The FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards 2018, partnered with TechUK, is now open for nominations.
Everywoman’s eight 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. Winner will be announced during a ceremony on 8 February 2018 at the London Hilton on Park Lane.
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.
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.
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:
- Get involved with celebrating diversity! You have until 8th September to read the stories and vote for the winner of the Computer Weekly rising stars in tech: http://www.computerweekly.com/news/450422519/Voting-open-vote-now-for-the-most-influential-woman-in-UK-tech-2017
- If you’re under 11, join the Children’s Intelligence Agency
- If you’re under 18, we recommend checking out Future Girl Corp (Tabitha and Sharamdean are co-founders), Tech Girls Challenge, and UpTree
- Actually, everyone should check out Future Girl Corp- in November they’re holding joint conferences in LA and London
- Innovate UK’s next move is to take Infocus global: international entrepreneurs are invited to take part in a female-founded businesses to Boston this October: infocus global: EMERGE Boston 2017 mission
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In this guest blog Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First: Girls and winner of the Women in IT Awards -Skills Initiative of the Year award, explains why the technology industry needs to consider targets and quotas for diversity more carefully.
Targets and quotas. There I said it. The dreaded T’s and Q’s, that stand for ‘giving people an unfair advantage that they don’t deserve’ and ‘allowing less qualified individuals to get a one-up on the more qualified individuals that would be able to do the job’. Don’t they?
I have had many conversations about this with individuals across the tech industry about why we as tech employers should or shouldn’t use quotas and targets. It’s not an easy topic. Partially because people don’t always understand what these concepts really mean, sometimes it’s because of confusion about the legal status around deploying them, but often it’s because people are worried it will set an unfair precedent for hiring individuals who are not up for the job.
So, what is this really about and should it be something that we should be considering as a company?
What’s the difference between Quotas and Targets?
Targets are specific measurable objectives, usually voluntarily set by an organisation at their own discretion. These targets are often created with a specific timeframe in which they are to be achieved, and the organisation sets its own repercussions for what happens if a target isn’t met.
Quotas are a little different. They are usually mandatory, non-negotiable, and set by an external body (e.g. government), and enforced by an external body to the company.
Should we consider either of these mechanisms, and if so why?
Quotas are a bigger question to address than targets, as they do usually require legal standing and third party monitoring to be implemented. So, if we start with the (somewhat) simpler topic of targets, the simple answer is yes, I think we should be using them in our companies, and this is why – They work.
In the UK, we’ve been trying to tackle women’s equality and participation in the workplace for a couple of hundred years now, and the reality is most of this change hasn’t happened naturally without pressure and the setting of goals.
And it’s not like we’re uncomfortable setting targets other parts of our businesses. We set targets on revenue and employee churn, so why are we so uncomfortable setting targets for our people? Surely if we’re saying that diversity is important to the success for our businesses, we should be brave and set ourselves some targets to achieve this?
One reason I hear cited most often is that we feel that we would be giving people an unfair advantage. I don’t believe this has to be the case, and here are the reasons why.
1. The tech industry already has historic bias
We need to come to terms with the fact that the tech industry has historic biases (for many reasons) towards recruiting men from a certain background.
These are often competent individuals who are indeed able to do the job, but they aren’t the only individuals capable of doing the job. If we want fully staff our growing tech talent needs and tackle gender (and other) diversity in our tech workforce, we will need to put more time, effort and focus on talent from underrepresented groups. And communicating this extra focus will require conviction to speak about why you as a company are taking this approach, and at times, answer some challenging questions because – to anonymously quote a man I met recently who runs an amazing boy’s development organisation – ‘to those in privilege, equality can sometimes feel like oppression’.
2. Just because you set targets, it doesn’t mean you have to hire people who are substandard.
It may however mean you need to look harder to find diverse talent, and in some cases, re-evaluate what your selection criteria are and if they truly represent what someone needs to be successful in a role. There is amazing female technical talent out there, and if you cannot find someone to even be considered for a role, this should be a flag to you that your current talent approach needs a rethink. Remember that setting targets isn’t about saying ‘this is something we can easily do’.
It is rather about saying ‘this is where we want to be’. You can then use your targets as a way to trigger an honest evaluation of how your talent processes work, and work backward to implement the changes that will help you find those qualified people and achieve those targets.
So, do targets work?
Targets if set well can be incredibly effective. We’ve seen examples in politics such as the Labour party employed a few years ago, as well as those used in Norway and Sweden to increase the numbers of women in parliament.
But it’s not only in politics that organisations have successfully used targets to drive diversity. In 2010, Agile focused software consultancy ‘Thoughtworks’ introduced targets for the company’s US head office which mandated that its graduate intake be at least 50% women, and that the gender balance in senior appointments be improved.
In 2012, the company hired 200 graduates worldwide. Sixty per cent of those graduates were women, and Thoughtworks now has over 33% women in its workforce, with roughly a third of their global leadership team also women (including their CTO).
The legal bits
An important question – are targets legal? The specific legal standing ultimately comes down to whether you’re employing ‘positive discrimination’ (which is illegal) or ‘positive (or affirmative) action (which is legal).
You can read the full definition of differences here, but my (non-legal professional) take on this is as follows:
• Once you have set your employment selection criteria for a role, you cannot hire someone solely based on the fact that they are a minority (and do so against more qualified individuals who are also being considered).
• You can set selection criteria that permits you to recruit qualified and diverse candidates, as well as run different activities to support the recruitment of minorities, as long as when they are considered for the role, they are done so to the same criteria as other non-minority candidates.
And this is where setting targets such as applying the Rooney Rule come into play. You should not select a female candidate only because she is a woman, but you can set yourself targets such as to employ the Rooney rule to ensure that you include diverse and qualified talent during the selection process, and so increase the probability of hiring diversely.
If you embark on this, I can promise you this will be an at times challenging, but ultimately incredibly rewarding journey to take your company on. Targets aren’t the only mechanisms you can employ, and there are organisations such as the industry group Tech Talent Charter which has published some helpful starting points with case studies on the various ways you can go about doing this.
Beyond that, do have a chat with your peers. There are very few companies who do this perfectly, but there are many who do bits of this well. Share your own challenges and successes, and learn from each other. Be brave and be honest with yourself, and have faith in your ability to change. Not only will you transform your business for the better, but you’ll be enabling bright and talented individuals to have rewarding and stimulating careers. Make diversity a part of your corporate legacy – you won’t regret it.
In this guest blog Beverley Bryant, director of digital transformation at NHS Digital and winner of the Women in IT Awards Digital Leader of the Year award, discusses how tech careers can help people to create solutions for problems they care about.
I didn’t start my career in technology – I did a degree in Japanese and started out as a translator. I moved into my technology career to fulfil a desire to bring about change and to deliver innovative and creative solutions to problems.
Working in health means that I can use my skills to make the NHS a better place for both staff and patients. That’s what gets me up in the morning and what keeps me going throughout the day.
There is so much scope in technology careers, particularly within the NHS. Over recent years I have seen the numbers of talented women entering the sector rise, but it has taken a bit longer for us to see a real critical mass of women in leadership positions.
I am thrilled to say that is changing and I am proud particularly of the inspiring and innovative women we have working at NHS Digital. These leaders are empowering a new generation of female talent and they are demonstrating that our services work better when they are designed and delivered by a diverse group of people.
Our workforce come from a wide range of professions and backgrounds: architects, data scientists, business analysts and release managers work alongside UX designers, commercial experts, strategists and statisticians. Our current work on the development of NHS.uk is a melting-pot of creativity.
For the technology sector to continue to thrive and innovate, it is essential that women play a greater role in decision making and product development. Real innovation comes when you bring different ideas and ways of working together. You can’t achieve transformative change if you only have one demographic (usually men, aged between 40 and 60) sitting around the table.
I am passionate about supporting the women in my own organisation to progress, and to nurture and encourage talent wherever I find it. It’s important for leaders to regularly reflect and think about when they last shared their experience or offered a ladder up to somebody else. That continual cycle of growth and development means that good people stay and become the leaders of tomorrow.
One of the practical things I have done is to get involved in Healthtech Women, an independent group set up to support women in health technology careers. In NHS Digital we also have a growing and thriving Women’s Network, offering support and development and a space to share ideas at all levels.
But this change isn’t just about women. Another thing I have been delighted about at NHS Digital is that both men and women enthusiastically recognise each other’s contribution and that people are genuinely judged on the talent, commitment and unique perspectives that they bring to the table, regardless of gender or any other demographic.
I hope that awards like Women in Technology and articles like this, help women to see that technology careers are a great choice. They offer scope for advancement; enable you to solve real world problems; and allow for some serious problem solving and creativity. Even better, working in health and care technology gives us a unique opportunity to work on national systems that will touch all our lives and will make the NHS work better for everyone.
All of this adds up to make NHS Digital an inspiring, creative, technologically driven and people oriented organisation.
In this guest post Brynne Kennedy, CEO and founder of MOVE Guides and Women in IT Awards finalist, discusses how diverse tech cultures create the perfect breeding ground for innovation
I recently attended a conference with technology founders from Silicon Valley, New York, London and other global hubs. I was not surprised to find that the diversity of the crowd resembled that of the UN General Assembly.
Having started successful tech companies in healthcare, finance, HR, retail and more – I loved hearing how these entrepreneurs leveraged their unique cultural experiences and global awareness to tackle some of the world’s most challenging issues. Many of these entrepreneurs moved to the U.S. to pursue their business dreams as they knew no such opportunities would be afforded to them in their own countries. Which brings me to the very important – and timely topic – of immigration and how to bring together diverse cultures in the workplace.
According to research by the National Foundation for American Policy, immigrants have founded more than half of US technology startups that are valued at $1bn or more. Similarly, more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants – and these companies employ more than 10 million people around the world. This isn’t new but it seems more relevant than ever before.
Research shows that immigrants are more likely to recognise and develop successful business ideas. They are able to transfer their knowledge across borders and cultures, can examine challenges from a different perspective and can use their diverse experiences to drive creativity.
These characteristics also apply to developing diverse workforces. The benefits of having multiple nationalities at a company are not only about skills – but the cross-cultural understanding, varying perspectives and global networks that comes from diversity in backgrounds and nationalities. This fosters innovation, risk-taking and problem solving – as well as tolerance – in technology companies.
By placing a specific emphasis on recruiting the most skilled candidates from anywhere in the world, companies can foster a culture that has many perspectives, constructive debate and a strong growth mindset – all things that are often an outcome of global mobility and diversity.
I believe there should be a more open, global and equal world where it is easier for employers to move their employees around the world. The right immigration policies can be the greatest form of economic empowerment for individuals, catalyst for entrepreneurship and are critical to multinational companies meeting their business objectives. As businesses continue to rapidly expand into new markets and seek opportunities across borders, the companies that are able to get the right talent to the right place at the right time will be more successful.
A multicultural workforce is the tech industry’s core competitive advantage. And companies around the world must continue to welcome people from many nationalities and backgrounds to drive innovation and cross-cultural understanding.