Eight new tech leaders are among the top 250 entries of the Sunday Times Rich List 2021, a directory of the most affluent people in the UK by net wealth. Though the list reflects the focus placed on technology as a result of Covid-19, it also echoes the severe diversity problem affecting the tech industry.
The new names include VCs and entrepreneurs such as Alex Chesterman, CEO of second-hand car marketplace Cazoo, and Guillaume Pousaz, CEO of fintech platform Checkout.com, who saw their businesses rocket during the pandemic. But none of the eight tech leaders are women, and with the exception of Hopin’s Johnny Boufarhat and Ali Parsa of Babylon Health, who both have Middle Eastern backgrounds, the new entrants are white. This reflects the wider make-up of the tech sector, which is still predominantly male and white, particularly in the most senior positions.
In the UK, 19% of women are employed in tech jobs, despite women making up 49% of the overall workforce in the country, Tech Nation data shows. When it comes to seniority, 77% of tech director roles are held by men and 23% by women, compared to 71% of male directors and 29% female directors in the wider UK economy.
Another survey by Women in Tech found that half of the women (52%) working in tech say that they have experienced gender bias or discrimination in the workplace, and 78% believe there is a gender pay gap in the sector with men earning higher salaries.
Across the EU, 51.3% of people employed in science and technology are women. However, figures from Eurostat only reflect the number of women working in science and technology occupations and not a breakdown of seniority.
Tech diversity: "Show me the money"
Suki Fuller, fellow at the Council of Competitive Intelligence Fellows and venture capital adviser, is not surprised by the lack of gender diversity among the new tech tycoons. In her view, unless women and women-led ventures get the funding they need, it's unlikely that representation at the top will improve.
“It’s more of the same,” Fuller told Tech Monitor. “In the grand scheme of things, it looks really great for tech founders that people are getting on those lists a lot faster, [but] I think that’s a little bit of a bubble. You have platforms that have scaled a lot more rapidly because of the pandemic but other things that are generally needed – social care, women’s health and mental health platforms – don’t seem to be reaching the same heights, and of course, a lot of those are being built by women.”
During 2020, venture funding to female-founded start-ups fell to 2.3%, Crunchbase data shows – a 0.5% decrease from the previous year. It is unclear though if this drop is directly related to Covid-19, figures demonstrate that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted working women. Fuller highlights the duplicity of the public narrative that speaks of the importance of women’s health but fails to put words into action.
“All of the things that everybody is saying we really need, they don’t seem to be the ones that are getting much funding,” she adds. “It’s always about ‘how much money can we make really fast?’ And those are not areas that people can make money really fast, unless it’s the NHS app.”
Sarah Luxford, co-founder of Tech London Advocates Women in Tech, agrees that unless there is real commitment expressed through funding, women will be absent from the top positions.
"Show me the money," says Luxford. "We need more investment into female-led ventures. 2020 gave a focus to technology and innovation but there is still a need to give credit to those who facilitated that change and also to make lists representative of the wider society, not just a group at the top."
She adds: “Until women can also reach these echelons we will continue to witness a dysfunctional inequality of opportunity. This is vital for [an] inclusive and sustainable economic growth.”