Women will continue to face a glass ceiling unless the gap between maternity and paternity leave is closed. That’s the opinion of tech entrepreneur Alex Depledge, who recently sold her home cleaning start-up Hassle for a reported eight-figure sum.
Speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference in London, the entrepreneur recounted her own experiences of being pregnant whilst manning the helm of a fast-growing firm. ‘Even my mum said to me, Alex are you going to step down as CEO now that you’re pregnant? Lots of people asked me that question – investors, other entrepreneurs,’ she said.
But her mind was made after speaking to fellow tech founder Debbie Wosskow (founder of Love Home Swap) and VC Eileen Burbidge. ‘They just said to me, "Fuck it. Of course you can do it, people have done it before, you will cope with whatever you put on your plate."’ She said. ‘So I did, I did exactly that. I left the office on Friday and I gave birth on Saturday, and the company didn’t suffer. In fact the company was a better company for it, because I had nine months to plan.’
She didn't let pregnancy stop her from running a business, but Depledge thinks the gap between maternity and paternity leave is a major barrier to women succeeding in the tech business. ‘Until we make it equal for men to take part in the care of their children, women will always be the primary carer and there will always be a glass ceiling,’ she said.
At her own company, which was acquired by Rocket Internet’s Helpling back in July, men currently get two months of paid leave to women’s six, but ‘we are moving to a world where the boys and girls get four months each. Then when someone sits in front of me I don’t have to consider the question, "Might they take leave to care for their child?" It’s a given.’
‘We need to stop this negative discourse that it’s hard to be a woman in tech,’ she added. ‘It’s not hard to be a woman in tech, there are plenty of us. We just need surfacing and making visible.’
But the stats on women in tech paint a less positive picture, as Depledge admits. According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 85% of engineering and technology degrees are awarded to men, and women make up just 13% of the ‘STEM’ (science, technology, engineering and maths) workforce.
‘It’s a huge problem because every single business in 20 years time – we won’t be talking about technology – everything will be digital,’ Depledge said. ‘It’s almost akin to the industrial revolution. We need equal representation across men and women in the digital business.’