With double-digit annual growth rates, Armenia’s tech sector has become the countries largest–employing 20,000 workers. Once dominated by men, now the country’s tech sector employs 30 percent women–larger than the 20 percent global average of women employed in IT.
Two women tech executives discuss their journey through the male-dominated sector.
Gayane Ghandilyan Arakelyan is CEO of Digital Pomegranate–one of the world’s premier Flutter development agencies, and one of Armenia’s largest tech companies where over 50 percent of employees and 70 percent of top management are women.
“Men who lived in the regional villages discouraged their wives from taking coding or programming classes, so I approached the women’s involvement from a non-threatening angle to their husbands by offering women remote work options in website development or digital marketing,” Yeghoyan explains how providing a laptop, enabling distance learning options opened the “work from home” opportunities for women to “not only manage their family affairs but make considerable financial contribution.”
Since taking over as CEO at the Gyumri-based Digital Pomegranate Arakelyan has increased business growth by 32 percent amidst a pandemic. Co-Founder Todd Fabacher says resigning and nominating Arakelyan as CEO was the “smartest business decision.” Arakelyan kept all 40 staff on the payroll while asking upper management to take a pay cut.
“I had been the CEO for a few months when the largest crisis in almost a century hit. I was making a decision that could have bankrupted the company. But I had faith we would manage with remote work,” Arakelyan admits losing some clients, but signed two major global clients: Sony Music’s global ERP Purchasing system, Sony/ATV modern reporting and Business Intelligence, and the Australian Government. The company hired four new full-time staff and is now offering free classes and paid internships for 100 people in Gyumri “to build an even better future after the crisis.”
A former IT journalist, Arakelyan co-founded Digital Pomegranate in 2013, and considers creating the startup TriviaMatic.com the highlight of her tech career. She’s proud her company was a global sponsor of #Hack20 along with Google and eBay. Its all-female team won 3rd place in the 2019 Seaside Startup Summit. Now Digital Pomegranate is developing business tourism in collaboration with Gyumri region tech companies–its Flutter co-working space, a guest house, and a “Dart cafe” in the heart of Gyumri will accommodate start-up entrepreneurs who can also tap into Digital Pomegranate’s team.
“We are going to be a bridge between local tech talent and the international business community to grow tech and tourism sectors, which we think are the best solutions for the economic development of our region,” Arakelyan also wants her company to be Armenia’s first Internationally Certified Women-Owned Business.
While still feeling the pressure of comparison to male counterparts, Arakelyan is more focused on proving to herself vs. others. “The pressure for women in the tech industry goes away with time, experience, success and wisdom,” she says.
The pressure is similar for Yeghoyan, who when negotiating with men early on, made them believe she sought their advice, to gain their respect. Yeghoyan was instrumental in bringing tech companies to Gyumri with the 2014 inauguration of the Technopark– a collaboration between EIF, the Armenian government and the World Bank. By 2017, with tech booming in Gyumri, GITC offered youth coding classes to prepare the future tech workforce. Now plans are to empower other regions by replicating the Gyumri model with the conviction that any village can succeed.
“One woman can have an impact, motivate and inspire a team–there’s nothing impossible. You have to smile when it’s difficult because you must consider the big umbrella under which you are working–Armenia’s success,” Yeghoyan is determined to build the tech sector across Armenia’s regions to stop the unemployed from emigrating. She oversees EIF’s regional technological and international business development projects and the joint academic research projects between Armenia and such U.S Universities as Columbia, San Jose State and Rutgers, through a partnership with Philip Morris research center in Yerevan that offers Ph.D. research grants in technology and science.
Another EIF success story is Engineering City. Formed by EIF as a joint initiative by the Government of Armenia, World Bank and National Instruments, it has assembled Armenian engineers who are developing thermometers for temperature screening in response to Covid-19 as well as working on AI, and hi-tech solutions for energy, robotics, automotive among others. Armenia’s tech sector is no longer exclusively dominated by men as women executives are integrating tech into the tourism and other sectors to boost Armenia’s economic development.
“We need to change the mindset–women’s confidence is critical in how we approach work which means we need to have men as engaged without ruffling their ego but clarifying that we are on the same team,” says Yeghoyan. “I’m more confident now because I believe in the power and the impact women can have because we’ve proven ourselves already.”
[Read Part 1 of this article for more background on Armenia’s women in tech]