Although female tech leaders are still a relative rarity in a world chock full of men and male-founded corporations, women are on the cutting edge of advancement in the field. Creating futuristic businesses that do everything from helping patients understand their medical diagnoses to helping people identify career matches, women are uniting their passions with high-tech solutions that are quite literally changing people's lives and the future of businesses. Here, three kickass tech-obsessed women on our radar:
Liz Elting, Founder, TransPerfect
Liz Elting is a natural born linguist. She majored in languages in college, lived all over the world, and decided to harness her passion for the spoken word into a tech-forward business with global appeal. “I love the translation industry because I love solving client problems, but I thought it could be better" says Elting, who founded ahead-of-its-time translating app Transperfect in 1992. “Back then, it was a very fragmented industry and most translating companies were started by translators who were busy translating and running their companies. I felt there was a gap on what clients needed most, which was top quality and the best service."
These days Elting's app, which translates in hundreds of languages -from Arabic to Zulu-is focused on helping global businesses scale by giving reliable, timely and most importantly accurate translations. “There is a need for a one-stop shop of language service," says Elting. “We are very focused on changing with the times, and anticipating the changing needs of our clients to help them do business internationally."
Despite being a tech company, central to the business is a human touch. Eating reports that all translations are done via native speakers rather than automated systems. To that end, TrasnPerfect has more than 4,000 employees and over 15,000 on-call subcontractors around the world.
“Most of what we do is very high-tech, but machine translation is not really there," says Elting, whose clients include 200 of the largest law firms in the world, and well-known companies like American Express, CitiBank, Johnson and Johnson, and Google.
“Everything still needs to be edited and reviewed by proofreaders. The industry may be cutting edge, but we are still a people industry. It's very labor intensive to get the nuances of language right."
Elting adds that beyond language, using and understanding the corporate jargon of various industries is also a focus. “We deal with every very main language, but also every type of terminology, from legal to financial, medical to mining, telecommunications, and marketing," she says.
Elting, who bootstrapped the company she founded with Philip Shawe, a friend from business school, says that despite starting out of an NYU dorm room, she had her eyes fixated on the future. “When we started technology was barely there," says Elting. "We received documents by faxes, and used a modem to send documents electronically, which would usually take between four and six hours. We are very cutting edge now, but still believe the translation work must be done by people, because the technology is not nearly where it needs to be to replace what we do."
Looking to the future, Elting is focused on taking the company to the next level, continuing to scale globally, outside the US, and getting into related lines of business. She tells SWAAY she is also interested in growing via targeted acquisitions. “I want to make TransPerfect better and better, and continue doing what I can to make the world a better place," says Elting, who sits on the boards of various philanthropic organizations. “There's still so much to do."
Frida Polli, Founder, Pymetrics
For Frida Polli, technology offers a solution to a workplace issue we face everyday; finding and hiring new talent. Polli, a neuroscientist turned entrepreneur, is CEO and Founder of Pymetrics, a one-stop-shop which uses a combination of neuroscience and technology to help users identify their best matching career path. The app, which is comprised of interactive games that identify and match 90 personality traits, also offers a networking component designed to help with the recruitment process.
“We have Netflix, we have Amazon, we have dating apps, but I wondered why there isn't a place you can put information about yourself and based on your cognitive traits are able to predict success in the workplace," says Polli. “I wanted to bring first in class advancements in neuroscience to help with career search process for users."
Polls, who created the company along with her former coworker, Julie Yoo in 2013, says she became fixated on creating a high-tech way to help people identify their best career. “I wanted to build an algorithm to see if we could find out what made for success in different fields," says Polli. “Literally the first year that we were in business, we were just trying to develop the science. We were two women and an algorithm; Julie, myself and cool technology."
Pymetrics, which has since been translated into 50 languages and has over half a million users, is all about collecting information then connecting the dots. Comparing it to the backend of Netflix, Polli says the Pymetrics technology utilizes a correlation map, that tells how certain personality factors are related to careers. “It's a mining database seeking intersecting patterns," says Polli.
In terms of the user experience, Polli says the exercises that may “not be as fun as candy crush," but they are far from as boring as filling out a questionnaire. “People enjoy the experience and it's highly scalable because it works," she says.
"We offer non-verbal games you can play from a global perspective. A lot are global companies looking for a solution that offers scientific objectivity and a lack of basis, and works across geography."
Another benefit to her business, to be sure, is that by focusing on personality traits rather than in-person interviews or old fashioned resumes, you can instantly manage out any potential discrimination. “I'm trying to replace and augment the resume review, which is first step in hiring process," says Polli. “Companies sometimes make worse decisions. Not only are resumes not predictive but they are also biased towards women, minorities, and people of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Using this type of data you can eliminate bias and expand the reach of where companies can find talented people."
Sima Pendharkar, Founder, Valeet Healthcare
Sima Pendharkar is an internal medicine physician at Mt.Sinai in New York, but growing up, her entire life was very much dedicated to art. Discovering she wanted to become a doctor later on, she was able to utilize this creativity within her medical career.
After receiving a degree in medicine from the University of North Carolina, she began working in different hospitals. It was just a few years post-college that she began realizing her patients weren't fully understanding their diagnosis as their doctor was delivering the good or bad news in the hospital. Whether because of stress, long medical terms, or unwillingness to perceive bad news, many diagnoses cause confusion for the ordinary patient, so she decided to tackle this problem, using visual art. She married her creativity with her work at the hospital, and started explaining to patients what was wrong with them through drawings and pictures. Making medicine relatable was her primary objective, and as she saw the positive results and feedback from her approach, she came across a business opportunity she simply couldn't pass up. Because of how successful her visual explanations were, Pendharkar decided to bring technology into the mix.
“It's really challenging to convey complex information that really sticks with patients," Pendharkar says, and so she began designing a software in 2015, that would similarly break down a diagnosis in the way her pictures did – through an app that would be simple and understandable. And so, she founded Valeet Healthcare and set out to create her first med-tech app. Valeet essentially allows a physician, like Pendharkar, to walk into a room with a patient, show them the app breaking down their illness visually so that they can understand what's wrong, while also instructing them on how the doctor will proceed with their treatment.
Pendharkar looked for funding and backing to pilot the program both here and abroad, but things really began moving this past June when Valeet won the Digital Health Marketplace contest. This allowed the team to pilot the software in Mt. Sinai in New York City. Simultaneous to these efforts, she has also looked into implementing the software abroad, and both Australia and parts of Asia have been very receptive to the concept. Valeet has just announced its latest hospital partnership with a hospital in Australia, with more suitors likely for the incredible technology Perdharkar has created, and we cannot wait to see what she brings next to the health-tech industry.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.