Did you know that only 5% of tech startups are owned by women? Rhonda Taylor sits down with our Fuel50 co-founders Anne Fulton and Jo Mills to discuss what their experience has been like as influential women in tech.
When only 20% of HR technology workforce are women and one in five computer engineers are women, these women have stepped out and are leading the way.
Welcome to Fuel50’s ‘Salute to International Women’s Day’!
Here’s how the conversation went… This interview has been edited and condensed.
Rhonda Taylor: As a founder of a tech company how have you found working in the tech sector?
Anne Fulton: I think as female founders of a technology company, generally we’re as accepted as our male counterparts when it comes to leading a vision for how a technology company can make an impact for good. This is our mission at Fuel50 to create level playing fields for people across the world when it comes to leveraging their talent and potential at work. So we’re very inclusive in our business vision and our mission. It’s been really fun to champion this vision of fairer, more inclusive talent experiences and workplaces, for everyone around the world. Women, men, people of color, whatever it may be, we’re really passionate about being able to champion fair, transparent, inclusive talent experiences within a workplace.
Rhonda Taylor: How do you feel we’re going to increase the representation of women in technology?
Jo Mills: It is a massive issue of how do we increase the number of women that are in the technology sector and in leading businesses as well. I’m quite inspired by the work that a lot of people are doing in this space already to try and combat this. One of the people, in particular, is Reshma Saujani who found The Girls Who Code. She’s got a great TED talk on teaching girls bravery and helping them to go beyond that need for perfection and take risks with their career and their learning. She also talks about how you cannot dream and you cannot be what you cannot see. I think this is a really important point for how do we inspire people to follow that tech career.
I’m also personally inspired by Whitney Wolfe Herd this week, the Bumble founder who is the youngest self-made, female billionaire with her tech company Bumble. Super inspiring to hear that story and really inspiring to hear the stories of the likes of Reshma with her foundation that has reached the lives of over 185,000 girls. So I think there are two sides, there is the inspiration and getting those great stories out there and then secondly, providing the tools and the mechanisms for people to access the education they need to make those dreams a reality.
Rhonda Taylor: In the process of building Fuel50 to what it is today, what challenges have you faced due to being a woman?
Anne Fulton: I’d really say that we’ve had no challenges that differ from our male counterparts when it comes to being a tech entrepreneur. I think they’ve been very minimal and I think anyone may have faced kind of different challenges anyway. We’ve done over 200 pitches, and had an incredible deal progression right through Silicon Valley and across the USA, sometimes into Europe and throughout Australasia. Of the hundreds and hundreds of pitches that we’ve done never once or maybe only once in my entire time of doing this have we felt challenged for being female entrepreneurs.
Even when we were given that challenge we were able to turn it around, because I think really, we’re still judged on our business metrics, our business velocity, our SaaS metrics, our outcomes, and the impact that we’re delivering to our clients and the career experiences of people around the world. I think it’s our outcomes that speak for themselves. To me, really when it comes down to the technology investment field that it has felt that gender has been irrelevant. Although there are some reports that suggest we may face some increased challenges, I think in reality if your business proposition, your vision, your mission, and your metrics are strong enough, we can stand up alongside anyone.
It’s been a fun and fabulous journey and really happy to share some of our learnings with the wider community on International Women’s Day. – Anne Fulton
Rhonda Taylor: Can you tell us if you had any challenges that you’ve faced in the development of Fuel50?
Jo Mills: I think anybody that starts a business will face a roller coaster of opportunities and challenges ahead. But as we know, throughout the world there is systemic bias that perpetuates every piece of the fabric of life, including business. It was interesting, I was reading an article it’s a few years old now from 2017 at HBR, where they surfaced some research done on analysis of the questions that were asked of female entrepreneurs, during pitch events. There’s been hundreds and hundreds of those that we’ve completed across the globe.
But what was interesting about this research was they analyzed the questions that were asked of female entrepreneurs versus male entrepreneurs. The male entrepreneurs were asked questions, which were very positive and promotional in focus. So all about gains and growth and strategy. The female entrepreneurs were asked questions that were very preventative and around loss prevention, ensuring a safe road ahead and how do you prevent losses. They did analysis around the type of companies to make sure that they were of a level playing field, and they found that there was a significant impact on the questions that were asked on the type of funding that those people got.
I think the bias that’s inherent can be a little bit hidden and it’s really hard to know what that impact has on your own trajectory. As Anne said, we’ve done pretty well and we’ve had some great successes but I do acknowledge that there are lots and lots of other female founders that have been asked different kinds of questions and then faced those barriers if they get their way through.
Rhonda Taylor: This pandemic has affected women in an incredible way. How has the pandemic affected the workforce?
Anne Fulton: McKinsey put out a report towards the end of last year and showed that women are nearly twice as vulnerable, or women’s jobs are nearly twice as vulnerable as men’s through the pandemic. Women made up 39% of total employment globally, but account for 54% of the overall job losses. We’ve got to be really careful and inclusive in making sure that we are caretaking the roles of and the positions of women and creating opportunities that are supportive and that fit with any other external demands. Obviously, this trend is something that has reversed hard work that’s been done over decades to improve the participation of women, where we’ve been growing in participation in the labor force since the 70s, year on year. For the first time since 1986, we’ve seen that reverse from participation in the workforce from 55% down to 46%. And 865,000 women left the workforce last year largely attributed to the pandemic compared to 216,000 men.
I think the way that we’re reading this and we’ve seen such an incredible surge towards talent marketplace philosophies and the work that we’re doing. It has actually increased the demand for the solutions that we’re providing, which creates an open opportunity marketplace for everyone across your workforce in a way that’s really fair, inclusive, and transparent so that everyone can see these opportunities, whether it’s a stretch assignment, a project, a job, or a learning opportunity. To us, it’s so important that the opportunities are extended fairly to everyone and that attention is given to the way that AI is applied in HR to make sure that there is no adverse impact unintentionally in any of your talent systems. We’re incredibly careful and are championing ethical practice around AI in career mobility and HR in particular.
Rhonda Taylor: Is there enough being done to promote equality in the workplace in this day and age?
Jo Mills: I think the answer to that is that we’re all constantly learning and evolving, and so are our workplaces and their practices. So the answer is no there is never going to be enough. We always have to continue to learn and evolve the way we work and have a focus on creating a really inclusive workplace. It’s an ongoing development that we should always be focused on.
Rhonda Taylor: What advice would you give other women in the tech space about their careers?
Anne Fulton: I think it really comes down to believe in yourself, believe in your vision and mission, and execute to that vision, so that there’s a strong story to be told. It is about bringing your best capabilities, talent, and commitment to the work that you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Increasingly, there are new roles emerging in organizations, called the remote work facilitator so there are potentially people in HR or within your organization that may be able to help you manage your workload, particularly if you’ve got extra demands on you at any time. Asking for help can go a long way.
Jo Mills: I think, as an entrepreneur, I’d encourage everybody to go down that path. Entrepreneurship is a vehicle that can really set you free and help you to maximize your own potential. You should never put a cap on what you can do with your life and set your sights high and follow that dream because then as Anne said with enough passion, hard work and help you can make it happen.
Rhonda Taylor: Tech companies that are owned by women are three times more likely to be successful. Why do you think this is?
Jo Mills: I think there are a few things in there. One comes back to some of Reshma’s work that she’s doing around encouraging girls to be brave and not perfectionists. But I think that encouragement for perfection means that we strive really hard to get the results that we’ve promised to our investors and staff. So that strive for execution, I personally think that’s made a massive difference to our business. I don’t know if it’s a female trait, but I clearly think it’s an entrepreneurial trait that leads to success.
Anne Fulton: I think that across the VCs and Angel funds that we’ve been involved with, that we have stood out and other female-led companies have stood out in terms of their execution and delivery, on promise. Perhaps it’s more careful projections, we’re more careful on what we promise and really passionate about delivering or over-delivering where we can. So I think building that reputation for delivering on promises, has certainly been a characteristic that I’ve observed in female-led companies.
BONUS QUESTION: If you had to choose just one female, who inspires you and why?
Anne Fulton: Princess Diana not only because of her charitable work and doing good but also her openness to her flaws and vulnerabilities. She is really inspiring for our humanitarian goals.
Jo Mills: Oprah Winfrey with her business acumen, she’s so kind, inventive, and always learning. Such a mogul.
Rhonda Taylor: Abbie Hoffman as she was the first female to be the director of sport in Canada. She was a track and field star in the Olympics but yet she was a woman who played on a boys hockey team until she was identified.
Thanks for joining us to celebrate these two women trailblazers in the HR technology space. We also would like to acknowledge the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of all women globally, with a big appreciation to our fantastic, female Fuellies (and those non-females too)!