Social entrepreneur Ayumi Moore Aoki is the Founder and President of Women in Tech – a leading global organization 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 in advancing women in innovation and technology, leading diversity and inclusion programs and organizing global events.
Here we speak to Ayumi about widening the gender gap in the tech sector.
You left your position as head of marketing 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 I was sold: I had a successful career as communications director for a French hotel and casino group, 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, I was suffocating in it.
So I decided to change everything including career and husband! It was the most difficult time in my life so far.
How did I start living and trading my dreams? I learned coding to build websites, I worked on digital campaigns and even developed little apps for social media games. I found that the digital skills gave me the freedom I was looking for.
What was the “aha moment” and the motivation for founding Women in Tech?
AMA: I attended a women-only dinner in Lisbon during the Web Summit in November 2017. I remember sitting there and just absorbing the energy of these incredible women from around 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 me who work in technology. I knew we were vastly outnumbered by men since women made up less than 20% of the tech industry. But what I didn’t know is that this gender gap has been getting bigger every year, and it’s been for the past 40 years!
It was a turning point for me. I felt a mixture of emotions: I was shocked, I was angry, I was determined. I had to do something to change things. So I decided to start Women in Tech. I envisioned it as a catalyst for change, focusing on four core areas that call for action: education, business, social and digital inclusion, and advocacy. A platform for real projects that drive change through grassroots programs and a global community for women that provides a safe place for them to connect and empower each other.
Why did you feel you had to be part of the solution to the growing gender gap in tech?
AMA: I learned very early in life the importance of women’s rights, taking action and not being a victim in any situation. If we want something to change, we have to be part of the change and make it happen. I believe action is the highest form of integrity.
Technology is part of every single aspect of our lives. Technology not only drives our economy, it also invents our future. Products and services are developed from the perspective of only half of the population – men. Helping women and girls advance is not only good for society and ethical, it is smart and good for the economy. When you empower women, you empower entire communities and nations.
What is the main task of Women in Tech? And how far have you gotten in realizing that mission?
AMA: Women in Tech is an international non-profit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap and helping women embrace technology. We advance the empowerment of girls and women around the world and provide solutions to fill gaps in STEM societal justice through programs, services and events. Headquartered in Paris, we are a global movement with chapters on six continents and reach over 100,000 members.
We focus on four main pillars, each a call to action – education, business, social inclusion and advocacy. We create impact through actions to build skills and confidence to help women succeed. Our mission is to empower 5 million women and girls by 2030.
What do you see as the biggest problems and challenges? And why is it progressing so slowly?
AMA: It’s slow because there are a number of issues that keep women from getting into tech. In education, girls do not get as much support as they need to discover the right roles. In Europe, for example, around 74% of young women are interested in computer science and STEM subjects from an early age, but only 28% complete a computer science degree. There are various reasons for this, challenges ranging from cultural norms and unconscious biases to a lack of role models.
In other parts of the world, like the UAE, the challenge isn’t in education, with 43% of STEM graduates being women, but the number falls as they enter the labor market, with women making up just 15% of STEM graduates. identify professions in the country.
I think the main thing today is to give women access to finance. When you know that less than 3% of VC funding goes to female-led startups, we know there’s still a lot of progress to be made.
Finally, what advice would you give to your younger self who is just starting out?
AMA: I’ve failed many times in my life and I wouldn’t change a thing. Through these challenges I have learned something about myself, my inner resilience and what is really important to me. I’m so much stronger than I thought.
However, I would advise my younger self to trust my gut more when it comes to people I meet. Every time I instinctively understood someone, it turned out to be true (for better or worse). Also, keeping toxic people away and surrounding yourself with people who have light within them. A real human connection is one of life’s greatest gifts.