Ring the bell for gender equality

Today the bells toll for gender equality! Spoiler alert – if I had to pick a “silver bullet” for gender equality breakthrough, I would uninstall that “good girl” syndrome for women and instead install healthy and strong self-confidence. Many things would naturally move faster then.

Thanks to the organizers, the Association „Lyderė“ and Nasdaq’s Arminta Saladziene, and the moderator Egle Pavyde, for inviting me to participate in the “Ring the Bell for Gender Equality” discussion alongside Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, Dalius Misiunas, Valdas Šimas, and the power woman Laura Blazeviciute. I mostly spoke on a topic that matters to me – ABOUT WOMEN AND INNOVATION

When we talk about gender equality in innovation, we’re primarily talking about untapped potential. This isn’t unique to Lithuania. In Europe, women-led startups attract 1 billion euros in investment, while all-male startups receive 10 billion euros annually since 2015. Who manages VC funds themselves? For example, in the UK, there’s a higher likelihood that your investment will be managed by a man named David than a woman. The same goes for Fortune 500 companies – there’s a greater chance the CEO will be a man named John than a woman.

What needs to change? First and foremost, cultural attitudes.

STEREOTYPICAL ATTITUDES TOWARD “FEMALE” AND “MALE” CAREERS form early in childhood. Although girls have the ability and show a similar interest in career opportunities in adolescence, such as in natural sciences, when it comes time to choose studies, they choose STEM fields five times less often than boys.

(SELF)CONFIDENCE. Power is only as much as you take. While boys are taught to compete, girls are taught from childhood to be “good girls.” Startup founders notice that men who apply for jobs usually evaluate themselves too positively, while women evaluate themselves too negatively. I’ve encountered this hundreds of times, and it’s not dependent on job roles. That’s why women need more (A LOT) encouragement and support!

“MOTHERHOOD WALL.” Motherhood is a wonderful thing, but stereotypes about it affect even those who don’t have children. For example, it may be assumed that doctoral students are a waste of money – after all, they’ll have to raise children. Survey participants are most often confronted with the stereotype that having a child significantly reduces a woman’s professional competence and commitment to work. Less than 20% of the survey participants had never encountered this bias. 40% of the respondents had encountered this stereotypical attitude at least once or several times in recent years.

BIAS AND “PROVE IT AGAIN” ATTITUDE. In 2021, a survey of Lithuanian university employees conducted by “Lyderė” showed that 9 out of 10 women have encountered stereotypes at some point in their lives. For example, that science and innovation are male-dominated fields. Aside from the “motherhood wall,” the most impactful stereotypical attitude is the “prove it again” mindset – women have to provide more evidence of competence than men. 70% of surveyed women have faced this.

About a third of the respondents periodically (i.e. at least once or several times in the last year), and 11-12 percent have been constantly (at least once a month or more often) exposed to four other stereotypes: situations in which a woman
has to provide significantly more evidence of her competence in order to be assessed as being as competent as a man; the notion that raising a child is the main responsibility of a woman; the view that competent and determined women are perceived as ‘masculine’ and are therefore less liked in the group; and the notion that a woman pursuing a career in science must be unhappy with her life.

What to do?

🔰 Acknowledge the problem. I didn’t allocate so much space for nothing.
🔰 Inspirational examples, encouragement, and mentorship. These are low-hanging fruits. According to a Microsoft study, girls didn’t choose STEM careers because there weren’t visible examples of female STEM leaders in their environment. Mentorship programs would be highly effective for innovators.
🔰 Comprehensive institutional measures to address the issue of the “motherhood wall” and ensure impartiality in the professional environment. From mechanisms to facilitate childcare to unbiased selections (which also means gender representation in selection committees).
🔰 Non-stereotypical attitudes in education and fostering self-confidence.

Read more about the gender equality measures and obstacles to gender equality in a summary of the Study prepared by the Women Leaders Association (liet. Asociacija “Lyderė”), in partnership with Visionary Analytics, in 2022.

Cultural change is a long process. Since I don’t have “silver bullets,” I believe it’s important to spread inspiring examples and be an example – because it inspires others to strive for more. And hey – first and foremost, be an example of equality for your children.