Innovators Shattering Glass Ceilings in the Tech World

Article by LA RAZÓN 

Women are beginning to break through the “glass ceilings” in the field of innovation. However, the gender gap remains palpable in top leadership positions.

By: Rosa Carvajal

Innovation is a key component of a state’s economy. To make Spain a more innovative country, the government introduced a series of proposed measures in February 2021 under the Entrepreneurial Nation Spain Strategy, focusing on education, R&D, and innovative entrepreneurship. One of the 50 measures outlined in this strategy is to monitor the gender gap in innovative entrepreneurship, as the presence of women in public events in the innovative entrepreneurship sector is still scarce.

Although women continue to have less presence in the entrepreneurial process of businesses considered as new (within businesses up to 3.5 years old), the gender participation gap has substantially decreased in the last decade, achieving a women-to-men ratio of 0.95 in 2019, close to 1, according to data from the “Entrepreneurship in Spain by Women. Analysis with GEM (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor) 2020” report.

However, gender gaps in innovation emerge when analyzing the sector in which entrepreneurship occurs. 93% of new businesses started by women belong to sectors with low technological levels (compared to 87% for men), while only 7% belong to sectors with high or medium technological levels (13% for men), according to 2022 data collected by the Ministry of Science and Innovation in its “Women and Innovation” report.

Meanwhile, innovation levels of new businesses are similar between women and men. 27% of businesses started by women generate new innovative products or services that alter the market’s offerings, only one percentage point less than men. Companies that surpass three and a half years of existence still maintain a low technological profile, especially in the case of women. 95% of businesses started by women (and 89% of businesses started by men) belong to low or medium technological level sectors, compared to 5% of women-owned businesses with high or medium technological levels, compared to 11% of men-owned businesses.

The gender gap is particularly evident in leadership positions. In 2021, women represented only one-third of the total population employed in managerial tasks in the IT sector (33.3%), slightly more than one percentage point than in 2018 (32%), but still far from balanced representation.


Ainhoa Marcos has always been passionate about innovation, as she admits. An art historian, she has over 20 years of experience in the education sector, with teaching experience in Spain and the United States, recently in the Master’s in Educational Technology and Digital Teaching Competences at Alfonso X El Sabio University and the International University of La Rioja (UNIR). She combined her teaching experience with technology and has held leadership positions in the business world in companies like SMART Technologies, a firm specialized in edtech solutions such as digital screen production, and Microsoft, where she was closely involved in the company’s business within the education sector. “Throughout my career, I have made significant professional leaps, from leaving the classroom after over ten years of teaching experience to joining a Canadian technology company and eventually leading global sales teams, to leading digital transformation in education at a national and public level in a major American technology company for almost seven years,” says Marcos.

“One of the most significant barriers has been the feeling of being the only woman in the room on many occasions.”

A year ago, Marcos made the leap to a Spanish multinational present in 54 countries, Odilo, creating a new team and continuing to innovate in the field of education and technology on an international scale. “In my career as an executive in the technology field, I have experienced challenges that have required not only professional skills but also a deep personal focus to overcome them. One of the most significant barriers has been the feeling of being the only woman in the room on many occasions. For years, attending events, meetings, or business lunches where I was the only woman present was a recurring reality. At times, this situation created some pressure and the need to demonstrate my worth and competence in a predominantly male environment. As a leader in the field of technology and education, I have faced various barriers in my career, but my determination and passion for innovation have allowed me to overcome them and reach executive positions in internationally renowned organizations. I am committed to continuing to pave the way for other women and to working towards a more inclusive and equitable future in the technology and education industry,” concludes this technological innovator.

“There have been moments when I’ve been on the verge of giving up because of things that wouldn’t happen to a man.”

Silvia Leal, on the other hand, is an international reference in the field of technology, trends, and business transformation. She is an advisor to the OECD’s Global Forum on Technology in the working group linked to immersive reality and the European Commission in digitalization projects, and has been recognized for three consecutive years as one of the ten most influential experts in Spain. Leal, who is also a senior advisor at Evercom, says that throughout her career as an executive, she has encountered many barriers, the first and most important being loneliness. “It’s talked about, but until you experience it, you don’t know what it’s like. Day-to-day life can be terrible when, in addition, you find that someone decides to make things difficult for you. There have been moments when I’ve been on the verge of giving up because of things that wouldn’t happen to a man. So, I can confirm unequivocally that access is not equal. However, I must also acknowledge that on my journey, I have found people who have believed in me more than I have in myself, and by the way, many of them have been men, and I owe them everything. If I had to add another barrier, I would say prejudices and the feeling of being judged for everything you do.”

María Rey is an account director at Skeepers and has been connecting brands and consumers from around the world for over 14 years through user-generated content experiences thanks to their SaaS solutions. “From an early age, I have always been drawn to exploring new ways to approach challenges and improve human experiences through innovation. The place occupied by women in the fields of innovation is a blurry terrain, but personally, I believe that innovative companies are more open to change. This change is necessary to achieve the equality of conditions that we advocate for,” says Rey.

Female representation in the technology field is scarce, and in areas where women are present in careers, their ascent to leadership positions does not reach the same proportion as men. “Throughout my career, although there have been people who have supported me professionally, as a woman, sometimes you feel like you have to prove yourself more than your male colleagues, as if you constantly have to justify your position. However, at Skeepers, women represent 49% of the total employees, a fact that is quite unusual in SaaS companies. This demonstrates our internal commitment to establishing and meeting goals to increase women’s leadership,” explains this professional.

“I have witnessed absurd prejudices about women’s technological knowledge.”

Pilar Valcarcel is the Country Manager for Spain and Portugal at Taboola. A digital advertising professional with over 17 years of multifunctional experience in the online field in international markets (New York/London/Madrid), she has helped consolidate Taboola’s presence and image in Spain and Portugal by leveraging her experience from previous roles at Havas Group and PRISA Brand Solutions. “Throughout my career, I have faced several barriers that have represented challenges to varying degrees. To name one of the most obvious challenges, it is the lack of female representation in leadership roles, which translates into a feeling of loneliness in certain contexts. I have also witnessed absurd prejudices about women’s technological knowledge. Although improvement in recent years is evident, there are still sectors that show resistance to progress, such as the technology sector. What is known as the ‘glass ceiling’ is notably evident, especially when referring to companies within the technological field.”

Employment Niche

The information and communication technologies (ICT) sector is one of the major employers in Spain. According to a study by InfoJobs, there is a need for 200,000 professionals, and Spain has the highest rate of ICT specialists with higher education among the major EU countries (82%). Additionally, technological employment in Spain continues to advance, and this year it has exceeded, for the first time, one million jobs, with year-on-year growth close to 4%. “Innovative companies do foster a more accessible environment for women. It is true that there are more male programmers, analysts, and developers, but the sector is increasingly attracting female talent, mainly because it is an industry that demands a large number of professionals and has high employability,” explains Lucía Ferrer, partner and Chief Revenue Officer at PUE, a Spanish technology company that has been offering cross-cutting data world services in leading technologies (Cloudera, Google Cloud, DataRobot, DataDog…) for 25 years and has successful projects in seven countries in EMEA.

Lucía is a professional with over 15 years of experience in the sector, and has worked at other leading firms like Oracle. From a young age, she always knew she wanted to venture into entrepreneurship, and although she did not study a technical career, she began her professional career at American software multinationals, such as Bea Systems, so venturing into technology combined her experience and her motivation to be the master of her own destiny, she explains. “First, we ventured in Spain, and now PUE, in addition to providing services to clients throughout Europe in a near-shore model with our 180 employees in Spain, has a Joint Venture in Saudi Arabia, and we already serve several clients,” she adds. Through its Saudi Vision 2030 program, Saudi Arabia seeks to incorporate women into the labor market and attract foreign investment, both in capital and knowledge.

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