My 2 cents on: Women’s empowerment in the startup ecosystem (both web2 and web3)

Victoria Hoffmann
8 min readDec 2, 2022

The startup ecosystem is tech-driven. Anyone who has seen a tech department from the inside, has most certainly discovered a lack of women.

In the last companies I worked with (and I worked in quite some during the last 10 years, which includes both startups and corporates) I have never encountered a female techie. The only technical department where I did see women, was Business Intelligence, though those seemed to be the exception as well. And I remember never having bothered with it. Because why should I? I was busy working in commercial roles, trying to bring the company forward and doing stuff that “brings the money in”. Sales, Strategy, Growth. Working on the important stuff, as I used to think. The real deal. How wrong was I.

If you want to bring in the money for the company, you need to build the value-add for the customer first. First, the added value (which should be the solid foundation of every venture) in which you solve the target group’s problem and meet the respective needs (also known as “achieving product-market-fit”), and then, the money will follow after.

How does a startup bring value to the customer? The answer is simple, yet many do not really understand the dimension of it: product-market-fit. I can only repeat it over and over again.

The term consists of 3 simple parts: product, market, fit. You probably have heard about it multiple times. When you talk to venture capitalists, they emphasize the importance of the market, which makes totally sense.

The bigger the market size, the greater the likelihood of a trade sale, making the business even more exciting for VCs looking for potential ways to exit their investment.

I want to pinpoint to a different perspective, more from an individual point of view.

First comes product. As individuals we can’t change the market, we can only choose a given one. But we as individuals can have tremendous impact on the product.

In startups, this is the technology — the absolute backbone. Technology enables scalability, which is what differs a newly founded company (say a new bakery in your neighborhood) from a startup (unless the bakery uses technology to solve the clients’ problems in a scalable way.)

According to a report by Deloitte (2021), large global technology firms (which every startup wants to grow into one day) have nearly 33% overall female representation in their workforces, while only 25% of women are in technical roles. This is (at least) more what I personally experienced, but it’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in tech. The probability that men will build the product compared to women is three times higher. So is the probability to become leaders in their respective field, in purely arithmetical terms. I didn’t count in that people tend to support others that are similar to them.

We should empower women to be builders.

Why should we actually care about gender diversity in the workplace?

Let’s have a brief look at some economic and sociologic factors.

  1. Higher returns

Striving to increase gender diversity in the workplace is not an empty slogan — it is quite good for the business. A McKinsey report (2015) on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.

This makes sense, since diverse companies attract more talent and as a research by LMU (2022) shows, a broad spectrum of opinions can lead to group members recognizing that their opinion is incomplete or uncertain and adopting the general consensus, which ensures a higher probability of making the right decisions.

In a global analysis by Credit Suisse (2012) of 2400 companies, organizations with at least one female board member yielded 4% higher return on equity and net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.

An analysis by BCG (2019) shows that if women and men around the world participated equally as entrepreneurs, global GDP could rise by approx. 3% to 6%, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion.

Yes, trillion.

2. More beneficial product for a significantly wider audience

If nearly 50% of consumers are women, it should be common sense to have around 50% of the manufacturing, engineering, and marketing done by women. Sounds trivial? Yet, this is not the case. 60% of women are in marketing-related jobs.

Another perspective: women drive approx. 70–80% of all consumer purchasing decisions. Remember what happened to “Pinky Gloves” in Germany?

We don’t want that to happen again. A diverse team would not let this happen. A diverse team would probably not get the genius idea of producing this.

Overall, to market the value-add to the target audience is important, but imagine how powerful it is building the foundation for it.

3. Independence

The times are over when women were not allowed to work without permissions from their husbands, and nowadays it is completely normal for women to provide (financially) for their families, equally to their male counterparts, at least in Western cultures. It’s even normal to not have a husband (or a wife) or a family at all, if they chose not to have it.

Women should have equal chances climbing the career ladder, drive decisions and become crucial part of a company’s development, thus contributing to a better future. If tech companies, that disrupt the status quo keep the 2:1 ratio, women have chances twice as low to become leaders in their field. I have heard a couple of times from recruiters and entrepreneurs that there is no “female talent” that outperforms the male counterparts in tech-related fields, because there are only a few of them, so the probability is even lower to find the best for the respective roles. Instead of saying so, we need to get down to the root of the trouble. We should start thinking of why there is comparably less female talent in tech and looking for solutions to change the status quo. It will take time, but making biased assumptions leads us nowhere.

Understanding the power of code.

I can give one example related to my personal experience. In school, computer science was my least-favorite subject and I barely paid attention, because I wanted to found a company someday.

Sounds quite stupid.

I thought coding was the boring act of typing a sequence of numbers and letters to — and this is not a joke — repair computers. This is what my teacher made me think of. Studying computer science was never an option for me. It was not made clear why we should eventually learn coding. I wanted to build a company (and make a career) and not repair devices. So I went for business-related studies, where you are supposed to learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.

Schools have the responsibility to emphasize the importance of coding driving innovations and relate it to the empowerment of people, regardless of any gender. Girls and boys should know about how powerful code is.

Taking a step before, parents (especially mothers) should give their daughters some lego to play with. Lego trains the cognitive abilities.

If you search for female talent in blockchain related fields, hit me up. We have amazing engineers, software developers and even cryptographs in our community — along with rockstar marketeers, talented graphic designers or artists and highly analytic finance gals.

Conclusion — My 2 cents

So what is women’s empowerment to me? Is it speaking up about inclusion?

This can be one option to raise awareness, and as much as I think it is important to speak up about change, it doesn’t really solve the problem.

Being co-founder of a women’s empowerment community, I get asked quite often to speak on panels about diversity. I refuse.

I don’t want to speak on panels. It is not serving the problem, instead it is fostering the bias of female victimization. I always say, we have great women in our community, that are deep down the rabbit hole and I want to give them a stage. I want them to talk about tech, regulations, their businesses, their knowledge and expertise. Something that brings the audience a value-add. This will help to overcome the biases that we are experiencing. Bringing awareness will not fundamentally change behavioral patterns. However, creating value for people, will.

Don’t get me wrong. Women in design, marketing or human resources have powerful positions too and should speak about their expertise, however creating dependencies (because you are placed in the beginning of the value chain) will accelerate gender equality.

How to: women’s empowerment

So what are concrete steps to empower women? I divided the action plan into one for women, and one for men.

For men:

  1. Be mindful that actions speak louder than words.
  2. If you have a daughter, encourage her to start coding and explain why science subjects in school are important. You can do cool stuff with it (including saving lives, starting companies or becoming CEO).
  3. Do not ask women to speak on panels about diversity topics, let them share their expertise. (If you are looking for women who are experts in a blockchain-related field, feel free to contact me — we have a lot in our community.)
  4. Speak about diversity topics. But always have the first point in mind.
  5. No more manels (a term I found on the internet to describe all male panels). In an ideal world, the distribution is 50:50 everywhere. Strive for that!

For women:

  1. Support women in your network. We need to empower each other first, including ourselves. We got this!
  2. If you aren’t into tech (yet), start reading about it. The possibilities it holds are endless. If afterwards, tech is something that you are not into, that’s more than okay. But most certainly you will have another view on tech, once you raise your own children.
  3. Share your expertise in public. Try to avoid making “diversity” your main topic.

Women’s empowerment is more than talking about diversity on panels. It’s more than writing (m/f/x) next to job positions. Building awareness can be done the right way. As much as startups should create value, we need to focus on the value-add we can deliver to people we interact with. It doesn’t matter if it’s tech or another field — tech is just an accelerator for gender equality.

You want to start learning coding?

I am not a coder myself and just started to self-teach myself whenever I find the time for it. However, I know the struggles of not knowing where to start, so I do have some recommendations.

Start with the general-purpose programming language Python. It’s the simplest one. Python can be used for a variety of technical functions, including data science, software development, back-end web development, and machine learning. Python is especially popular with startups and within the financial tech industry.

Some free sources:

0. CS50: Introduction to Computer Science:

  1. Google’s Python class:

2. Microsoft’s Introduction to Python Course:

3. Introduction to Python Programming on Udemy

https://www.udemy.com/course/pythonforbeginnersintro/

4. Learn Python 3 From Scratch by Educative

5. Python for Everybody on Coursera

6. Python for Data Science and AI on Coursera

7. Learn Python 3 on Codecademy

8. Learn Python 3.6 for Total Beginners on Udemy

https://www.udemy.com/course/python-3-for-total-beginners/

9. Learn Python — Full Course for Beginners by freeCodeCamp

To get started in web3, I recommend the product of our friends from www.cryptohunt.it (it’s free.)

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Victoria Hoffmann

Ecosystem Lead Western Europe at EIT Digital | Co-Founder of crypto girls club | Sharing my own opinions.