Since 2005, Willa has been helping women to embark on entrepreneurship in tech by supporting them and carrying out awareness-raising actions on gender parity. We met its general delegate, Flore Egnell.
In France, only 10% of tech entrepreneurs are women, according to Willa’s general manager, Flore Egnell. In 2005, they represented only 5% of entrepreneurs in the sector. It is this observation that prompted 17 women to create Willa: a non-profit association that supports the project of achieving entrepreneurial parity in tech. To do this, it acts in two stages. First by accompanying those who wish to move from idea to action. Then by making public authorities and large groups aware of the importance of more diversity in tech.
Evolution of 5 to 10% of women in tech since 2005
Big media: Only 10% of women are entrepreneurs in tech. How to explain this figure?
Flore Egnell: There are several reasons. Women, at first, do not feel legitimate. Our education pushes us to stay in our place. We have been conditioned to take care of others. Most of us don’t dare inquire or tell ourselves that it’s possible. For example, in tech, men consider themselves legitimate to apply for an offer when they master 25 to 40% of the skills required, while a woman arrives at the same conclusion when she evaluates to master 80%. Secondly, there is a societal problem. As soon as a woman reaches a high level in the company or has the courage to undertake, she is made to understand that she was lucky and that it is a male environment. Mentalities must change to make room for those who want to work or undertake in tech.
BM: Do you see an evolution in recent years?
FE: Yes. In 2005 there were only 5% of start-ups in tech, today we are 10%. But 5% in 17 years is too slow a progression. We see a faster increase in mixed teams, which include a female co-founder. On the other hand, in the Next 40, there are no women. And if we go beyond tech, only 3 women sit on the CAC40. There is a total absence of women in management bodies. The problem is that it has enormous fallout. We must create a virtuous circle to break out of this vicious circle.
BM: We hear a lot about the negative fallout from the lack of diversity in the industry. What about tech?
FE: In tech as in industry, there are enormous repercussions of the lack of diversity. In the 1970s, tests for seat belts were carried out by and for men. Statistically, women had a 60% higher risk of dying in an accident. This has been rectified a bit but there are still differences in stats for males and females. At the time, the engineers did not think of putting on a smaller model, something that would not have happened if the workforce had included women.
The same thing is happening in tech with artificial intelligence, for example. The algorithms are fed by men and this excludes a whole part of the population. If tech is only made up of white men between the ages of 35 and 50, it will only be made for them. Google translate, for example, does not recognize French feminine words such as entrepreneur. In e-health, there are still many inequalities. We are convinced that strokes are more common in men, while the risk of death is 50% higher in women. Unfortunately, we are less able to recognize it because we have studied it less.
Gender diversity on boards of directors: France on the podium of European countries
BM: How are the public authorities working to reduce these gaps?
FE: There are laws such as the Copé-Zimmermann Law, which moreover celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, and which notably imposes 40% of women on boards of directors. In fact, we are a little above and France is one of the European countries to have the most diversity in the boards of directors. In 2021, the Rixain law entered into force. The latter imposes quotas in the governing bodies of the executive committees. We realize that if we do not put in place this type of legislation, nothing changes. For entrepreneurs, it is more complicated. There are no devices dedicated to women who want to start. But we note the existence of a few investment funds that finance companies with at least one co-founder in the management team, such as Leia Capital, a business angel fund. We also see the emergence of several support networks such as Willa.
BM: How do you support project leaders and entrepreneurs?
FE: We support them with expertise in the tech and digital sector. We also offer them access to a whole network to help them develop. They can call on experts, coaches and benefit from offers from partners. Exchanging between peers helps enormously: sharing your joys and difficulties with women in tech who understand all this is a real booster. We offer around fifteen support programs divided into three formats: “emergence” to help women take action, “acceleration”, to help entrepreneurs who have a specific idea but who have not yet set up their business and finally a “growth” format for women who have already started their business. In all the innovative projects that we support, there must be at least one co-founder and that she has real decision-making power in the company. We are seeing good results: with the “emergence” program, 30% of women really create their own business afterwards. With “acceleration” and “growth” we observe a sustainability rate of 75% at 5 years. Women want to, you just have to help them!
BM: Who else has a role to play in promoting gender parity in tech?
FE: Since our childhood, from kindergarten to higher education, everyone has a role to play, including our parents. Already talking about the subject, showing that it is possible to embark on careers in tech and digital. I think the higher education environment is decisive. We should put quotas in schools because we don’t go into tech as self-taught. It is important to be trained for these subjects. However, without women in schools, there will be no women in tech… Here too, a virtuous circle must be created.
In 2019, the Council for Diversity and Professional Equality was created in the industry to address gender issues in the sector.
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