Business

Women in technology - more than enough room

On Sunday 21st February, I joined a panel at UCL as part of NACUE’s Student Enterprise Conference 2016, to discuss the lacking presence of women in technology.

This article is a direct response to the topics and issues discussed on the day.

The panel was chaired by Lauren Hine (@HineLC), co-founder of Zealify and founder of Female Fridays. We were also joined by:

Toni Cowan-Brown (@ToniCowanBrown) of NationBuilder

Vickie Allen (@vickieallen__), founder of SyncDevelopHER

Lucy Kerr (@lucykkerr) from Tutofair.com and supporter of Code First Girls

Vicky Smalley (@VickySmalley), founder of Small Jelly

Dr. Daphne Economou (@DaphneEconomou), a senior lecturer at the university of Westminster in Computer Science.

 

We discussed how more young women could be encouraged to consider careers in the technology and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries. The solutions offered were vast and varied but were all aimed towards the same outcome and what resulted from the panel was a reflection on why women might not feel like they can suceed within technology, and how we can tackle this stigma that seems to surround the industry.

So how can we start making a change within the technology and STEM industries and encouraging women to embark on careers within these fields?

  1. More role models
    Whilst Beyonce is fantastic and has brought Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to the attention of an entirely new generation, she’s not doing much for women in technology. We still need more female role models, and most importantly they need to be more visible in order to inspire the new generation. 

    Vickie Allen mentioned how she had a female head of IT at school who really encouraged girls to join IT classes. It was only after attending a tech event that Vickie realised that amongst hundreds of attendees, she was the only woman there. In a seminar, surrounded by a sea of male faces, she came to the realisation that not all young girls have a teacher encouraging them to learn more about technology.

    Women within the industry need to be putting themselves into positions where their achievements will be seen by the new generation and making it known that women can thrive within technology and STEM careers.

  1. Educate about women in power
    There is still room for education when it comes to women in power overall, not only within technology and STEM fields. There are still some people who will hold the opinion that women are less likely to be in positions of power - and this is something that needs to be addressed.

    A classic example of this is when Toni experienced being in a meeting with a client and them asking to speak with the ‘actual managing team’ - having seen no men in the room, the client had assumed that Toni was a junior member of staff and they were waiting for the ‘real’ meeting to begin.

    I wonder, if we created more opportunities for young girls to practice the skills they don’t feel completely confident about, if one day they will be comfortable enough to take the leap and take the steps to becoming experts in their field.

     

  2. Give more confidence to girls
    To gain confidence doing something, you have to put yourself into situations where you might not feel very comfortable to begin with, but there will be opportunities for you to learn, adapt and develop a voice within those situations.

    I never thought I could create my own startup until I did. I co-founded a music discovery app and had to put myself in front of investors and enter competitions. I have had to stand in front of judging panels waiting for words to come out - which sometimes went well, and sometimes the words eluded me. I’ve now done it enough times to actually enjoy it. 

    I wonder, if we created more opportunities for young girls to practice the skills they don’t feel completely confident about, if one day they will be comfortable enough to take the leap and take the steps to becoming experts in their field.

  3. Would creating more women focused events or funding help?
    In my opinion, the answer to this is a big, resounding no. We’re looking to integrate more women into the tech and STEM industries, not segregate ourselves further. However, my fellow panellists pointed out that it is very important for women to encourage each other and take advantage of the support we can give to each other, and if men can have their ‘boys only’ clubs, why aren’t we allowed to have women only power lunches and networking events?

    Personally, I find women only events and funding help quite patronising. I am confident in saying that the panel thought that women should definitely take the opportunities thrown at them and prove that they are worth the chance. Women only events and funding take away half of the competition and we would rather encourage women to be at the top of the entire game, not just ahead of other women.

    Some of us on the panel wondered if we were invited to present at events because they needed a woman to diversify the event or because we are actually good at what we are doing. I go to events and conferences because I am interested in the subject, not because it is a man or woman talking, and I hope the events and panels I am invited to talk at invite me for that same reason - because I have something interesting to say (or because I’m astoundingly witty and charming and can draw a crowd, but that’s a whole other blog for another time).

  4. Educate women to join the industry

    The most important point from the panel is the necessity to educate women - not just within tech and STEM fields but also to make it known that women can start their own businesses. That they can be the head of research for a world-renowned university or tech facility and they can run for President or Prime Minister if they wanted to (being The Queen is, unfortunately, something you have to be born into). It is often a lack of education and encouragement that lets women down in achieving what they want in life. The Tech industries and Departments of Education around the world need to start encouraging women into these subjects and showing them what they can achieve if they put their brilliant minds to the test. Afterall, should ‘Ruler of the World’ become an occupation, I want women to believe they are just as capable as any man - because they’ve been educated that they are equal (and Beyonce told us so).

    And this doesn’t only apply to women, but both genders, all races and all walks of life. Technology is not synonymous with web programmer or developer - there is so much more to the world of tech and STEM, and with it so many more roles within which women can succeed.

I go to events and conferences because I am interested in the subject, not because it is a man or woman talking, and I hope the events and panels I am invited to talk at invite me for that same reason - because I have something interesting to say.

 

For a project to be success it needs a variety of people ranging from developers to SEO specialists and project managers. After all, most of the women in tech I know end up there via a secondary route, after studying English Literature (like Lucy) or Archeology, and so on.

Encouraging women to aim for higher positions has to start with encouraging others to accept women in power. This doesn’t mean that men should feel threatened, and this isn’t about making ourselves known as the better sex, this is about equality and attacking the stigma that women cannot hold positions of power within the tech and STEM industries, because it’s a ‘man’s world’.

The topic of the role of women and how they should encourage each other has been discussed far and wide, but none say it better than Chimamnda Ngozi Adichie, as shown here in a post by ATTN:.

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