It’s been nearly a year since we hosted the first Missing in Action: Women and Digital Enterprise in the UK conference at Nottingham University.
In some ways, much of the context, both micro and macro, has changed: I am now a lecturer in entrepreneurship at Loughborough University London, and settling into life as a new academic and early career researcher; the UK is reeling post-Brexit and people everywhere are wondering what the world is going to look like once the dust settles.
There is also the new Higher Education Bill, slowly making its way through parliament, despite protest by students, scholars and the Universities and College Union, who are opposed to the imminent marketisation of the higher education sector it appears to signify.
However, some things have stayed the same. Despite the recent acknowledgement of the immense contributions of the UK creative industries to the wider economy, and the vital role played by women in the creative industries and digital economy, there is still a lack of attention to the entrepreneurship being enacted by women in the online environment.
When I opened Tech City UK’s 2015 report on the UK digital economy, I held my breath in anticipation of seeing, for the first time, hard statistics on the various digital entrepreneurial activities in which women are engaged.
I was expecting to see estimates of how many women (UK-wide) are engaged in digital enterprise, what their demographic backgrounds were, what kind of businesses they had, and which sectors they were working in. I was sorely disappointed.
Instead of this crucial information, which I believe would highlight the many ‘invisible’ and home-based businesses in which entrepreneurial women tend to predominate, and therefore help to measure the real reach of the creative and digital economy, the report covered the same ground: high-tech companies and clusters that have dominated the conversation on digital enterprise since the founding days of Silicon Valley. The update of the report from this year continues the trend.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The contributions of women in tech have always been downplayed, denigrated, and sometimes outright ignored. Why should it be any different in discussions of digital enterprise?
We cannot afford to ignore women’s digital activities any longer. Although we are under-represented as founders of high-tech businesses, women digital entrepreneurs are a formidable force. They are shaping culture (both online and offline), and changing industries forever: health and wellness, beauty and fashion, parenting initiatives – even non-stereotypically feminine sectors such as gaming – are all undergoing the radical innovation introduced by women digital pioneers.
And women will continue to do so, whether or not the worlds of tech, academia and government acknowledge their vibrant and exciting contributions. That said, it is in all of our best interests – researchers, business and government alike – to wake up and support the self-starting communities of women who are getting the internet to work for them, and creating the online culture of the 21st century.
Yet we caution against the expectation that women digital entrepreneurs will do everything independently, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. My PhD research offered evidence that even more than technical barriers to success, many women struggle to gain access to socially-distributed resources, such as finance, time and advantageous social networks, issues which are compounded by intersectional issues such as class and race.
Moreover, last year’s Missing in Action event showed us that women faced considerable personal challenges to business ownership in general, such as problematic emotional relationships to money (Do I deserve to be paid for my time? How much is my work worth?), lack of knowledge around business finance and the Imposter Syndrome.
The latter of these two issues is something that we at Digital Women UK (DWUK) can help with. We are organising a follow-up Missing in Action event on Saturday 26 November 2016, from 10.30am to 3.30pm, at Loughborough University London, in the wake of DWUK’s third birthday. The interactive event will include tailored, hands-on workshops on these topics, led by experienced practitioners, with dedicated networking time and more, at minimal cost to participants.
While the world at large continues to effectively deny the existence of the veritable army of women digital entrepreneurs, refuses to acknowledge their activities and their contributions, and turns a deaf ear to their concerns, we are listening.
We have made it part of our core mission to pay attention to the trends they are setting, promote the importance of their work and support them on the road to personal and collective success.