In order to create a better world through technology, we need women entrepreneurs to bring their whole selves into a project – children and all. “I think that the secret ingredients to creating a better world through tech is to include women, children and artists in the development process of technology,” says Ioana Calen, Co-Founder of Modulab, an R&D lab with over 10 years of experience in prototyping.
Through our webinar, “Women in Leadership/Tech Driving Change in the Workplace,” we wanted to mark and honour International Women’s Day 2021. We spoke to – among others – Mihaela Mihailescu, Associate Director, Senior Banker at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Alina Marchiş, Analyst, SME Finance & Development at EBRD and Csilla Korosi, Global Innovation Network Lead – Industry X at ACCENTURE about women entrepreneurship in Romania. Find below the highlights of our conversation:
- Gender equality is beneficial to everyone in a company: it boosts creativity and innovation by adding knowledge, skills and experience to the workplace.
- EBRD covers over 70% to 75% of the net cost of the advisory services such as grant financing, thanks to the support from the 2020 ‘EU on the horizon’ programme.
- EBRD also offers specific advice for women-led SMEs, working closely with them to help them turn their good business into a great one.
- Mother entrepreneurs are often stereotyped as either ‘macho’ women who want to have a career and a family, who want to ‘have it all’ or as ‘lazy’ if they choose to stay at home and look after their children. This mentality needs to change.
- Leaders need to check-in with the realities of their workplace culture. Research by Accenture shows that 68% of leaders, approximately two thirds, feel they create empowering environments in which employees can be themselves, can raise concerns and innovate, without fear of failure. But just one-third of employees agree with this.
The challenges of women entrepreneurs in tech and how to overcome them
Mihaela Mihailescu: I have two wonderful children and a lovely family, and I really love my job. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve my position without the support of the policies in place at the EBRD bank. I’m grateful for feeling welcomed and supported once I returned to work after my two maternity leaves.
Gender Equality benefits ultimately everyone. Diversity among employees boosts creativity and innovation by adding knowledge, skills and experience to the workplace.
Through the EBRD programmes, we want to provide access to employment and opportunities, access to finance and entrepreneurship and lastly, access to services and infrastructure. All these ultimately open opportunities for women to take on a more participatory and productive role in the economy.
Alina Marchiş: At EBRD, we focus on the needs of women entrepreneurs and identify what makes the difference between success and failure. We believe women in business are inspirational so we want to provide more than finance. Since 1993, we supported more than 1000 enterprises, 1/3 of these are women-led. This gives us great insight into how women take advantage of the market.
The women-led businesses we’ve worked with were small businesses so fewer than 50 employees and those businesses require a specific type of advice and assistance that’s not necessarily suitable for larger companies. We have just finished our first mentorship and executive leadership programme.
These programmes are designed for women by women. We are a small team, helping women entrepreneurs turn their ambitions into reality. For example, we cover 70% to 75% of the net cost of the advisory services such as grant financing, thanks to the support from the 2020 ‘EU on the horizon’ programme.
If there is one thing you can take away from today, then this would be it: don’t be afraid to reach out for support as a woman entrepreneur. Reach out to anyone who you think can help you.
Ioana Calen: We are an R&D (Research and Design) lab work with 10 years of experience in prototyping. Even though it’s a women-led team, most of my colleagues are men. And I have noticed over the past years that their approach to technology is different from that of a woman. Men tend to focus on functionality, efficiency, business optimizations through automation and function integration, so it has been my job to bring a more feminine approach to technology.
I ask questions such as: How do people feel when they are surrounded by robots? How does the atmosphere change when it’s populated by autonomous robots? How will the children react to robots? I started thinking about these questions once I had my own kids and began pondering the effects of technology on society. A challenge of our company is that, as we’re shifting from an art and design-oriented R&D lab to a robotics company, we need to add much more structure to the enterprise. This is especially true during the pandemic when we had to deliver our products to hospitals in record time.
We received a lot of help on this front from EBRD but it was also a lot of work on our part. At the time, I was pregnant and the baby was born right around the time we were applying for the EBRD grant. Once we got the grant, I still had to look after my baby so I would bring it along to all our meetings and it was all fine. From that experience
I learnt that the problem is not the baby, babies sleep a lot so even if I was in a meeting that was not an issue. The problem is the stereotypes mother entrepreneurs face. If they work, then they are labelled as ‘macho’ women who want to have it all but if they stay at home they are lazy. I think that technology will change our world in ways that we cannot imagine and it can create a better world, as the cliché goes. I think though that the secret ingredients to creating a better world through tech is to include women, children and artists in the development process of technology.
What is your commitment to equality in the workplace?
Csilla Korosi: Today, women represent 45% of our global workforce at Accenture which is a big increase for us since 2013. Our target is to reach 50/50 by 2025. To reach that, we are promoting women at all levels and investing in targeted support such as flexible work arrangements and comprehensive training programmes to help women thrive in our company.
Our research shows that 68% of leaders, approximately two thirds, feel they create empowering environments in which, employees can be themselves, can raise concerns and innovate, without fear of failure. But just one-third of employees agree with this. 36% of employees do not feel included in their organizations and 20% do not feel welcome at work. This is 10 times higher than leaders would believe, so there is a clear gap between the leader’s perceptions and employees’ experience, which needs to be addressed.
At Accenture, we provide mentoring for women so they are supported at every stage of their careers to network, learn and grow. In general, we found that an innovation mindset, which puts gender equality at the core of a company’s workplace culture, would result in a 10% global GDP raise. There’s no doubt that gender equality is beneficial and improves economic development, but we will still have a long way to put gender equality at the heart of our strategies. So I want to leave you with one question on this topic: what’s your commitment to equality?
Watch the full webinar here: