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Tech Startups

Network wants to see more women in tech startups

Berlin tech scene startup Geekettes is building a network of female tech entrepreneurs and professionals. It's mentoring startups - and partnering with big software firms to try to get more women interested in IT jobs.

Only about 10 percent of Internet startup founders worldwide are women. Whether in app development or website creation - the women are missing, even though the Internet startup sector is booming. Only 14 percent of the sector's workforce is female.

According to the German digital business trade association BITKOM, over 100,000 new Internet technology jobs have been created over just the past five years. About 40,000 positions are open because of a shortage of qualified applicants.

American entrepreneur Jess Erickson is attempting to do something about the shortage. She's the founder of Geekettes, a Berlin-based network of women IT professionals. Formed in 2013, the network is growing steadily, with 700 members in Berlin and branches in seven other cities, including New York and London.

"The Geekettes want cultural change. We want women to come to conferences and speak to the media, we want a strong female presence in the technology industry," said Erickson.

Geekettes meeting

The Geekettes network hopes for more women in the IT sector

Members of the network meet regularly. There are courses and programs in which experienced women entrepreneurs mentor newcomers to the startup scene.

The Geekettes also organize female-centric versions of normally male-dominated industry events.

They host pitch sessions with prospective investors, 24-hour programming competitions, and hackathons.

The Geekettes have found powerful corporate allies

In July, the Geekettes hosted a hackathon in collaboration with software giant SAP, which wants to increases its proportion of female employees - it has set a goal of having a quarter of its management positions occupied by women by 2017.

"We want to find young female talent and get it interested in SAP," said Anka Wittenberg, diversity manager at SAP. "If we bring more women into software development, we'll become more innovative. I'm sure of that."

Erickson also persuaded Amazon and Facebook to partner with Geekettes to host software programming competitions. She met Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg at an event in Hamburg at which Sandberg presented her book "Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead", and the two have stayed in touch since.

The information technology sector is also male-dominated in the US, where many globally important IT companies are based. According to the online statistics portal Statista.com, the percentage of men employees at Google and Facebook is about 70 percent.

Most girls and women aren't that interested in tech

The lack of women in tech is a consequence of the fact that few girls get very interested in technical subjects like computer or physical sciences and technologies at school, according to BITKOM's labor market expert Stephan Pfisterer.

Geekettes: More women in tech

As a result, few of them choose apprenticeships or university courses in those areas.

Erickson regrets that she herself didn't study technology at university - she has an undergraduate degree in international relations, and a Master's degree in media and communications. For four years after graduating, she worked in public relations and marketing for tech startups in Berlin and New York.

She was frequently confronted with an assumption that as a woman, she wouldn't know much about technology.

But now there's some movement. The proportion of women taking first-year computer science courses in German universities has reached about 20 percent.

"That's a trend we should strengthen," said BITKOM's Pfisterer.

Starting salaries in the sector are between 40,000 and 45,000 euros a year for people with Master's degrees, or 38,000 to 40,000 euros a year for those with Bachelor's degrees. Half of German companies expect the nation's shortage in qualified tech workers to get worse.

The chances for women with relevant qualifications to land a job in IT in Germany have never been better.

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