Article contribution by Girls in Tech Paris volunteer, Luana David

‘Inclusivity’, ‘diversity’, ‘equality’ – if you’ve been keeping up ever so slightly with the articles, posts or discussions about the challenges of today’s workforce, you would have come across these key words and not just once in a while.

Therefore, there is no surprise when one of the best known European tech conferences – VivaTech – opened its floor to discussions, panels and workshops on hot topics such as breaking the glass ceiling, preparing women to pitch to VCs and discussing how to make the entrepreneurial environment a more inclusive one for female founders.

Girls in Tech Paris dedicated a morning of panels to these topics, and I was lucky to get a front-row seat for one of them: ‘How to build an inclusive ecosystem for women entrepreneurs’.

The panel was moderated by Gwendolyn Regina (entrepreneur in residence for Entrepreneur First), who did not shy away from asking the tough questions to a very diverse panel of women and men who all had, in their own way, experienced the lack of inclusivity in the ecosystem. As part of the panel, Girls in Tech hosted Catherine de Vulpillieres (co-founder of EvidenceB), Seow Hui Lim (director of Startup Development Division for Enterprise Singapore), Dr Juan Carlos Ondategui Parra (co-founder and Wivi Vision), Cécile Villette (CEO & co-founder of Altaroad) and Zhilin Sim (regional director for Europe of EDB).

Whilst everyone experienced the lack of inclusivity in different ways, it stood out that not only did female founders feel disadvantaged from the start but that their male co-founders, such as in the case of Juan Carlos, also sensed that the ecosystem is inherently biased towards the gender of the founder. In his experience, VCs would prefer to email or talk to him, rather than to his co-founder wife, who was in fact the more experienced when it came to finance. Cécile agreed, making a very good point for her start-up, where the founding team is made up of three females, in a very male-dominated industry, and explaining how the fundraising process was inherently more difficult as raised eyebrows were common in meetings.

Catherine added in another solid point – accessibility to the ecosystem for female founders. While it might seem that the start-up ecosystem is buzzing with networking opportunities, events, workshops and what-not, the vast majority of those happen after working hours. This could automatically hinder a mother’s ability to be part of this whole community – as she would need to either plan in advance for someone to look after the kids or just not be able to give 3-4 nights a week to networking in the evenings and still spend time with her kids. Cécile pointed out how lucky one of her co-founders was, for having a husband who would take the kids in the evening, to allow her to work late or attend various events – but Gwendolyn made a very good point: why should that be lucky instead of it being standard? Why should childcare be so reliant on mothers while fathers would never be chastised for spending evenings at work?

The panel certainly highlighted some bigger underlying problems: despite all the talk of inclusivity and all that is aimed at making entrepreneurship a woman-friendly environment, there are some core issues that have not yet been tackled.

Whether it is that the majority of VCs still feel more comfortable addressing a man, or that suppliers and business partners would rather email the husband than the wife, or that childcare is heavily reliant on mothers despite all the efforts to achieve a 50/50 split – our society is still round-fencing women to be different types of entrepreneurs and assumes from the get-go that whatever it is women are up to, it is still men that can be trusted to handle it better.

So the next question naturally was: what can we do, as both men and women, to make this space a more inclusive one? What are the steps we can start to make, no matter how small, to make women feel included in the tech start-up ecosystem?  Seow Hui enforced the point that while the get-go is difficult, there have been moves made by governments and official bodies to empower and support women in their entrepreneurial journeys. Zhilin added that us, as individuals, should make a conscious effort to ask ourselves what we can each change in our day-to-day approaches and that he himself will be more attentive to the situations around him. Cécile and Catherine enforced the idea of including many women in their teams, as they already have and continuing to fight the good fight, for all the generations of women in tech to come!