Social entrepreneur Ayumi Moore Aoki is founder and president of Women in Tech – a leading global organisation whose mission is to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in STEM fields.
She is also a keynote speaker, entrepreneur, advocate and mother of four, with significant international experience advancing women in innovation and technology, leading diversity and inclusion programs and organising global events.
Here, we talk to Ayumi about widening the gender gap in the tech sector.
You quit your marketing director role in 2008 and taught yourself how to code. What inspired you to make such a big change?
AMA: In 2007, I was living the perfect life as it had been sold to me: I had a high-powered career as the comms director of a French group of hotels and casinos, a beautiful house, two amazing children, even my dogs looked like they came out of a fairy tale. But I wasn’t happy. In fact, I wasn’t living the life I wanted to, I was suffocating inside it.
So, I decided to change everything, including career and husband! It was the most difficult period in my life until now.
How did I start to live my dreams and act? I learned how to code so that I could build websites, I worked on digital campaigns and I even built small apps for social media gaming. I realised that the digital skills gave me the freedom I was looking for.
What was the ‘lightbulb’ moment and motivation for launching Women in Tech?
AMA: I attended an all-women’s dinner in Lisbon during Web Summit, November 2017. I remember sitting there and just taking in the energy from these incredible women, from all over the world. I felt so alive!
I was running my own digital agency at the time and had recently given birth to my fourth child. It felt good to meet and connect with other female entrepreneurs like myself, working in technology. I knew we were largely outnumbered by men, as women represented less than 20% of the tech industry. But what I didn’t know is that this gender gap was getting bigger every year, and this for the past 40 years!
It was a turning point for me. I felt a mix of emotions: I was in shock, I was angry, I was determined. I had to do something to change things. So, I decided to create Women in Tech. I imagined it as a catalyst for change, focusing on four core areas that are a call to action: education, business, social & digital inclusion and advocacy. A platform for real projects that would drive change through programs on a grassroots level and a global community for women, giving them a safe place to network and empower each other.
Why did you feel you have to be part of the solution to the widening gender gap in the tech sector?
AMA: I learned very early in life the importance of women’s rights, of taking action and of not being a victim in any situation. If we want things to change, we have to be part of the change and make it happen. I believe that action is the utmost form of integrity.
Technology is part of every single aspect of our lives. Not only does tech drive our economy, it also invents our future. Products and services are being developed based on the perspective of only one half of the population – men. Helping women and girls to advance is not only good for society, and ethical, but smart and good for the economy. When you empower women, you empower whole communities and nations.
What is the main mission of Women in Tech? And how far have you come in realising that mission?
AMA: Women in Tech is an international non-profit organisation on a mission to close the gender gap and to help women embrace technology. We promote girls’ and women’s empowerment around the world, offering solutions to address societal equity gaps in STEM through programs, services and events. With our Head Office in Paris, we are a Global Movement with chapters in six continents, reaching over 100,000 members.
We focus on four primary pillars, each a call to action – education, enterprise, social inclusion and advocacy. We create impact through action to build skills and confidence, setting women up for success. We are on a mission to empower 5 million women and girls by 2030.
What do you see as the biggest issues and challenges? And why is progress so slow?
AMA: It’s slow because there are a number of issues that hold women back from going into tech. In education, girls don’t receive as much support as they need to discover the right roles. In Europe for instance, around 74% of young women express an interest in computer science and STEM fields at an early age, however, only 28% earn computer science degrees. There are different reasons for this, challenges ranging from cultural norms and unconscious bias to lack of role models.
In other parts of the world, like the United Arab Emirates, the challenge is not education as 43% of STEM graduates are women, but the number drops when they enter the workforce, with women representing just 15% of STEM occupations in the country.
I think that the main issue today is giving women access to funding. When you know that less than 3% of VC funding goes to female-led startups we know that there is still huge progress to be made.
Finally, what advice would you give to your younger self just starting out?
AMA: I failed many times throughout my life, and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s through these challenges that I learned about myself, my inner resilience and what really matters to me. I’m so much stronger than I thought I was.
However, I would tell my younger self to trust my gut feeling more regarding people I meet. Every time I had an instinctive understanding of someone, it turned out to be true (in a good or bad way). Also, to keep toxic people away and surround yourself with people who have light in them. Genuine human connection is one of the biggest gifts in life.