International Women's Day: Diversity cannot exist where misconduct thrives

Co-founder and CEO of Vault Platform, Neta Meidav, on the lack of venture capital funding reaching women and why diversity requires long-term changes, not quick fixes.

International Women's Day is held annually on March 8th to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women whilst providing a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This year, IDG Connect has interviewed women from across the world who work in the technology sector to find out more about the current global landscape for Women in Tech.

According to a 2017 study by PwC, only 15% of UK employees working in STEM roles are female. Additionally, only 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. When you consider the fact that 78% of the survey's interviewees couldn't name a famous female working in technology, those numbers are disheartening but unsurprising.

Over a quarter of the female students that PWC spoke to said they've been put off a career in technology as it's too male dominated and, as every industry continues to deal with the fallout from the #MeToo movement, stories of discrimination and inappropriate male behaviour at technology companies are likely to have done little to change the attitudes of these young women.

A co-authored report by the Everyday Sexism Project and Trades Union Congress that was released before 2017's watershed movement found that 52% of women in the UK had experienced unwanted behaviour at work including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes. That figure stood at 63% for women and girls aged between 16-24. One in every eight women spoken to for the study had experienced unwanted sexual touching of intimate body parts whilst almost a fifth said they had been harassed by their boss or someone else with authority over them.

Despite this, four in five women said they did not report the incidents to their employers, fearing that it would harm their relationships at work or that they would not be taken seriously. And herein lies the problem: sexual harassment in the workplace cannot be eradicated if it is not first reported.

Google has faced continued criticism from its employees over the last six months due to its practice of forced arbitration - a policy that requires employees to waive their rights to make a legal claim in court and instead go through a private system. The search engine giant has now ended the practice, but only after 20,000 employees staged a walkout back in November.

Zero-tolerance workplace policies are wonderful in theory, the issue is that they are rarely implemented consistently. In many workplaces, the necessary channels don't exist to facilitate the proper reporting of such behaviour, meaning it is often left undisciplined or assimilated into company culture.

Neta Meidav is the co-founder and CEO of Vault Platform, a workplace misconduct reporting tech startup which was inspired by the #MeToo movement of 2017. The blockchain-powered app enables employees experiencing misconduct in the workplace to record a private, time-stamped report. This report is then stored as evidence in a private vault on users' phones whilst a digital "receipt" is simultaneous created and stored on the blockchain. This makes it impossible for other employees to tamper with, steal or delete the report.

Here, she talks about the lack of venture capital funding reaching women and why diversity requires long-term changes, not quick fixes.

 

What first attracted you to the technology sector?

My belief is that technology has a large part to play in tackling misconduct within the workplace. In Vault Platform's case, a notable tech feature is that it utilises Distributed Ledger Technology as an integrity layer to offer a solution which can provide people with the ability to safeguard privileged information.

Our time-stamping technology, and digital signatures which are used as "receipts", mean employees can completely trust this reporting tool and authenticate their original records, should they ever be required to as part of an internal or external investigation.

 

What was your route into your current job?

I never expected to be an entrepreneur! I founded Vault Platform because I saw an opportunity to leverage technology to bring about a solution to a pressing social problem. A personal experience from my past brought me to realise that reporting solutions in the workplace are broken. I started obsessing about the problem, studying it, and soon enough I established Vault Platform to be on the solution side.

 

What has been your experience as a woman working in the technology sector in the United Kingdom? Please share any positive or negative examples if you are happy to do so.

There is obviously a problem in technology that requires urgent attention - there simply isn't enough venture capital funding going to women. PitchBook and All Raise identified that women raised 2.2% of all VC dollars in 2018 - that's less than the funding one e-cigarette company took in by itself. On top of that, we don't have enough woman founders in general.

The good news is that there is an awakening to this problem, more of us are speaking up and saying that we're tired of being sidelined or siloed into "femtech" categories. We should be involved in the main party.

 

What changes have you seen in the diversity of workplaces over the course of your career?

#MeToo has definitely meant that workplace diversity is now top of mind - it has become a board-level objective. However, many organisations are just looking for quick fix solutions like adding a token woman to their exec team. Diversifying boards of course is hugely important, but we need to be looking at the source: what is driving women out of the workplace? Are there issues with internal culture? How can we create an equitable workplace? Long term changes are required: fem-washing isn't a quick fix for diversity.

 

Do you think organisations are doing enough to ensure they hire a diverse workforce?

Many organisations are starting to do more to try to hire a diverse workplace but much more needs to be done to boost retention and maintain diversity. Organisations need to deal with cultural issues at the source and identify and stamp out any reasons why a diverse workforce may not feel comfortable, such as misconduct.

 

What are the biggest roadblocks facing women entering the technology industry?

Ultimately there are less women studying STEM subjects and there needs to be grassroots awakening to encourage more women to study STEM at university and go into the tech workforce. But, equally important is that more needs to be done to assess how organisations treat women once they make it inside the tech industry. Redeveloping internal culture is an important part of this so as to encourage diversity - it's not pleasant to be the only woman at the table.

As well, more needs to be done to reinforce women to take risks and start their own companies - as I said before, it's imperative that VC funding money reaches more women.

 

What can we do to improve workplace opportunities for women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ employees and disabled employees?

Diversity cannot exist where misconduct thrives.

Everyone can be affected by workplace misconduct - for example Stonewall identified that one in five LGBT staff in the UK were targets of negative comments or misconduct from colleagues in the space of a year because of their sexual orientation. Worse still is that much of this misconduct will go unchallenged, as one in eight lesbian, gay and bi people and one in five trans people wouldn't report homophobic/biphobic/transphobic workplace bullying.

I've developed Vault Platform to tackle this - giving employees the ability to report any workplace misconduct officially and confidentially all from the convenience of their smartphone. It believes in safety by numbers - the app shows employees if similar misconduct claims have been made and gives them the confidence to come forward with the knowledge they're not alone.