Just face it: the world still sees a persistent gap in access to opportunities and decision-making power for women and men, meaning that women have fewer opportunities – all kinds of them.
Even in Estonia, the cosy home of 1.3 million people, a haven of 7 unicorns and a state with the fifth highest score on the EU’s 2021 Gender Equality Index.
To some Estonian female movers and shakers, like Kadri Tammai, Shana Gavron and Heli Valtna, the topic of gender equality and women empowerment is just something that gets under their skin.
“The topic is close to my heart. What we experience here in Estonia is that only around 15 percent of start-up founders are female and the trend is quite similar in other countries too,” Kadri Tammai, Head of the Tehnopol Start-up Incubator in Estonia, told The Baltic Times.
Notably, she says, around the world, only two percent of the VC money goes to all female founded teams and only five percent to mixed teams.
“Sad numbers,” Tammai says before adding: “Especially if you consider that women-led companies tend to deliver approximately 65 percent higher returns for the investment.”
Agreeing, Shana Gavron, CEO of Endangered Wildlife OÜ, an EstonianTech4Good Fintech company specialising in the valuation of biodiversity, says that, for her, women empowerment is “important” from the perspective of equality and acknowledging that the world of innovation and leadership should not be defined by gender.
“But the thing that I want to stress is the word “equality” – I believe equally that women should not merely be appeased and placed in positions,” Shana Gavron told The Baltic Times.
Otherwise, as she red-flags, the sense of women’s accomplishments in such companies wanes as it is, not rarely, chalked up to gender equality as the latest fad in political correctness.
“It can set a person up for failure and can lead to resentment. Therefore, empowering women should be about acknowledging the skills and abilities of a person regardless of their gender,” says Shana Gavron.
Heli Valtna, PhD, Co-founder and CEO of LightCode Photonics, a science-intensive deep tech company developing breakthrough technology for mobility, says, that in an environment, where laws are not prohibiting women to participate in society equally to men, it takes “a few generations” for women to stop themselves – and other women.
“The empowering messages and role models may not affect our own generation, but they sure will make life better and the horizon wider for the next generation…Being hard on topics, supportive with people – this is how we build a thriving team and change the world,” Heli Valtna accentuated to The Baltic Times.
The attitude that has thrust LightCode Photonics off – and a whole Estonia, too.
“Go figure it out – we have 1.3 million people living here and we have 7 unicorns. It’s the mindset thing we have here – not to give up, grow and expand super quickly and enjoy the ride. The latter is also important.”
To Kadri Tammai, ubiquitous women’s equality, at least in the hemisphere we are in, it is not far off on the horizon.
“I do see a positive trend if I were to look at how many female founders or mixed teams we have, for example in Tehnopol Start-up Incubator’s last batch. I see the shift happening and hope to support it with my own activities as well,” she told The Baltic Times.
However, the full-fledged recognition may wait, she admits.
“In some cases, you defiantly have to prove yourself in places where men don’t, especially if you are young and blonde. So basically, you don’t start from point 0 but from the level -10 and have to climb your way up from there. Stereotypes are hard to break,” insists Kadri Tammai.
And disgracefully, in the start-up sector, it can get “to a total absurd”, the businesswoman notes.
“To a point, where you have to state in a written format to your investors when exactly you are going to have children. Probably male founders don’t quite get the same type of contracts,” Kadri Tammai says.
“One shouldn’t wonder because the VC world is quite male-centric also. So, in my mind the diversity topics are relevant, but they shouldn’t come with employment quotas. No one should get something because of gender and no one should be doubted because of it either” the Tehnopol Start-up Incubator head blasts the ill practices.
For Shana Gavron, the hardest part is receiving the recognition that a woman can be equally, if not more, innovative than a man.
“But, in ways, it is hard to say if it is any easier or harder for a woman because I have not had to experience it as a man,” grins the Endangered Wildlife CEO.
And looking forward, change may come even sooner than later – owing to the rampantly changing world, propelled by awe-striking technological advancements being available for all despite our origin and, yes, gender, prejudice-less education and the forceful omnipresent message that every girl, wherever she is and whatever background she comes from, can succeed – especially in a century of major cultural and societal shifts.
“I think and hope and work towards this that in 10 years’ time women empowerment will not be such an issue anymore; that we have female founders in around 50 percent of teams. If those teams are backed with VC money where the decision-makers themselves have diverse teams and strong beliefs that mixed teams outperform the others, we will see this stereotype crushed,” Kadri Tammai says.
In 10 years from now, Tehnopol will have grown into a leading innovation centre in the region, she is confident.
“The test bed for ground-breaking inventions. A place that unlocks the potential of technology companies through empowering business consultancy and inspiring the business environment. I see that Tehnopol Start-up Incubator is the birthplace of at least 5 unicorns that not only generate economical value but also solve real problems we all are facing,” Kadri Tammai is confident.
Meanwhile, Shana Gavron, of Endangered Wildlife, hopes that gender equality in 10 years’ time will be exactly that: EQUALITY.
“However, I believe that it will take longer, especially if we continue to apply stereotypes and merely appease people based on gender rather than ability,” she cautions.
In 10 years, Endangered Wildlife OÜ will have established itself as a leading innovator in terms of biodiversity valuations and solutions, she believes.
“The company’s mission is to help create as great a positive impact for biodiversity as possible and I would want it to be already leaving this positive footprint within the next 10 years. Essentially, by doing that, we would be able to demonstrate that no matter what our backgrounds, nationalities, educations or identities are, we are all human and we all have the same potential to make a real difference in this world,” Shana Gavron says.
Shana’s outlook on gender equality is shared by Heli Valtna, of LightCode Photonics: “I would like to hope that the general level of respect and collaboration in society will be growing.”
As the company she heads is building software defined 3D cameras for service robots, if successful, in 10 years, the tedious tasks related to mobility will be solved to a great extent, she says.
“Parcels get delivered, cities are maintained and traffic becomes safer,” says Heli Valtna.
With these women – and women – in the driving seat, the future is definitely auspicious.