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October 13, 2017  12:22 PM

Previous everywoman award winner Sophie Deen talks tech

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
"women in IT", "women in tech", Books, media, Startups

Everywoman has extended the deadline for its FDM everywoman in technology awards to allow more time for nominations – 2016 everywoman Startup Founder of the Year award winner Sophie Deen discusses how her win impacted her business.

Sophie Deen, founder and CEO of Bright Little Labs, had not expected to win the everywoman Startup Founder of the Year award in 2016 – the surprise was visible on her face when she approached the stage to accept it, and clear in the beginning of her brief acceptance speech: “Wow, I didn’t prepare anything.”

The lead up to the 2016 everywoman awards saw Deen Launch the first in her series of books Detective Dot, focused around a young girl who uses tech to solve mysteries.

When working as a paralegal after studying law, Deen realised she wanted to work with children, and that law wasn’t for her.

After experience at a tech startup, Deen began working at Code Club where she helped the Department for Education and Google to develop the new computing curriculum.

Deen noticed the lack of diverse tech role models for kids, and many of the technical characters in the media perpetuated negative tech stereotypes.

“Stereotypes really affect how girls perceive the industry,” Deen says.

“I wanted to make sure ALL kids have access to the same opportunities, and believe that mainstream media offers one of the best routes – just look at Sesame Street. I wanted to create mainstream kids media with diverse characters and inspiring female role models to change this, so I set up Bright Little Labs.”

Realising the increasing importance of digital skills and the impending skills gap – an estimated 2.3 million digital workers will be needed in the UK alone by 2020 – Deen began to brainstorm how to use media to introduce coding and technology to a wide audience in an approachable way.

She explains: “I loved the work developing the new curriculum, but was concerned about the lack of diversity in tech. I thought stories were an excellent lo-fi way to level out access, provide inspiring role models and get the core computing concepts across to everyone.”

Bright Little Labs and its resources aim to “make a new Disney” which Deen admits seems like “a ridiculously ambitious thing to do” but the team is passionate about using stories and media to inspire children to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).

Since winning the 2016 everywoman Startup Founder of the Year award, Bright Little Labs has raised a seed round, signed a three book deal and won meetings with media companies to discuss creating animations and an interactive platform.

A lack of role models is often cited as a reason girls do not choose Stem subjects and careers, and winning awards like an everywoman award can help to recognise and promote women in tech and female founders.

Winning an everywoman award has given us a lot of credibility, helped me build my own confidence, and opened doors. It’s no longer just my parents who think what we’re doing is great!” Deen says.

“If you’re reading this and you know an entrepreneur – nominate her!”

Nominations are open, and can be submitted until 16 October 2017. Winners will be announced during a ceremony on 8 February 2018 at the London Hilton on Park Lane.

October 12, 2017  11:29 AM

Why Ada Lovelace Day is important for women in tech

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
"Ada Lovelace Day", "Ada Lovelace", "diversity in tech", "gender stereotypes", "women in tech", Creativity, Software development

The number of women in tech is still much lower than the number of men in the industry with many highlighting issues such as lack of mentors, lack of role models and imposter syndrome as factors preventing the uptake of tech roles for women.

Ada Lovelace day, named after the British mathematician who is said to have invented the first example of a computer programme, is seen as an opportunity to celebrate some of the current women in tech and hope showcasing them will encourage others into the industry in the future.

But in 2017 Ada Lovelace Day was also World Mental Health Day and World Porridge Day, and in the new social media era people can get a bit tired of constantly celebrating and hearing about different issues – but having a reason to shine the light on women in the technology industry is vitally important.

A number of girls claim they would like to see more roles models in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) and not having people in front of you in a particular career path can perpetuate negative stereotypes surrounding certain jobs, leaving girls thinking these careers are not for them.

As diversity advocate and president of TechUK Jacqueline De Rojas has repeated many many times: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Many initiatives now exist to try and make young people aware of tech role models, for example Modern Muse, Stemettes and Code First: Girls  as well as others to showcase women in tech – In October 2017 Computer Weekly showcased its annual list of the top 50 women in UK tech to celebrate women in the industry.

Debbie Forster, CEO of not-for-profit Tech Talent Charter, explains it is important to look at the women at the origins of tech, as well as those “at the top of the pyramid” but that days like Ada Lovelace Day bring women out of the woodwork who might represent “the next step” for some others in tech.

She says: “Not seeing any women kills confidence, but equally so can seeing someone at the very top. We as women often think ‘that’s someone who is exceptional that’s not me’.”

Days like Ada Lovelace Day that encourage women to talk about their tech careers and connect with each other reminds those in the industry they “can be role models to someone who is adjacent” to them and give them confidence they need to make the next step.

But gender split isn’t the only issue in the technology industry, with other minority groups very minimally represented.

Forster claims, like many, that diversity as a whole is important and can be achieved by focussing on smaller segments – once these improve, other areas improve as well.

She says: “When companies develop proactive things that encourage gender diversity it opens the door for different kind of people as well.”

For some organisations it can be difficult to focus on more than one arm of diversity or you end up trying to “boil the ocean”.

Wider initiatives such as Ada Lovelace Day allow more  people to be involved, making the messages more widespread, Forster says the day “provides a moment to pause and look around” at the other women in the industry and re-assess the issue.

As women commonly do not self-promote, days like Ada Lovelace Day help to put women in the spotlight where they may otherwise not be recognised, and Nicola Deas, practice leader at Right Management, says: “It is vital that we encourage women to realise their potential, develop new skills and have meaningful career conversations with their employers to drive their career forward. Only then can we readdress the imbalance and celebrate gender equality.”

Initiatives should not disappear from the spotlight once Ada Lovelace Day ends, and Deas believes companies should take it upon themselves to empower female employees, and do their best to embed a diverse culture in organisations.

Becky Plummer, senior software engineer at Bloomberg explains that shifting the internal culture of an organisation is one of the best ways of increasing and retaining diversity in the industry.

It is also important that in this internal culture people are recognised and praised because of their skills, and not singled out for their gender – something the industry still has to work towards.

Plummer says: “Ada Lovelace should not be celebrated as a successful woman in technology but simply as a pioneer in software engineering. That distinction is really important and it’s one we need to apply more often in today’s tech industry. I am not a successful female software engineer; I’m a successful software engineer who also happens to be a woman.”

Eventually once diversity is the norm in the industry, this will be the case.

Using days such as Ada Lovelace Day to encourage conversation surrounding women in tech encourages different types of people in the industry to come forward and begin to break down the long standing stereotypes surrounding the types of people in the tech industry and what roles in the sector involve.

Sophie Deen, creator of children’s book series Detective Dot and founder and CEO of Bright Little Labs, claims Ada Lovelace is a perfect example of someone who broke down stereotypes to pursue science and tech, and shows that tech and creativity go hand-in-hand.

Deen says: “What I love about Ada is how she combined creativity with science, viewing computers and poetry as complementary not distinct. I don’t think science and art are two isolated schools of thought, and neither did Ada.”

Again, Deen claims gender should not matter when presenting role models, and the culture in the industry should shift towards showcasing the best and most inspiring people in tech – once the industry is more diverse we won’t need to single out specific groups.

Deen says: “Being a role model should not be gender specific, Lovelace can inspire us all to be better advocates of science.”

Every day seems to hail another focus at the moment – shortly following Ada Lovelace Day were International Day of the Girl and World Sight Day – but as much as we seem to be bombarded with food for thought, these reminders can be important to raise awareness of particular issues and speed up change.

September 15, 2017  12:21 PM

The Science and Technology Committee has elected its new members

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
"diversity in tech", "women in IT", "women in tech", government

The topic of diversity in the technology industry has been on many people’s minds of late – especially following various reports of sexual discrimination in the Silicon Valley tech scene and the infamous Google Memo.

With the media also focussed heavily on issues such as pay parity, it came as a shock to many when the Science and Technology Committee responsible for advising and scrutinising government policy appointed eight white, middle aged men to represent the industry.

A Tweet announcing the new all-male Select Committee “up and running” was met with scorn as many in and outside of the science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) industries criticised the lack of diversity in the line-up.

Some labelled the line-up “disappointing” while others criticised knowledge scope of those selected, claiming many had a lack of background in science and technology.

Others pointed to the line-up as highlighting a “weakness” in the self-nomination process for Select Committees – it’s widely claimed that women are less likely to put themselves forward for roles than men.

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing, and following the backlash in the wake of the announcement, the new chair if the committee, Norman Lamb, wrote a letter to various Government officials to urge that diversity was taken into account during the selection of the remaining three places in the committee.

He said: “The practice is for parties to run their own processes to identify members to put forward for the House’s approval, but this has resulted in no women currently being nominated for my committee. I am concerned that this will affect the ability of the committee to perform its role effectively.”

A woman, Vicky Ford, has since been appointed to one of those positions, and she has already felt it necessary to highlight on Twitter that she was not given the position as a result of tokenism but “on merit”.

I know a lot of men in the industry who are doing everything they can to try and further diversity in the tech workplace – but they’re not necessarily the ones influencing government policy and more needs to be done to ensure these decision makers reflect wider society.

It has always been widely highlighted that a large number of those who use technology and influence buying decision in the household are women, and yet many are not represented throughout the industry.

Unless women and those in other minority groups are part of the conversation surrounding the development and legislation of technology it is very likely these technologies will not be built to cater for everyone.

Personally, a last minute plea for diversity with only a few spaces left to fill is too little too late – Lamb’s call for a review of “the way in which parties invite nominations” to encourage gender and other types of diversity needs to be seriously addressed.

August 10, 2017  3:51 PM

FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards 2018 open for nominations

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
"women in IT", "women in tech", IT jobs, IT recruitment, Stem, Women in Technology

The FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards 2018, partnered with TechUK, is now open for nominations.

Everywoman’s eighth annual women in tech event is searching for inspirational people who are influencing those around them and encouraging the next generation into the tech industry.

Launched in 2011, the awards aims to celebrate women who are making a difference in the technology industry, and this year’s awards will focus on women who act as role models who are inspiring the future players of the technology industry.

The 2018 focus on “Inspiring tomorrow’s world” was implemented after Everywoman research found that access to role models plays a large role in attracting and retaining female talent in the industry, and many women who choose not to go into tech, or to drop out of tech, will site a lack of role models as one of the main reasons behind their decision.

Maxine Benson, co-founder of everywoman, said: “This awards programme is a great showcase of successful women in tech who are driving change through their inspirational role modelling in their businesses and the wider industry. It also highlights the companies who foster their talents and value their contribution in reflecting and responding to the needs of their gender diverse customers. By participating in the awards organisations show their commitment to gender parity, helping them to both advance and retain their female talent and attract the next generation of young female talent to technology.”

To promote the women making a difference to the future of the tech industry, three new categories have been added to the proceedings this year: The International Inspiration Award aimed at woman operating outside of the UK who is advancing women in tech, the Apprentice Award aimed at a female apprentice who is excelling in her early career, and the Male Agent of Change Award which will be awarded to a man who is working to encourage more women into tech.

Existing categories for the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards are:

The One to Watch Award, awarded to girl aged 11-16 who is encouraging other girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).

The Rising Star Award, sponsored by T-Systems, which will be awarded to a woman under 26 who is excelling in her technology career and making a valuable contribution to her organisation.

The Digital Star Award, sponsored by CGI, will be awarded to a woman who is excelling in a digital role such as digital content creation, social media management, web development or developing online solutions.

The Software Engineer Award will be awarded to a woman who has made a significant difference to the art of software engineering by building something new and is moving the profession forward.

The Academic Award will be awarded to a woman in academia who has made an outstanding contribution to technology, science and the Stem fields.

The Team Leader Award, sponsored by American Express, will be awarded to a woman leading a team of up to 100 employees whose team leadership has contributed to an organisation’s success.

The Start-up Founder Award will be awarded to an inspirational female founder of business that is under 18 months old.

The Entrepreneur Award will be awarded to an owner or operator of a technology business whose vision and talent will inspire others to start their own technology related venture.

The Innovator Award, sponsored by Equiniti, will be awarded to a woman designing, developing, researching, implementing or being creative with technology in an unconventional way.

The Leader Award, sponsored by BP, will be awarded to the woman leading over 100 employees, taking part in the strategic direction for a business and operating in a senior technology role within her organisation.

Nominations are open, and can be submitted until 2 October 2017. Winners will be announced during a ceremony on 8 February 2018 at the London Hilton on Park Lane.

August 2, 2017  12:10 PM

GUEST BLOG: Millennials In Focus

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
"Women in science", "women in tech", Engineering, IT education, Maths, Mentoring, science, Stem, Technology, Women in Technology

In this guest post Jess Wade from Imperial College London describes her experience at an event designed to encourage millennials to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem). 

In summer 2017 at a Getty Images Gallery in London, Innovate UK celebrated the opening of “in focus”, Innovate UK’s exhibition that champions brilliant women in innovation. Innovate UK recognises the lack of diversity of women in startups: women only make up 17 % of founders and recent research revealed 97 % of venture capital funding goes to companies with a male CEO.

To Innovate UK this isn’t just an equality issue – it’s an economic issue. Having more women in innovation would bring the UK an extra £180 billion a year. Innovate UK last year invested £200,000 in the businesses of women. The 12 finalists of its “in-focus” funding award weren’t just given a cheque, but a tailored package of mentorship and guidance – invaluable when you’re launching into a very volatile world.

As part of the “in-focus” exhibition, Innovate UK invited 40 teenage girls to come and see the work of photographer Amelia Troubridge who photographed the 12 “in-focus” finalists. The women featured on the gallery walls are inspiring: among them are Elena Dieckmann, a design engineer at Imperial College, whose company Aeropowder is using waste chicken feathers for insulation in London homes. Natwilai Utoomprurkporn’s company Gettrik uses drones to create interactive 3D maps and models. Hers is a genuine story of drones for good: a robotic revolution that is focused on improving safety when inspecting large structures.

The girls looking at the pictures were inspiring too- they came to hang out with grown-ups in the first week of their summer holiday.

We were joined by three of London’s leading startup ladies: women in business who know a thing or two about starting a business: Sophie Deen, CEO of social enterprise Bright Little Labs, a children’s education company that makes gender-neutral and ethically sourced toys and materials, Tabitha Goldstaub, co-founder of CognitionX- a tripadvisor for all things artificial intelligence (AI) enabling people and companies to educate themselves and eradicate bias from their software and Sharmadean Reid, MBE, writer and founder of the millennial mecca that is WAH nails.

Their stories and careers are exciting: building businesses in their undergraduate lectures, not being afraid to break tradition and creating companies that they are passionate about. As they told their stories, the room was totally mesmerised. I actually cannot believe we had them all in one room- Sharmadean was fresh from a breakfast meeting with Akala, Sophie is in the middle of signing two book deals and Tabitha has just run an AI conference where the registration fee was £3,000+.

It upsets me that we spend so much time speaking on behalf of young people- they spend too long in front of screens, they aren’t making good career choices and they are obsessed with their image- when really we should be learning from them.

That is just what these wonderful women do: recognise the talents of teenagers and how they can make businesses better.

WAH Nails

When setting up WAH nails, Sharmadean wanted to make augmented reality (AR) more relevant- she recognised that you could make virtual reality vital in the beauty business. Today she wants to create an intelligent platform for beauty salons, using image recognition software to create a Tumblr-style dashboard interface using data on global style trends. Sharmadean set the girls a challenge: how to categorize and organise style images uploaded to social media. Whilst tagging may sound trivial, it is actually pretty challenging for most professional coders… and is near-on impossible for a robot. For the girls’ trained eyes it is a walk in the park.

Cognition X

In 1942, a science fiction writer called Asimov created the ‘three laws of robotics’. Tabitha and Cognition X are convinced that because robots are going mainstream, they need updating. Society has changed: robots can fight, spy and learn. Turns out, the people you need to write the complex guidelines for ethical robots are the same people who will be most affected by their existence- the people who will be clearing up whatever mess our generation makes. The girls jumped at the opportunity to design the rules for their autonomous allies, and  became aware of the debate and discussion about the computer systems that will control their futures.

Bright Little Labs

Like many ideas, Bright Little Labs was born out of frustration. In today’s children’s cartoons and TV shows, 0% of princesses are coders, boys are twice as likely to take the lead, fewer than 3% of characters are people-of-colour and 92% of females are underweight. Through books, apps cartoons Bright Little Labs tells the story of ‘Detective Dot’, an eight-year-old coder who goes on global adventures to understand the world around her. Bright Little Labs work with teachers and parents to recruit children to the CIA (the Children’s Intelligence Agency)- and needs new ideas on how to do it. Who better to register the rookies than young people themselves? The girls working with Bright Little Labs became aware of the importance of sustainability and diversity, and the inequalities in education and society. Over the morning, they learnt how to map user experience and design an interface for a platform where the users are under ten years old. I am convinced all of them will end up interning at Bright Little Labs this summer, creating computer science classroom content.

Girls attending were challenged by each of the startup founders to overcome the challenges these startups are facing. When the girls came together over lunch to present their solutions to Sophie, Sharmadean and Tabitha’s challenges, it was time for the grown-ups the be left speechless – the girls were seriously insightful, confident and charismatic.

Maybe it was something in the Getty Images coffee, or there was a special spark in Soho that morning…  but I think the combination of inspiration was unique: the women on the walls, the other girls in the audience, the Innovate UK staff and the sensational speakers. When Innovate UK invested in 12 female founders they showcased the economic potential of women – inspired by their stories; we are likely to feel their impact for generations to come.

If you weren’t lucky enough to be in the room, don’t worry:

June 26, 2017  9:32 PM

Bright Little Labs – a brainstorm into how to engage kids with Stem

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
"Girls in Tech", "women in tech", Engineering, Maths, science, Stem, Technology

Tech ambassador Detective Dot, created by Bright Little Labs, is a member of the Children’s Intelligence Agency – but how can the CIA be used as a platform to engage kids with Stem? 

I attended a brainstorming session to help Bright Little Labs founder and CEO, Sophie Deen, figure out just that.

Detective Dot, the nine-year-old protagonist of the first book to come out of Bright Little Labs, was intended to act as a role model, encouraging kids to use tech, to be adventurous and most importantly question everything.

But although it is mentioned she gains missions and intel from the Children’s Intelligence Agency (CIA), this agency still remains a mystery, something Deen intends for kids to discover on their own.

As I arrived and sat down in the meeting room of the Shoreditch tech accelerator that would be our brainstorming location, trying to ignore the axe-throwing session that was happening outside the open window (yes, really), I wondered: How can a room full of adults be responsible for creating a platform for kids that adults aren’t supposed to know about?

Luckily, Deen has always carried out a lot of work with focus groups in her previous endeavours, and so I’m sure whatever we come up with will be carefully vetted by some age-appropriate testers before a launch takes place.

Before the session starts, we’re reminded what values the CIA is meant to encourage: Truth, investigation and equality.

“My vision is that all kids should be able to access the CIA and be ‘spies’.” Deen briefed.


Our aim was to create an easily accessible platform to encourage kids to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) regardless of their background, country of origin, or level of access to technology.

By encouraging kids to question things and think creatively, it could save them from job automation in the future, and as Deen puts it: “If you can code but you can’t think about anything you’re like a slow robot.”

As well as teach kids tech-based topics, possibly through a gamified or rewards-based system, the CIA will aim to encourage kids to take part in activities that are not screen based – to get them exploring the world and interacting with each other as part of a secret club.

As it’s “so much easier for affluent kids” to have access to tech careers and roles models, Deen emphasise the CIA must be accessible to those unable to access “high tech” devices through means such as SMS, probably one of the most difficult parts of our planning.

We decided materials should be given free to schools, where possible, and features such as chat, digital hand-shaking and the ability to earn rewards were all marked up as a possibility for the mystery platform that we were creating before our eyes.

And how should kids access the information? Virtual reality, augmented reality, word of mouth, posters? So many possibilities.

To prevent us from getting ahead of ourselves, before we started our initial planning we were asked to dream up our worst ideas first – what was the most awful thing we might end up creating accidentally during our quest for good?

One of my worst ideas included gendered features that presented one set of activities or settings for girls and another for boys.

Many initiatives exist to help encourage girls to engage with Stem, with varied results, but Deen is adamant Detective Dot and the CIA are for everyone.

“It’s aimed at everybody. Boys and girls equally, this is not just a thing for girls and this is very important,” she said.

“The aim is for kids to grow up to be a bit more creative and to have more empathy.”

After three hours of sharing ideas and thoughts, we handed our scrap paper and post-it notes back to the Bright Little Labs team.

Like many other things regarding the Children’s Intelligence Agency, our plans for its backstory, features and functionality are TOP SECRET, but hopefully the children who become members will have as much fun being part of the agency as we had developing it.

June 15, 2017  2:25 PM

GUEST BLOG: What is being done to encourage more women into tech?

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
"gender pay gap", "pay gap", "women in IT", "women in tech", Diversity, IT jobs, IT recruitment, Stem

In this guest post Shirley Wood, training and support director at education technology solutions organisation, Jisc, looks at the positive efforts being made to encourage more women into tech

While statistics prove there are fewer women than men employed in tech, engineering or science companies, it isn’t all bad news. Much is being done to highlight the difference and redress the balance – and in doing so, to bridge the UK’s technical skills gap.

UK facts and figures

Firstly, let’s provide some context.

Last year, only 18% of ICT professionals working in the UK were female, even though women currently make up almost half (47%) of the workforce.

According to a government report of 2015, in the digital industries, just 26% of jobs were held by women, down from 33% in 2002. In IT, the figure was even lower at 16%, and in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) just 13% of jobs were held by women.

This could be because fewer girls than boys are getting involved in Stem education — just 7% of girls take computer studies A-level courses. And only 17% of those studying computer science in higher education are women, which is the lowest percentage in any field except for engineering and technology, where female students make up just 15% of enrolments. Of those that do take STEM subjects, only half (51%) actually go on to do STEM-related jobs.

There is some evidence to show that gender stereotyping is affecting girls’ choices. Management consultancy company Accenture conducted research (2015) which found that 60% of 12-year-old girls thought STEM subjects were too difficult, with 47% of girls claiming these types of activities suited their male counterparts better.

What’s being done to encourage more women into tech?

Quite a lot, actually. Some steps taken include:

  • TechUK has a women in tech programme aligned to the European e-Skills for Jobs project, which aims to raise awareness of the e-skills gap across Europe.
  • Women in Stem is a Government-backed call to action created in 2013, which asked organisations to work together to boost female participation in technology and engineering. Its website with lots of aspirational and inspirational blogs and articles.
  • In 2016, Accenture partnered with charity Stemettes to stage a multi-city event in the UK and Ireland aimed at encouraging schoolgirls to consider Stem careers. The children were taught coding, took part in workshops demonstrating Stem skills and computational thinking, and attended panels where women in the relevant industries spoke about their careers.
  • British Gas launched a women in tech network (2016) to enable its female employees working in Stem roles to network and collaborate.
  • KPMG launched an initiative in March 2017 to encourage more women into tech. It will use inclusive job descriptions, peer-to-peer Q and A sessions as part of the interview process and targeted advertising across traditional and social media. The company has also launched a Tech Insight Week for women, and plans to work more closely with recruiters to provide greater insight into its tech brand.
  • Although not specifically aimed at women, in January 2017, Microsoft announced the launch of programmes for developing digital literacy, digital skills and cloud skills across the UK. The programme aims to reach more than 560,000 people by 2020.

Yes, you can!

One point that’s made over and over when researching the dearth of women in technology is the lack of role models, but there are efforts to rectify that problem, too.  Speaking to an audience of women at the WeAreTheCity 2016 technology conference (and quoted in Computer Weekly), Jacqueline de Rojas, executive vice-president for Europe at Sage and president of techUK, reminded tech professionals they are the role models that girls and young women will be looking towards.

“You are a role model whether you choose to be or not,” she said. But imposter syndrome (when accomplished individuals are unable to accept their own abilities) is often associated with women in the IT industry, preventing many from speaking up about their achievements and encouraging others to pursue tech jobs.

De Rojas advised women in tech to overcome negative self-image through sharing experiences and learning from one another. She added: “It doesn’t take a lifetime of coaching or relationships to inspire or be inspired. It is possible to create outstanding careers from a position of extreme adversity.”

At Jisc, we have many excellent role models. Two of them, Frances Burton and Susan Bowen, have recently written blogs about being a woman in tech for Computer Weekly’s WITsend blog.

New Jisc trustee, Susan, who is vice president and general manager at Cogeco Peer 1, writes about her love of computers and coding from a young age and enthuses about the opportunities her career presented to travel the world.

She adds: “My experience within the industry and the inspiration around me gave me the drive and desire to make a difference in the sector. I wanted to give something back to an industry that had given me so much and to also address the imbalance for women in technology. So I joined the techUK Board, where I am currently chair for the Women in Tech Council.”

Meanwhile, Jisc’s security services group manager, Frances Burton, doesn’t ever think of herself as a woman in tech, but a person in tech, partly thanks to her supportive parents and a forward-thinking mixed school where boys and girls all took woodwork, metalwork, cookery and sewing.

After school, Frances studied fashion and ended up with a career in technology almost by accident. She explains: “My journey started when, looking for paid employment after fashion college, I landed an office junior job with the Atomic Energy Authority. The AEA computing division had developed one of the first text-based databases and I was chosen to demonstrate this new technology simply because I could touch type! It turned out I had a bit of an aptitude for this technology and my path was set.”

As for me, I never thought twice about going into a technology career as, at the time, there were more openings in that area. At school, I always saw it as a challenge to do science and maths subjects, as did a number of other girls at my school who went into engineering and science.

When I first started work, there were a significant number of women in the area I worked in, but I have seen the proportion of women reduce over the years, except in what are seen as the “softer” areas such as training and support.

What about the pay gap?

By April 2018, all employers with more than 250 staff will have to publish details of their gender pay gap, based on data from April 2017.

We already know that UK women in all roles earn on average 13.9% less than their male counterparts, and, according to research from recruitment firm Hired, women in the UK technology industry are paid on average 9% less than their male counterparts.

How does Jisc compare?

I am happy to report that Jisc’s 2016 staff survey results showed the gender split across the organisation is broadly equal overall, with 52% male to 48% female.

However, there is a lower proportion of women within the 35 to 44 age group, the 55 to 64 category and the over 65s.  Within the latter two, the ratio of male to female staff is more than double.

Within the executive leadership team of nine, only one is female, while the group senior leadership team comprises 17 women and 28 men.

In terms of pay, Jisc statistics (2016) Jisc show that the average salary for male employees is £45,633 compared to £34,522 for females, and the average hourly rate for males is £25.03, compared to £20.87 for females.

So, while there’s clearly more work to be done in terms of the gender and pay gap in the sector in general, it’s clear that strong efforts are being made to achieve a better balance.

May 26, 2017  9:26 AM

GUEST BLOG: Being a female tech leader

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
"women in IT", "women in tech", Coding, Computing, Digital skills, Diversity, IT skills

In this guest post, Susan Bowen, vice president and general manager at Cogeco Peer 1  and new trustee at education technology solutions organisation Jisc, explains her journey into the technology industry and how she became a female tech leader.

When it came to my A-level choices, I chose to study English and economics with a plan to work in the big city (I grew up in South Wales and had never visited London). But then I found a subject that interested me even more, and one I was good at: computing.

It was the first time I’d studied computing as an academic subject rather than an enjoyable, passing interest. I found it fascinating and got a buzz from it.

I also enjoyed writing code. In those days I would buy computing magazines and copy the code to a BBC Microcomputer, delving deeper and deeper into the workings of computer systems. With every new lesson I saw the great potential computing could have in the future.

Having missed the required A-level grades for English and economics, my computing grade gave me the opportunity to study computer science at Portsmouth University (the university clearing process served me well!).

After graduation, I started working for Electronic Data Systems, which is where my career in technology took a surprising turn.

At school it was never explained that a career in IT could lead to travelling and working on some incredibly exciting projects – but it did! I got to code fixes for the millennium bug, alter banking code that everyone now uses and travel the world at the same time. I’ve been lucky enough to visit places like Singapore and work out of the World Trade Center, New York.

This job gave me the skills I needed to join Hewlett Packard, where I worked with many inspirational leaders, including Meg Whitman. Nearly 17 years later, it led me to my current role at Cogeco Peer 1, where I head up the Europe, Middle East and Africa teams.

My experience within the industry and the inspiration around me gave me the drive and desire to make a difference in the sector. I wanted to give something back to an industry that had given me so much and to also address the imbalance for women in technology. So I joined the techUK Board, where I am currently chair for the Women in Tech Council.

Being a leader isn’t about taking all the praise for yourself; it is about working as a team and sharing the glory with those who are learning with you and producing incredible work.

During my time at Cogeco Peer 1, I have been honoured to oversee some remarkable people and projects, and I come in day after day ready to embrace the next challenge, knowing I have a strong team behind me.

Likewise, there is a strong team at Jisc, which is leading the charge in ensuring that the higher and further education sector is embracing new technology and producing a digitally savvy workforce for the future.

It is for this reason that I am excited to start work at Jisc as a new trustee. With with more than 25 years in the industry, my experience could be valuable and I am looking forward to helping maintain this forward momentum.

Companies like Jisc help make the UK a world leader in the higher education and research sector, which is a key contributor to the economy, and this is an exciting time to become involved.

When I first started studying computing I could see the potential in the industry and, as I began to learn more, I could see its potential for me too. It is this potential that I want to encourage in all students who want to start a career in technology.

May 22, 2017  4:12 PM

Sanderson and Code First: Girls – facing my coding fears

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
"technology careers", "women in IT", "women in tech", Coding, IT careers, IT education, IT skills, Programming

When Sanderson Hotel London invited me to a Code First: Girls introduction to coding event (including free cocktails) I decided to see if code still gave me the cold sweats it did at university

Something not many people know about the current business editor of Computer Weekly is that I can programme in Java.

Whenever people ask me about my degree in Computer Science I don’t offer up that much in reply, and those three years of university prompted me to turn my back on the idea of being a coder and become a journalist instead.

When someone reached out to my colleague Cliff to ask if he wanted to attend an evening course on an “Introduction to Coding and the Web” he passed it on to me and I gritted my teeth.

The thought of being back in a learning environment to write code was giving me heart palpitations and flash backs – sitting in a room of mostly men, not understanding what had been explained but also not wanting to ask for help.

I was almost certain I wouldn’t meet the standard of the other women attending the session, that I wouldn’t remember anything from university and that I would be asked to give my degree back after being laughed out of the room.

I’d been told that the class, called “Cocktails and Coding”, was aimed at those who were interested in learning more about “the coding world” but might be too afraid to sign up to an official class.

I don’t think the woman who informed me of this knew that she’d reassured me rather than put me off.

As soon as I walked in I saw a few women with laptops and it suddenly dawned on me I should have brought mine – if we’re going to learn to code, we would need a laptop surely?

At that point it was a good job there were cocktails, because I can imagine I wasn’t the only one whose nerves were getting the better of them – there were lots of other women who had come alone too.

Sanderson provided two free cocktails for each Code First: Girls guests, and although I didn’t have a whole one to myself I tried one and it was GOOD.

Each of the women who had chosen to take part were at a different stage in their coding journey – some had never coded before, others had been using massive online open courses (moocs) to start learning programming languages.

One of the women told me she worked in a technology company where all of the coders were men. She was then quick to tell me that she worked in the marketing department, but that coding intrigued her and she’d signed up for an online coding course as well as the Code First: Girls session to learn more about it.

Her drive for coming to the event was meeting other people who were interested in technology.

Another lady had quit her job and wanted to create her own website – she told me her friends are “petrified” of tech but that “it’s coming” and we should strive to be ahead of the curve rather than be left behind.

One of the other ladies told me: “Just because I am a young girl doesn’t mean I can’t learn to code!”

But unfortunately when I finished university that’s not how I felt.

I made it through my degree but I still don’t consider myself a coder or programmer – when I left university I also couldn’t have told you how to get a job in programming or the credentials you might need to do so.

It was also unclear what other roles you could go in to with the skills I had learnt – all I knew is I never wanted to write another line of Java ever again.

It was negative stereotyping in the industry that put me off of it altogether, and it seemed the male-dominated and competitive environment I had experience during my final year at university was a milder version of what I could expect of an IT career in the “real world”.

That negative view people have of the industry is exactly why events like this exist – the course had been designed by Code First: Girls and hosted by Sanderson Hotel London to create a “safe space” for women to learn more about technology, the digital landscape and coding without feeling like they can’t ask questions.

Aptly we were all led into a meeting room called “The Boardroom” – I doubt many other boardrooms had seen an all-female group.

It wasn’t long before I discovered we didn’t need a laptop at all for the session, instead Code First: Girls CEO Amali de Alwis led a presentation on the structure of the web, why and how it was created, what peer-to-peer networks are and the difference between coders and programmers.

De Alwis claimed coders use languages such as HTML or CSS which define layout and content, whereas programmers usually use a language that give software or hardware instructions  – this particularly interested me and helped me to shed a little light on my university experience.

Many of the girls on my course were shunned by the boys for using HTML as the code for their final year project, and the men would often mutter “it’s not coding” or that HTML was not a “real language”.

De Alwis confirmed there is often “snobbery” around web development, and whether web developers are coders or programmers but that it was just as important, and that she considered it an art as well as a skill.

According to De Alwis, Code First: Girls actually encourages people learning to code to start with web development as it is more accessible, and because you can see most of the code that goes into websites without needing any special tools – this is available to everyone through their browsers.

Throughout the Code First Girls: session, people asked questions without fear of ridicule, and De Alwis made is clear that the growing IT skills gap is a cause for concern in the UK technology industry – we can’t afford to be discounting half of the population in our efforts to close this gap.

“We focus on one thing and that’s getting women into tech and entrepreneurship,” she explained.

“I know it’s always a bit scary and I know that being a developer isn’t for everyone.”

I left the session with a new found ease and a link to the Code First: Girls free online taster materials – I may never want to touch Java again, and programming might not be for me, but I could still be a coder if I wanted to.

Women are still in the minority in the IT industry, but there are people out there who are trying to make the environment better for women in the technology industry and there are safe spaces popping up in which people can ask questions without feeling intimidated.

April 24, 2017  11:39 AM

GUEST BLOG: Raising girls as people

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
"technology careers", "women in IT", "women in tech", Careers, IT careers, Stem

In this guest post Frances Burton, security services group manager at education technology solutions charity, Jisc, explains what it’s like to be a “woman in technology” and why we should be raising people rather than raising girls.

Apparently, I’m a woman in technology, although I’ve never thought of it this way; I think of myself as a person who works in technology. It wasn’t a choice I made from school, either – I’m of an era where you tended to fall into IT rather than choose it as a career, so it kind of chose me.

My journey started when, looking for paid employment after fashion college, I landed an office junior job with the Atomic Energy Authority. The AEA computing division had developed one of the first text-based databases and I was chosen to demonstrate this new technology simply because I could touch type! It turned out I had a bit of an aptitude for this technology and my path was set.

I’m the youngest of four children, with an older sister and two older brothers. Our parents always told us that we could do anything so long as we were prepared to study, and they were very supportive of our choices. They also encouraged us to make the most of the opportunities that came our way and that’s how I’ve continued my career path.

My opportunities led to work in developing databases, finance dashboards and pc support and eventually I gave in and did an BSc in information and communication technology.

I wasn’t raised as a girl as such; I was raised as a person, encouraged to play to my strengths and to make decisions for myself taking account of my likes and dislikes.

Consequently, I didn’t select subjects at school on whether they were more popular with one gender or another. My school was also very forward-thinking for the time and girls and boys all took woodwork, metalwork, cookery and sewing.

From my own experience, I feel that teaching should be about giving people as many opportunities as possible to develop their own strengths and self-awareness so they can recognise and make the most of the opportunities that come their way, to know that learning never stops and that studying can carry on for long as you want.

I’m often asked which women influenced me and, to be perfectly honest, there are many people on the list of influencers, not all women, but the top two women would be:

1. Mo Molam, whose tenacity of character achieved a sea change in Northern Ireland politics that many, many politicians before had failed to do. I believe the difference was that she wasn’t driven by doing a good job in politics, but by truly wanting to end the conflict.

2. Debbie Harry, mainly because she is soooo cool! Also, overcoming addiction is an achievement, but having achieved her fame she gave it up to nurse her boyfriend back to health and then had the strength and security of self to know that the relationship had changed.

I have never experienced prejudice or barriers as a woman in anything. I don’t know if that’s because it doesn’t happen or whether I just never see it, but I certainly have never looked for it.

I hear people talking about how we must make sure that the balance of speakers between men and women should be more towards equal. To me, gender is an irrelevance, if you have a good speaker, addressing a relevant subject it should make no difference if they are male or female any more than if they may be disabled, LGBT or of a particular race, creed or religion. I’m told that this is “positive discrimination”; I’m very clear that I don’t believe there is such thing as positive discrimination, as selection automatically discriminates against someone.

I look forward to the day people are encouraged to follow their own career paths based on their own abilities and aptitude, where their physical attributes and culture are of no consideration.

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