One of the shining aspects of online learning is that it allows us to reach a wider and more diverse student base. However, is this being reflected in the people who are producing the courses? How does that diversity play out in the senior positions of EdTech companies?
HolonIQ published some sobering research on the statistics of women holding these roles. Despite 75% of teachers being women, they account for only 13% of EdTech CEOs and leaders. There is clearly room for improvement, but it would be amiss if we didn’t discuss some of the leading women in these roles. If you want to keep track of the women who endured unfavourable odds and are playing a major role in EdTech, these leaders will point you in the right direction.
Our first notable leader has received many honours and awards, including Women Transforming India and Edtech Top 100 2022 Global Influencers. Aditi Avasthi is the founder and CEO of Embibe, which she defines as “a movement to deliver learning and life outcomes to students and empower teachers to be their best – built at the interplay of deep educational expertise, design, AI and engineering.” With concepts like edutainment standing out on their website, Embibe clearly aims to make learning a fun, exciting and interactive experience.
As her business grows in its success, Aditi advocates for female empowerment and celebrates the talented women at Embibe.
Cindy Mi is the CEO and founder of VIPKid, an online learning platform for teaching English to over 500,000 children around the world. With partners that include National Geographic Learning and HMH, VIPKid has taught over 200 million classes to date using a technique that “maximises learning and fast-tracks language acquisition.” The company also provided free online lessons after the outbreak of COVID-19 with children in Wuhan as their priority. This shows her desire to truly make a difference in the lives of their students.
Boasting awards like Business Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009 and the Mayor of London Fund’s Special Recognition Award in 2016, Priya Lakhani is a trailblazer in EdTech. She founded CENTURY Tech in 2013 and remains their CEO. CENTURY defines itself as “an award-winning teaching and learning platform for primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities.” They use AI, neuroscience and learning science to ensure a powerful product that delivers value to both students and teachers alike. Students can utilise enhanced learning methods, while teachers can monitor the assessment data for market analysis.
Priya’s achievements aren’t limited to CENTURY Tech. She was also a Media Law lecturer at the University of Westminster, founded several other companies and a charity, served as a member on a variety of boards and is a BBC News commentator. With a wealth of skills and accomplishments, it is little surprise that she continues to inspire those in the industry.
The next EdTech leader that we will discuss is Daphne Koller, who you may know in connection to Coursera. An Israeli-American computer scientist, serial entrepreneur and AI expert, she founded Coursera in 2012 as a provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs).
Much like the other inspiring women in this article, her achievements surpass a single company. According to her interview with the Oxford Guild, Daphne was a computer science professor at Stanford University, the co-founder of Engageli and the chief computing officer at CalicoLabs. She is also the co-founder and CEO of insitro – a revolutionary company that focuses on using machine learning to develop biomedicine. Considering her repertoire, she is deserving of her several awards which include TIME's 100 Most Influential People in the World, Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business, Newsweek's 10 Most Important People and Huffington Post's 100 Gamechangers.
One of Daphne’s statements that stand out in the Oxford Guild interview refers to how she “wanted to have a more immediate and direct impact on the lives of people.” Whether we look at her work in the educational space or her progress in the medical field, it’s clear that she wants to make a positive and powerful difference in the world.
EdTech goes beyond online courses for students. Akua Nyame-Mensah is one of the individuals who use technology to coach entrepreneurs and leaders on best business practices. As a certified executive coach and entrepreneur herself, she has expert knowledge and experience with building companies and teams that use technology.
Besides the individual or group coaching packages, Akua also has a podcast called Open Door Conversations where she tackles many of the pressing entrepreneurial issues that we face today and gives her take on the matter, with guest hosts who join her in the discussions. If you’re looking for more insight into topics like entrepreneurial burnout and the role of white supremacy and cultural intelligence, be sure to listen in!
These five women have accomplished great things and are deserving of their recognition. However, it’s not as simple as chasing your dreams. Statistics show that women face worse odds when it comes to gaining venture capital funding for their new companies, with only 2–6% being approved. Women of colour have an even lower likelihood of venture capital funding with approximately 0.32% for Latin American women and 0.0006% for African American women.
While we should celebrate the achievements of female EdTech leaders, we can’t pretend that there is no marginalisation left in this industry. There are many women who work in EdTech, but we haven’t reached the point of a female CEO being the norm. Worse still, there are far too few women of colour holding these positions.
These demographics should not function as tokenism. Representation isn’t a method to disprove any theories about corporate sexism and racism. It means that marginalised groups know that they can strive for leadership roles. We need to reach the point where a woman or woman of colour in a senior position is the norm – not the exception.
So, how do we reach this point of corporate evolution?
Firstly, marginalised demographics need to have the opportunities to hold leadership positions and weigh in on important decisions or discussions. They need to be promoted to leadership positions and empowered from within the company.
Secondly, we need to openly acknowledge and attend to the disadvantages and gaps within the system. As educational professionals, we need to reduce and bridge the gap by expanding the traditional education system to incorporate what all demographics need to be prepared for leadership roles. From a young age, girls need to know that there are people like them in leadership. This is a systemic issue that needs to be changed from the ground up – we can’t correct it overnight. From school children to higher education students, women and women of colour need the resources and opportunities to strive towards leadership. Only with a level playing field can we truly advance and entirely reach those who deserve reaching.
Lastly, we need to cater for all groups within our companies. Aside from having a diverse workforce, there need to be organisation-wide systems that ensure all demographics are supported and have growth opportunities. What good is it to have a team that represents all of our population if they aren’t given adequate opportunities or they feel unwelcome? We need to promote not only representation but also the diverse workforce’s ability to thrive within a company.
Representation cannot solely function to overcorrect the past’s ever-present restraints on the future. While we have an uphill climb ahead of us, we need to remember that education plays a vital role in overcoming the hurdles that marginalised groups face. As leaders and contributors to the future of education, we need to remember our capability to enact change.
Daxue Consulting. (2020). 8 Chinese Edtech Start-Ups Leading the Global Educational Technology Industry [online]. [accessed 29 April 2022].
Embibe. (no date). Embibe – The Most Powerful AI-Powered Learning Platform [online]. [accessed 29 April 2022].
Haselton, J. (2020). Investing in Women-Led Edtech Startups Is More Than a Matter of Equity. It’s Also Good Business. [online]. [accessed 29 April 2022].
HolonIQ. (2022). The 2022 Global State of Women's Leadership [online]. [accessed 29 April 2022].
The Oxford Guild. (2020). Daphne Koller, Co-Founder of Coursera - Famous Serial Entrepreneur, Computer Scientist & AI Expert [video online]. [accessed 29 April 2022].
VIPKid. (no date). VIPKid.com [online]. [accessed 29 April 2022].