What are the benefits of increased gender diversity in a traditionally male industry? They’re immeasurable, really, with increased inclusion bringing fresh perspectives to projects and novel solutions to problems. Still, diversity in male-dominated industries like tech remains relatively low. Then there’s the matter of increasing diversity in general in a small, tight-knit community like Iceland.
Advocating for greater diversity, equality and inclusion in the tech industry is WomenTechIceland (WTI). Founded by Paula Gould and Valenttina Griffin, the organisation was started on the back of Konur í Tækni, an in-house group Paula created in 2013 while working as the chief marketing officer at Greenqloud, a software company that has since been acquired by NetApp. After successful turns at some of Iceland’s most successful tech firms, U.S.-transplant Paula has since founded Float and Gather, a go-to-market and growth strategy consultancy.
“That was really, really successful,” Paula recalls of Konur í Tækni. “But when my co-founder and I left the company, nothing more happened with it. And the community expressed to me that they were sad that it had disappeared, because it was a really great initiative – thousands of people were in it, all of the big companies were stakeholders, we would have different events every month. We really missed that community.”
WTI began, like so many initiatives in Iceland do, as a Facebook group. That was in 2017, but as member numbers, the scope of projects and the need for partnerships grew, Paula and Valenttina officially registered as a non-profit organisation in 2021.
“We’ve been going strong ever since,” Paula says excitedly of the productive years the organisation has enjoyed to date. “We did a women innovators incubator between 2021 and 2022. And the focus this year is not only on deepening the community here and amplifying local voices and people – the leaders and emerging leaders and other women in the tech sector – but also connecting them externally. So our initiative this year is more focused abroad.”
From Iceland to the Nordics
That international focus and push to connect women working in Iceland’s booming tech sector with their cohorts abroad will culminate in November with WTI’s organisation of the Nordic Women in Tech Awards. The awards are held in a different Nordic nation each year and Iceland’s turn to play host is a big deal for the local tech ecosystem, bringing together leaders from across the entirety of the Nordic Women in Tech community to see and celebrate the women in Iceland’s innovation sector alongside women in tech from across the Nordics.
It’s also a big deal for the handful of women working in Iceland’s tech sector who have been nominated for this year’s awards — whose profiles also highlight the diversity of women working in tech in Iceland.
“The names aren’t all dóttir,” Paula laughs while pointing out the nominees representing Iceland this year have a range of international names rather than the standard Icelandic patronymic. Indeed, four of the nine individuals nominated in categories like Digital Leader Of The Year, Developer Of The Year, Rising Star Of The Year and Innovator Of The Year are women of foreign origin who have been making waves in Iceland’s tech landscape.
Asked whether the diversity on display on the nominees list is representative of the true diversity of women working in tech in Iceland, Paula admits that’s not the case “I wouldn’t say that there is a lot of diversity,” she says, “but I would say that the best opportunities for foreigners who live here, particularly those who come to the country with specific skill sets, are in the tech sector.” And while she wasn’t involved with the judging panel for the national level of nominees this year, Paula was excited to see the diversity represented in WTI – a group started by women of foreign origin that has become the group for all Icelandic women in tech – being reflected among the women nominated. “For us, it’s kind of a small bit of activism to make sure that the cross section of Icelandic society is always represented,” she says.
Beyond the talking points
“I think that in Iceland, even though it’s the number one country for gender equality, [that statistic] disguises the experiences of women in various other settings,” Paula says of WTI’s activist approach, explaining that the oft-touted gender equality data point doesn’t take intersectionality into account. Immigrants often make significantly less than their Icelandic peers working the exact same job. “It doesn’t take into account the foreign population, it doesn’t take into account Icelanders born to folks of foreign origin – I just wonder if it also doesn’t take into account the LGBTQIA community. So there’s a lot of different areas that kind of get left out of all of these top listings that Iceland has.”
As for creating environments where women and women of foreign origin can excel, Paula recalls a talk she gave in 2022 on upskilling. While many expected her to focus on the importance of upskilling, reeducating and networking to get ahead, she turned the spotlight on Iceland and the fact that sometimes, no matter how much an immigrant upskills and networks, their lack of lifelong network and community will hold them back.
“So my take and WTI’s position was, it’s not so much that we have to upskill as it is that we need leadership, boards, stakeholders and shareholders to take a closer look and upskill themselves out of their biases and out of their networks that they’ve had since they were in kindergarten to be more welcoming to the folks that they need in their companies.”
Looking toward November
While Paula and the rest of the WTI board work on the long term success of women working in Iceland’s tech ecosphere, the rest of the Nordics will have a chance in November to see how far that cohort has already come.
“We’re really excited about the Nordic Women In Tech gala event that’s happening Nov. 9,” Paula says of the awards ceremony and gala happening at Harpa. “It’s going to be just a really fun festive party with lots of folks from the entirety of the sector coming in and showing support.”
Among the Icelandic supporters lined up behind the event are Business Iceland, Play, Origo and Crowberry Capital. Each country represented in the awards is also bringing in supporters and sponsors to the Reykjavík festivities.
“The support just really reinforces to us that we’re on the right track and that there is this kind of intentional movement towards inclusivity and change and removal of biases and highlighting all of the people who are making waves in the tech community,” Paula concludes. “It seems to be working, so let’s just keep doing it.”
The Nordic Women in Tech Awards are being held at Harpa on Nov. 9. More information about the awards and this year’s nominees can be found at NordicWomenInTechAwards.com. Learn more about WomenTechIceland at WomenTechIceland.com.
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