Startup Advice

Women in technology: Fighting inequality starts within yourself

Silvia Pfeiffer /

women in technology

Coviu chief executive Silvia Pfeiffer. Source: Supplied.

I have always been interested in technology and coding. Understanding technology, to me, is like being able to read or write it is the foundation which opens up so many opportunities for fascinating work and to make a real impact.

I completed my PhD in computer science at Mannheim University in Germany in the 90s when it was still very much a boys’ club. But I’ve always been comfortable in a male-dominated field, even at high school where most of my classmates were male.

I came to Australia in 1999 to do my postdoctorate for CSIRO, where I contributed to the standardisation and development of WebRTC, which is a web technology that enables video calls in the browser.

My time on this project eventually gave birth to Coviu, a cloud-based video consultation platform for health professionals. We recently participated in CSIRO’s ON Accelerate program, where we were taught how to refine our idea and walked through the process of launching a startup with mentors and experts who had been through it all before.

One crucial part of launching a complex technology startup is securing investment. Investment permits us to scale Coviu and further embed ourselves into the primary healthcare space by partnering with other health systems as an enabler of video consultations.

While I have never felt like an outsider throughout my career, I have wondered whether being a woman has complicated some of the conversations I’ve had. Being the only woman in certain situations, such as conversations with potential investors, has compelled me at times to justify my seat at the table by firmly emphasising the knowledge and experience I have in my field. While I have been underestimated at times, I’ve learnt to work very hard to ensure I know my stuff.

Throughout my career, I have also learnt the best way to equality is by constantly being aware of inequality and fighting it within yourself. Hiring is a great example of this. If a woman applies for a position, be aware of how you would treat people of different genders with the same credentials. Would you approach the interview differently?

I strongly believe representation is key: the more women we see in executive positions, the more will follow into that industry. Having a woman boss will make life simpler for every other woman in that business it makes it clear to every employee there is a place for women within the organisation, even at the top.

There are systemic issues at work but this is starting to change. For example, more and more technology companies are now using the power of artificial intelligence to ensure the language used in their job adverts attracts both men and women. The results have been encouraging. Cisco recently noted this approach has contributed to a 10% rise in women job applicants.

Right now, there’s an opportunity to take advantage of the large number of projects seeking to support women in technology. So many people and organisations are making an extra effort in education, business and investment to ensure women working in technology, or considering entering the field, are given opportunities to thrive.

If I could give one piece of advice to women, it would be to stand up for what you know and believe in yourself.

We tend to underestimate ourselves, even when other people don’t. The often-quoted study by Hewlett-Packard demonstrates this perfectly: according to the report, men apply for positions when they only meet 60% of the criteria, while women only apply when they meet 100% of the criteria.

It is this self-criticism I hope we can improve on, regardless of the industry. By doing this, women will not only be able to accelerate their careers but also, make a contribution towards lessening the gender gap in the workplace.

To put it simply, be confident in your knowledge and dare to put yourself forward for new opportunities.

NOW READ: Telehealth startup Coviu raises $1 million from Main Sequence to embed itself as a “solid competitor” in healthcare

NOW READ: Women in STEM has been given a $4.5 million boost, and the promise of an ambassador, but is it enough?

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Silvia Pfeiffer

Dr Silvia Pfeiffer is the chief executive officer of Coviu, a video telehealth platform.

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