Too few women work in information technology. To address the problem, Jess Ericksson founded the Geekettes in Berlin.
After four years in the tech industry, Jess Ericksson realised that she felt isolated by her gender. To make it easier to meet other women in her field, the 30-year old American launched the “Berlin Geekettes” in March 2012. Her association organises conferences, networking events and mentoring programs to boost the female presence in the tech world. After opening an office in Hamburg, the organisation has branched out to London, Maastricht, New York, Lisbon and Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
TECHNOLOGIST How many women work in the tech industry today?
JESS ERICKSSON That depends on the city, but according to a study we did, an estimated 3 per cent of Berlin’s start-up founders are women. That’s not enough.
TECHNOLOGIST What’s the impact of this shortage of women?
JESS ERICKSSON Start-ups develop products for people who have the same profile as their founders: men in their 20s and 30s. But women have different needs and interests. In Berlin, a start-up headed by women has released an application that monitors ovulation and menstrual cycles. The app has a modern design, consciously distancing itself from feminine stereotypes – it’s not pink. The idea is excellent, and it’s crazy to think that it’s only just now arriving on the market.
TECHNOLOGIST How can the situation be rectified?
JESS ERICKSSON I’m opposed to quotas;for me, the battle must be waged in the public arena. We have to drive home the message that women can succeed in this industry, that they can launch start-ups and that we need them. That’s what we’re doing with the Geekettes.
TECHNOLOGIST What’s the reaction from the tech industry?
JESS ERICKSSON Companies know that a shortage of women is detrimental to their productivity. Several have contacted us to get in touch with start-ups launched by women. Google is also working with us to counteract their huge imbalance between geeks and geekettes.
TECHNOLOGIST Who are your favourite geekettes?
JESS ERICKSSON There are several women I admire in the U.S., such
as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. In Europe they’re harder to find. But I’m fascinated by Neelie Kroes, the Dutch EU Commissioner who is fighting for an increased presence of women in start-ups.
TECHNOLOGIST What does a geekette bring to the table that a geek cannot?
JESS ERICKSSON Several studies show that a mix of genders makes a company more productive. But there are few studies on this issue in the tech world. We’re actually looking for a PhD student who would like to work on this.
Interview by Clément Bürge