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International Women’s Day; Women in Tech At Fora; By Georgie Barrat

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Currently women only make up 17% of the UK tech workforce. This percentage drops to a mere 3.9%when looking at how many are software engineers. Women are being left out of the conversation across an entire ecosystem that is fundamentally shaping the way we live, work and interact. With the gathering momentum of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, it’s time to turn our attention to how we can elevate the tech industry and make it more inclusive. And so on the 8th of March 2018, International Women’s Day, Fora Central Street hosted a Women in Tech panel, following a keynote speech by Ruth Wandhöfer of Citi Bank.

“Representation is key to getting more women into tech,” explains Danielle Newnham, founder of F Equals. “But there’s such a bad visibility problem. Women in the industry are not talked about at all.” Speaking on a panel at Fora’s ‘International Women’s Day’ event, co-hosted by Fora Residents ditto, Newnham thinks the media has a big part to play in this. If women in tech are simply not present anywhere, from press coverage to industry panels and on social, how are they expected to see it as a viable career option?

Nicola Anderson’s journey to becoming VP of marketing at GoCardless certainly echoes this sentiment. “I actively did not want to work in tech. When I was originally approached about the role I said: ‘Hands down no, I’m not interested.’” Even during the recruitment process Anderson pulled out because she suffered from imposter’s syndrome. It took a call from the CEO to talk her round. This lack of confidence is something that she now sees in the women that she mentors. “It’s really about coaching and enabling women to feel as though they can apply to roles, that they absolutely have the right skillset.”

Ironically technology may be part of the solution when it comes to getting more women applying for tech roles. Hung Lee is founder of WorkShape.io, a recruitment platform for software engineers that doesn’t use job adverts. Instead they only match you with a job if it fulfils a criteria set out by you. This helps combat women dismissing jobs because they are underestimating their competence. It also forces businesses to think about how they can more effectively communicate their culture, job role and benefits, all things that can significantly sway how many women decide to apply for a role. “As far as I know most recruiters don’t have any unconscious bias training or incentives for finding more women, this is something that we should be thinking about,” explains Lee.

This though of course relies on there being enough women out there who can program, or at least have proficient knowledge of the tech world.  Currently only 7% of students taking computer science A-level are female. Dr Sian Lewin, a research fellow at Copenhagen Business School, stresses that it’s about catching girls young. “I think it starts at a very early age. It’s about encouraging girls to study STEM subjects by presenting great female role models. Women in tech that that they can look up to and celebrate.”

Dr Lewin herself has experienced first-hand gender discrimination. She left her job after realising her male colleagues, including some of her subordinates, were being paid more than her. Like with any industry where there’s little diversity, unconscious bias and daily micro-aggressions can build momentum and become ingrained in the culture. Combatting this is down to the senior management, argues Lee. “You can’t just tack diversity on, it really needs to be baked into the DNA of the business.”

 What happens though when that discrimination is coming from fellow women? “It is the elephant in the room,” Dr Lewin says, “sometimes women are the worse champions of other women.” She thinks this is down to senior women internalising structural biases and not wanting to be seen to be over compensating by favouring their own sex. “I hope that this is changing, especially as there is more focus on gender diversity.” On a practical level, Anderson recommends seeking an external mentor if women do come up against this at work.

While it may feel as though there is a mountain still to climb, things are beginning to shift. “The tide is turning 100%,” says Newnham. “Forget the rise of the robots, it’s the rise of women. Research is showing that the most successful businesses are the ones that have a really diverse team.” Being good at collaborating, thinking philanthropically, working to time constraints and having alternative creative processes, were just some of the positives cited by the panel as to what women bring to companies.

There’s no denying that the tech industry is hungry to have in on this. Through making more women in the industry visible, reframing the way girls view STEM subjects and introducing government legislation that gives equal parental leave, we may just start to readdress the imbalance. “Last year women found their voice,” says Newnham. “This year it’s about finding their feet.”

Georgie Barrat is a tech journalist and broadcaster.