Tech and STEM careers have a reputation for being uninclusive of women. According to research from Adeva, a global talent agency focused specifically on placing talent in roles within tech, only 3% of female students report that they would consider a career in technology and women hold just 25% of computing jobs in the overall tech industry.
At this rate, Adeva’s research suggests it will take until the year 2133 to close this gender gap. It’s a laughable timeline that women like Marija Butkovic are working hard to expedite through their work in a niche area of tech primed to bring about change: wearables.
“I was the co-founder of a wearable tech startup and through that experience I learned that the wearable tech space was very heavily filled with men,” she says. “Women were not represented in the space as innovators, investors and as startup founders. So I started Women of Wearables as a very small meetup group. From there, through events and content and collaborations, we have become a community of 20,000-plus members in almost 60 countries now. We come together with the same mission, which is educating people about the latest technological innovations, but also raising awareness and advocating about the need to invest more in female founders and innovators in this space.”
Most people still see the femtech industry as a reproductive industry, but we have to focus on many other areas ... We need innovations around autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular, food and nutrition, mental health, Alzheimer's and dementia.Marija Butkovic, Women of wearables ceo
Marija believes that WoW is proof that IoT technology is poised to redefine how we manage our personal health, with women’s issues stepping into the forefront. She says the focus in healthcare is turning towards prevention, and wearables can be the connective tissue between the patient and the doctor. The femtech industry, largely comprised of female founders, innovators, designers and technologists focused on women’s health in the wearable tech space, is jumping on the opportunity.
“There has been a focus on digital health in general and there’s a great intersection between women’s health and wearable technology. Fitbit and Apple introduced their first features for women’s health to their fitness trackers and smartwatches only in 2018 and 2019, respectively. So you can imagine what kind of a data gap that presents, and that’s where all these innovative femtech startups come into this equation because they’re filling the data gap. It’s still very early, but I think what the pandemic has brought us is greater awareness of the use of wearables and the case studies we could do with them and the convenience of using them.”
Whether it’s wearable breast pumps, safety wearables or hardware devices in the fertility space, IoT has shown promise in providing tools that could potentially be used in the battle for equal gender representation, positioning the 5G era to be more progressive and inclusive.
Here Marija shares her insights on the potential of 5G and IoT technology to positively affect women’s spaces, and where there’s still ample room to be filled by the next generation of female tech leaders.
T-Mobile actively works to open up the dialogue on how to support women in tech by spotlighting those who have climbed to the top of their fields, highlighting programs that support female students to explore careers in tech and even create avenues to help women return to their careers after gaps in work. In your opinion, why are the numbers of women in various tech fields still so low?
I’ve seen more and more women studying STEM, which is excellent, however that’s not translated into women actually holding high-ranking STEM positions in different companies. I think the problem is because of a mix of issues women juggle: family, jobs and expensive childcare. I think that very often the problem is also maybe a lack of confidence because women want to tick all the boxes when they’re applying for a job, especially if it’s a senior job role. There have been studies done that show men will apply for a job even if they maybe tick only a percentage of the boxes. It’s why I think that programs like those you mentioned that help women see themselves in their careers and support them are so important. Companies need to ask not only can we attract women who are incredible talents, but keep them and support them along the way.
Also, inclusivity starts right from the job posting. When you see a job post, how is it written? What types of words does it use? Is it using inclusive language and when you are interviewed for the job, who's interviewing you? Are women interviewing you or men interviewing you? And finally, how inclusive is the company is in terms of employee benefits. What we have seen at WoW is a lot of companies now are introducing all sorts of women's health benefits, such as fertility support like IVF, which I think is excellent. It's not only about attracting diverse talent, it's about retaining the talent.
Also what we have learned at WoW is sometimes you have to grab women's attention early to get them interested in STEM. You have to be very creative in how you present career opportunities to women and see those role models. You cannot be what you cannot see. So, I hope that we can really highlight more female role models, especially in senior positions in these companies, and show that you don't always need to have a degree from Harvard or Stanford to get there. There are women who don't have that, and they have still succeeded. That's precisely the woman we have to highlight.
What are some of the innovative wearable products you’re looking at now that aim to find new answers to common women’s issues?
There’s a real boom in the femtech space around fertility devices. I think of things like Natural Cycles, which just announced a collaboration with Samsung. I think that’s incredibly positive for the ecosystem because their solution will be embedded into Samsung’s Galaxy watches. There are devices being made that you can use for your pelvic health by doing pelvic floor exercising. We have a community member at WoW that I’ve written about that has a belt for osteoporosis that’s been proven with its regular vibration improves the density of your bones, which is incredibly important for women going through menopause.
One thing I will note is the wearable space is growing, and while women's issues like fertility and pregnancy are massive areas for innovation right now, we haven't seen enough innovation in wearables for non-reproductive health issues. Most people still see the femtech industry as a reproductive industry, but we have to focus on many other areas that don't view women solely as reproductive machines. We need innovations around autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular, food and nutrition, mental health, Alzheimer's and dementia.
How important have the advancements in our connectivity with 5G been to help these innovations come about?
Incredibly important. I think that we cannot see the ecosystem thrive until we bring all the key stakeholders together. One part of that community are big tech companies like T-Mobile because they’re building the infrastructure. You can have the most amazing device, but if you don’t have the base infrastructure on which your device will run, what’s it all for? 5G is especially important because of how it will contribute to easier use and the potential to interconnect of many of your devices together. I dream of a future where if I have a smart fitness tracker, I have a smartwatch, I have all sorts of different devices, we can all sync them up and they can all be interconnected and work together, and we can all benefit from these devices without needing to use maybe all the devices from the same brand. That would be amazing, because that brings more opportunity for an average user and for widespread adoption for all women.
Are you a woman who has taken a break from work and is looking to return to a career in tech? Take a look at T-Mobile’s Returnship Program, which creates a system of mentorship and support for those interested in various tech positions. Apply here.