Nikki Hallgrimsdottir, co-founder of Algo.ai, on female entrepreneurship and finding the right mentors – Interview
Change is on the horizon. While it might be overdue and slow, it is evident that women are gaining more ground in the world of business. Both The Next Web and Entrepreneur have published articles over the past week advocating the obvious benefits of having more women in top roles.
The aforementioned articles, “Why it’s a no-brainer to have women in your startup’s exec team” and “Why It is Vital to Have Women in Your Startup’s Leadership Team,” claim that we have closed 68 percent of the gender gap worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2019. But there is still a long way to go as it will take 108 years to achieve overall gender parity and 202 years to achieve full equality in the workplace.
In addition to this, 41 percent of startups report having a program in place to raise the number of women in key leadership roles, according to Silicon Valley Bank.
Evidence shows that the greater the level of gender equality a country has, the less women it has working in STEM areas. As a woman in the tech industry, what do you think could be the reason behind this and do you think it poses a problem to these industries?
As someone who grew up partially in Iceland and then in Texas, I can attest to the fact that there is a big difference in how you approach preparing for the future and making decisions about careers. In Iceland, where there is a very good social safety net and equality between the sexes, both men and women can easily pursue higher education while also starting families.
With less income stratification and more social services, there is less pressure to choose a career based on the pay potential. I can see how in less equal countries pursuing a STEM career is more of a necessity, making it less feasible to choose a fulfilling but low paying career in other fields. I moved to Texas in middle school and immediately began to feel the pressure to get into a good college and choose a career that paid well.
Following on from this, do you think there are natural differences between men and women and to what extent can these differences be used to improve a workforce?
Yes, there definitely are some differences between most men and women, just like there are differences in people from different cultures, backgrounds or geographies. I am not sure how much of this difference is due to culturally imposed gender roles vs biological differences. Research shows that including women more equally in the workforce, particularly in positions of power such as on boards of directors and in management is beneficial to the bottom line. Creativity and innovation are enhanced when people with different perspectives and experiences work together, unexpected links are formed and ideas are born that would not be conceivable in a group of like-minded individuals.
I often hear that hiring the most highly qualified candidate for a given position is always the best course of action, and anything else is unfair or biased. But if your goal is to excel as an organization or a group, then you have to consider the whole, not just the individual parts in a vacuum. Hiring people with a broad mix of skills, backgrounds, perspectives, and experience will create stronger, more resilient and innovative companies.
What qualities would you look for in a mentor and why have you found these to be helpful?
I have never formally looked for a mentor, and have actually had several opportunities that just didn’t click for me. The mentoring relationships that have mattered the most for me have happened organically. I have found great mentors by gravitating towards people that I worked with and really enjoyed talking with, bouncing ideas off, and felt generally comfortable with sharing lots of things and asking for advice. So I would say out of the people around you, see which ones spark your creativity and drive, and make a point to cultivate those relationships if you can.
Do you have any general advice for women who want to further their careers in technology or the startup scene?
Reflecting on all of my experience so far, to distill it down I would say: go for it. Women are still a minority in the tech industry which means we still have some uphill battles, and the only way to keep climbing that hill is to keep going. Take advantage of opportunities, put yourself out there, make yourself well known in your organization or your industry. Cultivate your skills and constantly keep learning. Cultivate relationships with people that see your potential, because no one is an island and a good network is essential.
Disclosure: This article includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company