuality before she met Freud, who later admired her work.
Salomé was a super-intelligent woman who impacted some of the most prominent minds of her time. Still, 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 mostly their views of women, perhaps it’s worth bearing in mind their close friendships with Salome. Nietzsche was so madly in love with Salome that he suffered immense depression when he felt that she rejected him.
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.
Computer science has come to be known as a mostly male-dominated field, and few people know about Ada Lovelace outside of the industry. Moreover, Lovelace was a Countess, which meant that her family’s status helped her gain a certain level of education, and she collaborated with Babbage. Naturally, it would have been impossible for other women of less privileged backgrounds ever to have a chance to gain such opportunities.
OUR SIX AREAS OF FOCUS
The initiative consists of two components:
1 - The Think Tank for Women in Business & Technology, which includes:
- quarterly conferences where industry leaders share their thoughts in 3-minute lightning presentations
- weekly open sessions where members turn up, raise their hand and speak in a supportive environment that allows them to network, meet other members and share their experiences
- podcast interviews, featuring entrepreneurs, scientists, and thinkers from across the world
2 - Educational programs, career opportunities, and other verticals that we are building on the FemPeak platform to help us meet the frameworks that we develop through the Think Tank by 2030. These verticals aim to address the following areas:
- Confidence building
- Increasing knowledge of technology
- Financial literacy & wealth generation
- Leadership and entrepreneurial skills
- Women’s health
- Family, relationship, and childcare
We understand that lack of a female perspective in the top tier of business and technology has never felt as pressing as today. We created this initiative to bring together academics, industry leaders, and thinkers worldwide to brainstorm how to change this narrative. The six verticals mentioned above play an essential role in women’s success or lack thereof in the business and technology landscape. Together we work towards redefining the historical narrative of women’s role in business, technology, and society as humans merge with technology in the 21st century.
Below are some example of the areas that we will tackle through this initiative as our members empower one another to build innovative businesses and create new industries to tackle these challenges.
- Women are more likely than men to suffer adverse side effects of medications because drug dosages have historically been based on clinical trials conducted on men, suggests new research (ScienceDaily, 2020). Women are being widely overmedicated—and suffering excess side effects—because drug dosages are calculated based on studies done overwhelmingly on male subjects (University of Chicago)
- While the inclusion of females in drug trials has increased in recent years, many of these newer studies still fail to analyse the data for sex differences, said Irving Zucker (Science Daily, Aug 2020) For example: Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of US women, and it affects men and women differently at every level, including symptoms, risk factors and outcomes. But only one-third of cardiovascular clinical trial subjects are female and only 31% of cardiovascular clinical trials that include women report results by sex, according to the report.
- 52% of women have experienced period pain that affects their ability to work but only 27% had told their boss period pain was responsible (BBC, 2016).
- Menopause often intersects with a critical career stage. It usually occurs between ages 45 and 55 – which is also the age bracket during which women are most likely to move into top leadership positions (technically 53.46 years old for a CEO). Since menopause generally lasts between seven and 14 years, millions of postmenopausal women are coming into management and top leadership roles while experiencing mild to severe symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation and cognitive impairment, to name a few. (Harvard Business Review)
Mothers who leave employment completely are three times more likely to return to a lower-paid or lower-responsibility role than those who do not take a break. (Insight)
17 percent of women leave employment completely in the five years following childbirth, compared to four percent of men. (Insight)
75% of global unpaid work is done by women (Mckinsey, 2020). Up to $28 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. Women ‘disproportionately carry the “double burden” of working for pay and working unpaid in the home in both mature and emerging economies’ (Mckinsey, 2019).
BUSINESS & CORPORATE
The World Economic Forum reported a 74 % gender gap in technical professions, with an even bigger gap in emerging areas such as Artificial Intelligence. (Stroi, O.. (2020). Gender-Biased Language of the Workplace. Discourse. 5. 120-131. 10.32603/2412-8562-2019-5-6-120-131.)
Despite gains for women in leadership, the “broken rung” was still a major barrier in 2019. For the sixth year in a row, women continued to lose ground at the first step up to manager. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for some women: only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted. As a result, women remained significantly outnumbered in entry-level management at the beginning of 2020—they held just 38 per cent of manager-level positions, while men held 62 per cent. (McKinsey, Women in the Workplace 2020 Report)
48% of female founders report that a lack of available advisors and mentors limits their professional growth, according to Inc.
In 2017, only 17% of startups have a female founder TechCrunch.
40% of London women (with kids) that are eligible to work don’t have a job (BBC, 2015)
London Women are less likely to be self-employed than men. 13 percent of women were self employed compared to 23 percent of men. 74% of men were economically active compared to 61% of Women in London. (London Datastore)
- Women makeup only 24% of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news (Global Media Monitoring Project Report, 2015).
- Women are less likely to apply and perform well when jobs are advertised using generic masculine. This is particularly the case for leadership positions at a 27:1 ratio (Horvath and Sczesny (2016))
- Social norms are a key factor underlying deprivations and constraints throughout the lifecycle. Norms affect women’s work by dictating the way they spend their time and undervaluing their potential. Housework, child-rearing, and elderly care are often considered primarily women’s responsibility. (World Bank)
- People are more likely to suggest male candidates for jobs and political appointments than women (Stahlberg, D. and Sczesny, S. (2001).
- “We find, for example, that the words ‘man’ and ‘career’ tend to co-occur with each other more often than ‘woman’ and ‘career’ in nearly all 25 languages that we looked at,” Lewis said. (Lewis & Lupyan, 2020, Nature Human Behavior)
- The gendered language can be found in all texts related to recruitment and promotion and maybe one of the reasons for the professional gender-gap. (Stroi, O.. (2020)
- Women are generally less wealthy on a global level. In 1993, women made up 20% of the wealthiest 10% of the population. Twenty years later, it had increased only to 28.2% (London School of Economics, 2013)
- Throughout the world, women are concentrated in less-productive jobs and run enterprises in less-productive sectors, with fewer opportunities for business scale-up or career advancement World Bank. Women own less than 20% of the world’s land (WEF, 2017) and female fund managers were responsible for just 4% of worldwide assets (CityWire, 2016)
- Women employ fewer people – only around 22% of startups have at least one woman as a founder (FastCompany, 2019). Only 1 in 3 UK entrepreneurs is female: a gender gap equivalent to 1.1 million missing businesses. (Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, HM Treasury 2019).
- Women earn less – women earned 85% of what men earned in the USA (Pew ResearchPew Research Center, 2018). Women earned 82% of what men earned in the UK (Office of National Statistics, 2019). Women earned 84% of what men earned in the EU (European Commission, 2017).
- The World Economic Forum reports that in 2018 only 34 % of managerial positions globally were occupied by women, and the wage gap between male and female employees constitutes 63 % on average with only 67 % of women doing paid jobs. (World Economic Forum, 2018)
- Up to £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men. Even if the UK were to achieve the same average share of women entrepreneurs as best-in-class peer countries, this would add £200 billion of new value to the UK economy (Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, HM Treasury 2019) Link
- Women invest less – only 14% of angel investors in the UK are women (EIS, 2018). Almost two million investment-minded women are holding back on investing due to systemic sexism, resulting in £62.9bn potential economic activity lost each year (EIS, 2018).
- One in three women believes that the investment world is heavily weighted towards men in terms of available advice and opportunities (EIS, 2018).
- Almost five million women in the UK believe that the advice they are given on investment decisions is of a lower quality than that given to men (EIS, 2018).
Educational Textbooks across the globe underrepresented women up to 90% less than men (Silvina Biongiovanni (2014), Clark, Roger, Allard, Jeffrey and Mahoney, Timothy (2004).
- Though STEM experts may be at a distinct advantage in tomorrow’s workforce, most of them are men. Women hold 56% of university degrees overall, but just 36% of STEM degrees, and they make up only 25% of the STEM workforce. Just 22% of AI professionals and 12% of machine-learning experts are women, according to a WEF-LinkedIn study (WEF, 2020)
- Lack of education puts women and girls at a higher risk of trafficking, exploitation, child marriages and other harmful practices. (Apolitical, July 2020)
- In many countries, half of the students entering medical schools are women. However, women physicians face enormous barriers throughout their career: they receive lower salaries and less funding, have more difficulty publishing their research and have slower career progression than their male counterparts. (Oxford University Press, Jan 2020)
- According to a Women In Tech report by PWC, among the students participating in the research, more boys opted for STEM subjects compared to girls, except for biology. This is true both in high school and in university.
- equality should not be confused with uniformity and in fact, uniformity can be often the enemy of equality. (UNESCO)
- cases where the notion of “best interest of the child” is wrongly used to perpetuate harmful practices such as child marriage in Bangladesh. She cited other numerous examples of loopholes in the law that are discriminatory and harmful for women, such as the prohibition of child marriage only up to the age of puberty in Nigeria; child rapists being exonerated if they marry their victim in several countries worldwide; and virginity testing of girls over 16 in South Africa, and many other countries.
- legislation can also be inequitable by being overly protective of women.
- The 2018 World Bank Report on Women, Business and the Law reveal that 104 economies still prevent women from working in certain jobs because supposedly they would not be fit for these kinds of jobs.
- Legal discrimination is a remarkably common barrier to women’s work. Of 143 economies, 128 had at least one legal differentiation in 2013.13 These barriers include restricting women’s ability to access institutions (such as obtaining an ID card or conducting official transactions), own or use property, build credit, or get a job. In 15 countries, women still require their husbands’ consent to work. In many economies, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, women face the cumulative effects of multiple legal constraints. (World Bank)
- In an international survey of over 7,500 women lawyers conducted by the Law Society, the top three barriers to women’s career progression were reported to be unconscious bias on the part of senior colleagues (52% of respondents), an unacceptable work/life balance (48%), and a belief that the traditional networks and routes to promotion in law are male orientated (46%).
- “NDAs are a significant problem because they silence women from speaking out and effecting change,” Proudman explains. “The covering up of sexual assault and harassment often in the context of elite firms enables patterns of harassment and abuse to continue unchallenged. This is also just one example of the law itself being used to reinforce male power and privilege and to provide the perfect climate for male abuse and exploitation to flourish unchecked, which is particularly worrying for the legal profession which is supposed to be the upholders of the rule of law – you know, equality and freedom”. (LawCareers.net, 2018)
- In the political realm, we should go back to data from early human history. The political evolution of “man” has been attributed largely to hunting which was perceived to be a male activity. E.g. this book.
- Only 24.5 per cent of the total world parliamentarians are women”. Nation Africa Women In Politics 2019 Map
- By the dawn of 2020, women were leading just 20 of 193 nations and occupying a quarter of parliamentary seats globally. Women share an equal majority or more in only four parliaments around the world – Rwanda, Cuba, Bolivia and the United Arab Emirates. (King’s College London, 2020)
- For political institutions to be democratically legitimate and responsive to all citizens, they must be inclusive of the plurality of groups that exist within the population. This requires greater representation of women in national parliaments and broader diversity. (King’s College London, 2020)
- In a 2012 report, American University professor of government Jennifer Lawless and Loyola Marymount University political science professor Richard Fox studied “potential candidates” of both genders to determine what was keeping women from running. (NPR 2016)
- Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
- Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena. (That is, the authors write, women saw how Clinton and Palin were treated in the 2008 election and decided not to run.)
- Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
- Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk-averse than their male counterparts.
- Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
- Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office — from anyone.
- Women have the same abilities as men to behave and speak assertively, but they are context conscious.(Amanatullah, E. T., & Morris, M. W., 2010)
- Research on competitive business negotiation has found that women are generally less assertive and less successful than men. These findings are especially true in salary negotiations, where women agree to lower outcomes, widening the gender wage gap. Past studies suggest that women and men may come to the table with differing levels of entitlement or self-interest, or that women may be discouraged by social cues that signal assertiveness and do not align with female gender roles. (Amanatullah, E. T., & Morris, M. W., 2010)
- Women have the same abilities as men to behave and speak assertively, but they are context conscious.(Amanatullah, E. T., & Morris, M. W., 2010)
- According to the Office for National Statistics, women currently account for only 16.8% of workers in the UK’s tech sector, with the Inclusive Tech Alliance calculating that close to 1m women must be hired for the UK’s tech industry to reach gender parity. UK TECH NEWS
- [In the future, AI] Entirely new occupations could be created, but women may find it more challenging than men to fill these jobs (McKinseyThe Future of Women at Work in the UK)
- According to Adeva IT, as of 2018, women held only 25% of all the jobs in the tech industry, despite women making up almost half of the total workforce. What’s worse, this number is lower than the percentage of tech jobs held by women back in the 1980s.
- Research by PWC reports that of all the female respondents, only 27% said that they would consider a tech career, this is in contrast to 62% of males. (Isemag). In addition, only 3% of females would opt for a tech career as their first choice, in contrast to 15% of males.
- Whereas 33% of male respondents reported that they had someone suggest a tech career to them, only 16% of females reported to have received similar suggestions. (Isemag)
- “Equality is still not the same as equity, and this definition ignores important aspects of equity. Equating equity with equality assumes the workplace is completely separate from the rest of life and thus ignores the fact that people have lives outside of their work. By being gender-neutral, this first definition ignores the different life experiences of men and women and makes the current ‘male’ model of the ideal academic normative. It assumes that women can follow this model as easily as men, and, if they do, will be seen as successful and as central as their male colleagues. Neither of these assumptions is true.” (Bailyn, 2003, pp. 139
- Machine Learning could increase data bias against women. Machine learning is based on existing data, which means that it looks for patterns in available data to predict the future. If the data that the algorithm uses to make predictions is biased, then predictions will have these same biases and discrimination. If recruiters had a gender bias when they selected candidates, it is possible that the recommendation algorithm carries the same bias. For instance, Amazon stopped using an AI recruiting tool after it realised it was consistently downgrading female candidates. Their machine learning technology was biased against women. (DoBetter Interview)
- Artificial intelligence is going to revolutionise our way of life: if this new world is to be reinvented by only half of the population then it will not be as inclusive as if it were created for everyone in an equitable way. (DoBetter Interview)
- Women are 47 per cent more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident. What is more shocking, however, is the reason behind it – quite simply: crash-test dummies are all modelled on the male body. Yorkshire Post
ABOUT SOMI ARIAN
Somi Arian is a tech philosopher, award-winning filmmaker, author, entrepreneur, and 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 in marketing and HR.
Somi is the founder of Smart Cookie Media, a modern-day Digital Marketing firm for thought-leaders and 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 the FemPeak platform to help raise women’s socioeconomic status.