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By the time Chantal Ambord reached Insead she was already heart-set on a non-traditional career path. The 28-year-old says she rapidly gained a reputation for going to fellow MBA students at the top-ranked business school, to ask them why they would want to join a management consultancy and “spend their time doing power point presentations”.
“I was looking at the future. The reality is that businesses as we know them today are not going to exist in the future,” she says.
Ms Ambord describes herself as entrepreneurial, and decided the ideal career for her would be in a new technology company. She now works in business development for BlaBlaCar, a ride-sharing service that pairs car owners with potential passengers.
Ms Ambord, who graduated from Insead in 2015, appears to be part of an emerging trend. Research by the FT for its most recent ranking of the top 100 MBA programmes showed that by 2015, the number of women from the class of 2012 employed in technology had gone up by 22 per cent. The same survey showed that 14 per cent fewer men were employed in technology roles than three years earlier.
A similar rise in the number of women choosing technology careers has been noted by the US-based Forté Foundation, which mentors women for workplace leadership roles. Elissa Sangster, executive director, says the organisation partners with 46 of the world’s highest ranked business schools and conducts surveys of female MBAs.
Only a handful of women chose careers in technology companies a few years ago but that has risen to “between 9 and 11 per cent”, says Ms Sangster. “I’m not surprised by the increase,” she adds. “The group going into MBA programmes now can see great opportunities in technology companies.”
It seems possible that for female MBA graduates, technology companies might finally be offering the chance of some change in their work prospects. Women are mostly in a minority in elite business schools and afterwards can expect to encounter glass ceilings and persistent pay inequality in the traditional finance and consultancy roles that attract high-flying candidates.
Andrei Kirilenko, head of Imperial College’s Centre for Global Finance and Technology, believes technology will alter things a great deal for women, not least in fintech. “My feeling is that women are particularly well positioned to benefit from the fintech revolution,” he says. “Glass ceilings will not be driven by gender. They will be driven by what you know.”
Mr Kirilenko’s optimism, however, is not yet justified by current proportions of women in large technology companies. An FT investigation in November found that nearly 80 per cent of Google’s top management were male. Similar figures were reported at Facebook. At Apple, women occupied nearly 30 per cent of management roles.
Claire Cockerton, chief executive and chairman of Entiq, an innovation consultancy, was the founding chief executive of Innovate Finance, a UK industry body for the fintech industry. She says she has noted increasing numbers of female developers and believes a particular driver for increasing gender diversity in the tech industry is data analytics.
“If you can harness data analytics then you are the most important person in the room.”
Ms Cockerton graduated from Imperial in 2010 with an MBA in innovation, entrepreneurship and design and says she was never going to be interested in joining a bank or consultancy.
“I felt that climbing the traditional corporate ladder was long and arduous and full of hurdles for women,” she says. Even in the cases where women did succeed, she adds, they had to put up with being paid far less than their male counterparts. “I think the tech industry offers far greater mobility.”
An Amazon spokesman confirmed that globally each year the company now hires hundreds of people with MBAs. He said the online retailer was targeting women in its recruitment process and developing flexible working guidelines that would help the effort.
For Claurelle Schoepke, an MBA and a senior product manager at Amazon Lending UK flexibility is important but so is the unpredictable nature of her job. “It’s fun to meet fighter pilots, economists and publishers all in the same company,” she says. “Unlike some other industries, career paths in new technology companies are not a straight line or planned for you.”
Non-linear careers and the promise of flexible working patterns are part of the attraction of the tech industry but some people cite other reasons, too. Ms Ambord says a new technology company such as BlaBlaCar is particularly attractive to her because it enables her to exert influence.
“One of the reasons I joined BlaBlaCar was because a lot of companies in the technology industry are looking to improve the status quo and they are actually doing it,” she says.