by Taylor McAuliffe
In the fast-paced realm of technology, where innovation reigns supreme, a glaring disparity persists – the lack of representation and recognition for women. Despite the industry’s rapid evolution, women continue to find themselves on the sidelines, their invaluable contributions often overlooked
The rise of AI has brought with it a further polarization within the tech industry where, despite the significant efforts of women engineers, data scientists, policy makers and professionals, there continues to be a lack of recognition and respect for their work and their voices in the industry, and in the media. This continues to be contentious and women across the tech world are rightfully angered at this lack of respect for the cumulation of work that has been done by women.
And so, we continue to ask, “where are the women?”
Theodora Lau is the founder of Unconventional Ventures and has been a champion for driving discussion around the startling lack of representation of women in the tech industry. We recently hosted Lau on our Tech Uncensored podcast to have a much needed conversation about the future of AI and the perpetual under representation of critical voices.
Lau opened the discussion by reflecting on the illusion of an AI future for “all”. There has been no lack of hype around the future of AI; the belief that this technology will change the way we do everything including the way we work and live. However, amidst this a critical concern emerges – the stark absence of diversity in decision-making circles,
“You can’t say that this is a shared future unless people are represented at the table when decisions are being made. When we are represented, we think about what the technology will do, who it would serve and who we might hurt in the process, you need those voices.”
“If this is a space that is going to impact all of us, why are we not bringing more people on board? And I reject the fact that there are not enough women in the pipeline. We’ve used that excuse too often. In our education system that there’s just not enough women. I think if we are willing to look beyond the little black book, there are a lot of amazing women”
Lau’s insight challenges the prevailing narrative, emphasizing the need for a more inclusive and equitable approach in steering the course of AI development to ensure that its impact genuinely serves the interests of a diverse and globalized society,
“If you look at how a lot of these tools are being developed, who is behind the developing who are these tools serving, and what are they based on, a lot of these tools are based on Western culture. Let’s just be honest. The people that these tools will benefit are people in Western culture, what about the Global South? What about people who do not use English as a predominant language in what they do and how they work? When you start creating this divide and this technology has the ability to even increase the divide. Against that backdrop, you have the same old club that has benefited from technology and the implosion of capital to fuel this technology for years.”
Lau goes further to draw attention to an alarming feedback loop that is perpetrating gender disparity in AI. Representation and recognition cannot be fulfilled with diversity theater. Biases are already embedded into systems of knowledge and influential databases meaning that from the start, there is already a narrow view.
“From a technical perspective, people are not supposed to discriminate anymore. But, when your model is based upon data from the past that is biased, that discriminated against certain population, unless you know, to go back and find ways to change it to unbias it…unless you actually intentionally go in and try to fix it this will keep going and going and going.”
To listen to the full episode of Tech Uncensored with Theodora Lau, check it out here.
A Beacon of Hope
For too long the contributions of women in the tech industry have been overshadowed and their voices drowned out in discourse. However, there are reasons to stay optimistic. We turn to some of our clients to highlight the work of extraordinary women in tech and hear their opinions on navigating the industry as female founders.
Stephanie Lipp is the CEO and Co-founder of MyCoFutures, a clean tech startup, developing sustainable material from the root system of fungi. As a startup founder and women of color, she is aware of the imbalance that exists in who gets funded in the startup ecosystem,
“Anyone outside of the narrow point of view– women, non-binary folks and people of colour–must always build more social capital, reputation and clout, and from the right places, to join the inner circle. We are gaslit into thinking that it is simply a matter of sweat equity, that we just need to work harder, to meet the right people, to reach more milestones, and put ourselves out there, however the result is more often burnout than advancement.”
There is no excuse for industry not to leverage the abundance of work that many women in AI have contributed over the years. For Stephanie Lipp, she makes a concerted effort to be seen,
“I push myself to overcome imposter syndrome and allow myself to take up space and be seen. It’s a very precarious time for startups and we have worked hard to not become a statistic of 2023, so it is sometimes challenging to be outspoken, as founders are so often reminded that relationships and reputation are everything, but I know it is important to be part of the growing voices for change.”
Dr. Anh TranLy is the founder of C02L Technologies, a technology platform that is working to transform carbon emissions into industrially useful chemicals. The focus of TranLy’s background was on research and development, exploring the potential of sustainable materials and clean technology. This passion for innovation eventually led her to embark on the entrepreneurial path, co-founding CO2L Technologies Inc. to align with the vision of a more sustainable future,
“My vision is to introduce sustainable products derived from CO2, replacing those relied on petrochemicals and highly carbon-intensive production methods. By establishing a market for CO2-based products, I aim to incentivize corporations to commit to carbon emission reduction by demonstrating the profitability of CO2 removal and transformation initiatives.”
While Dr. Anh TranLy reflects on the influential women who shaped her entrepreneurial journey, including her mother and mentors she has met along the way, she continues to call out for further representation in the industry. Having a variety of female role models in the industry opens the door for others to feel comfortable and creates critical networks of knowledge that can be passed down;
“The essential knowledge [for entrepreneurs] is often passed on through informal networks and guidance from established figures. In such exchanges, the similarity (in background, appearance, lifestyle…) principle becomes important as people naturally interact more easily with others of the same kind. This is particularly difficult to handle finding because the underrepresentation of women (and other groups such as people of colour and the elderly) results in too few role models presenting different possible lifestyles.”
Looking back on her career and the choices she has made that have shaped her journey, TranLy offers this advice for the next generation of female founders;
“Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to ask. I know that becoming a founder, you are stepping outside of your comfort zone. Taking huge responsibilities with your business venture, while, as a woman, facing certain social expectations and stereotypes, can be overwhelming sometimes. But the journey can be extremely interesting and rewarding. Only when you dare to go and believe in your capabilities, can you get to know and enjoy it.”
Susan Nemeth is the Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Aportio, a company that is revolutionizing Customer Service by harnessing emerging technology. Aportio embarked on its journey of providing AI-powered solutions to customers back in late 2019, well before AI became a buzzword.
Nemeth’s career has always been driven by a curiosity about the inner workings of business. There came a time when the opportunity arose to transform an idea into something extraordinary – a global business based on emerging technology, and Aportio was born.
To stay motivated admits career challenges, Nemeth stays focused on her vision and aligned with her core values,
“What keeps me going? It’s the realization that we’ve created something impactful out of nothing, a service that positively influences our customers’ businesses and their employees. It’s about building a sustainable business for our shareholders and those who believe in our vision. And, that my family is proud of what I am doing.”
Reflecting on her journey and the pivotal decisions that have molded her career, Nemeth shares insightful guidance for aspiring female founders:
“The person most interested in your career is you. While the importance of supporters and mentors can’t be overstated, being your own spokesperson is equally crucial. This proactive approach may seem at odds with traditional advice given to women – to be the ‘good girl,’ stay silent, work diligently, and hope to be noticed. However, this passive strategy contrasts with the way many men unabashedly share their achievements. Recognizing and vocalizing your accomplishments isn’t boastful – if seen as bragging, so be it! You deserve acknowledgment for yourself and for the women who follow.”
Although the under-representation of women remains a stark reality, the voices of influential women like Theo Lau, Anh Tran Ly, Susan Nemeth and countless other extraordinary women in tech inspires the next generation of female founders to be their own champions, to continuously amplify achievements (their own and others) and embark on journeys that defy convention.
Altitude Accelerator is committed to celebrating and amplifying the remarkable contributions of women in technology. If you’re a visionary founder with a groundbreaking idea or seeking to broaden your network of advisors and secure capital funding, we are currently accepting applications for our Investor Readiness and Market Readiness program offerings.