hen Laura Fernández Giménez was running a co-working space in sunny Barcelona, she noticed two things. First of all, many companies were looking for tech workers such as developers but were struggling to find enough to fill the positions. Secondly, not only was Barcelona lacking in IT staff but there were even less women doing this kind of work.
While Fernández Giménez left her job as an employee to start a business, a report by Startup Genome suggests that she is one of only few women who start their own tech company in Barcelona. According to the study, just 14 percent of startup founders in the Catalonian capital are women.
That is why, in January 2018, Fernández Giménez started her career as an entrepreneur, leaving the co-working space and creating the platform FutureFunded. This crowdfunding project raised money to support tech education for women and has since pivoted into AllWomen, an academy that aims to teach women about technology. “After six months, we realized our impact had to increase, with not only raising funding for women, but also creating an environment where they feel welcome, a majority, safe and which is designed for them”, the founder recalls.
While Fernández Giménez left her job as an employee to start a business, a report by Startup Genome suggests that she is one of only few women who start their own tech company in Barcelona. According to the study, just 14 percent of startup founders in the Catalonian capital are women. Although this number is very low, it puts the city slightly ahead of the European average, which is 13 percent. In London, 15 percent of startup founders are female, 19 in New York City. Reports about Spain as a whole paint a similar but somewhat better picture. A recent study by South Summit, a tech conference aiming to connect Southern Europe and Latin America, reports that 22 percent of startup founders in Spain are women, up from 18 last year.
“I really believe in the importance and power of role modelling”, she says. “Seeing other women doing things we are expected not to do gives you the strength to believe you can do it, too.”
MISSING ROLE MODELS AND FACING “BRO CULTURE“
The reasons why there are only few women founding startups are numerous and complex. AllWomen founder Fernández Giménez believes that stereotypes and prejudices are still preemninent, forcing women into gender-typical professions and lifestyles. “I really believe in the importance and power of role modelling”, she says. “Seeing other women doing things we are expected not to do gives you the strength to believe you can do it, too.”
Not only missing role models help holding up the glass ceiling. Also a heavily misogynist work culture in the tech scenes that is often described as “bro culture” can make it more difficult and challenging for women to find the path to entrepreneurship and tech, as author Emily Chang who wrote Brotopia, the now famous book that called out the Silicon Valley’s macho culture, argues in an article in the English newspaper The Guardian.
This work environment is something that Katrina Walker, founder of Codely, got to know first-hand. Walker decided to start the Barcelona-based tech academy that also teaches women tech skills, because she experienced “everything from subtle condescension to outright sexism” when working in the tech scene. “I wanted to create a space that supports women who are interested in advancing their career in tech”, she says about her startup that started the course for the first batch of students in September this year.
Fernández Giménez and Walker are not the only entrepreneurs who are working on improving the tech and startup environment for women. Apart from AllWomen and Codely, other Barcelona-based companies also focus on helping, motivating or educating other women. For example, Downtown Offices founded by Dutch native Astrid Aafjes aims to act as a network for the female entrepreneur community. And apart from these business models, there are also meetups, facebook groups and workshops such as Shecommerce. They all have one thing in common: they aim to create safe spaces for women and hope to motivate them to follow into tech or/and entrepreneur career paths.
Of course, women entrepreneurs in Barcelona do not only start female-focussed projects. Other companies that are based in the Catalonian capital and are founded by at least one woman are the electric company Holaluz by Carlota Pi Amoros, anti-piracy agency Red Points led by Laura Urquizu and biotech company Husk Ventures founded by Carol Rius and Heloise Buckland.
Even though the female startup entrepreneur rate is just over ten percent, Downtown Offices founder Aafjes, who started the network a year ago, thinks the environment is changing for the better. “Every time I go to a startup meeting, I meet many young foreign women who are looking for opportunities“, she says. While most of them likely do not have the intention to build a big company, many of the women she meets want to raise a small buisness, she explains. At the same time, Aafjes notices many women entering the tech industry.
“We always host events with women speakers and experts in many tech fields, all our tech teachers are women. So they all exist and are there, you only need to look for them actively“
However, at the same time representation and visibility of female founders are still lacking. “If you look at speakers, panelist, et cetera at conferences, on the radio and in meetings most of them are male – unless it‘s a female conference like Shecommerce“, Aafjes, who came to Barcelona eight years ago, says. While there is a growing number of female entrepreneurs, the majority – and therefore the face – of the startup scene is male. Academy founder Fernández Giménez agrees and she has no patience for the all too common objection that there are no female experts in a specific field. “We always host events with women speakers and experts in many tech fields, all our tech teachers are women. So they all exist and are there, you only need to look for them actively“, the founder says. “Encourage them – instead of putting your male friends on stage, because you know them and your work simply gets easier that way.“
It is safe to say, women founders in Barcelona are trying hard to be visible and are actively working on improving the city’s conditions for themselves and other women. However, outside the support system for entrepreneurs and tech workers that they are building for themselves, the city’s startup ecosystem still has a long way to go to achieve equality – and not just from women for women.