June 15, 2018

On the first day of London Tech Week, a colleague and I headed to ‘Demystified: The real reasons there aren’t enough women in tech… and what we can do about it’, interested to hear why the proportion of women in technology has actually declined over the years and what can be done to redress the balance. Hosted by TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher, the panel included Trainline CEO Clare Gilmartin, Chi Onwurah, Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation, Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First: Girls and Ana Avaliani, head of enterprise for the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The panel began by stressing the importance of early conversations with young girls around STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) - not just encouraging the take up of these subjects, but also explaining how STEM can translate into interesting and rewarding careers. As de Alwis pointed out, “if you’re not having a dialogue about these types of careers from a young age… then it’s not surprising that [girls] don’t go on to pursue them”.

We clearly need more role models to play their part in motivating the next generation around the many benefits of a STEM career. And there are plenty to choose from: the average person in technology earns well above the national average – the panel put this figure at £44k p.a. – and citing a survey of 300 female engineers, a resounding 84 per cent said they were happy or extremely happy with their career choice.

When it comes to diversity, as Chi Onwurah MP said, “this is not a ‘nice to have’; it is about our economic competitiveness on the global stage and at home”. In 2018 – which is, incidentally, the Year of Engineering – we must be making use of everyone’s talents and this means prioritising diversity at all times. 

Gilmartin was also keen to point out the business case for building a diverse workforce: “Diverse teams produce better products… Our customer base is gender diverse and from different countries; it just makes good business sense to reflect this in our teams.” While de Alwis warned that a lack of diversity in the industry risks building bias into artificial intelligence systems.

So what needs to be done to encourage more women into tech? Education, mentoring and support are important at all stages of life, ensuring that everyone has the confidence to consider a STEM career. And when it comes to the workplace itself, flexible and considered environments are a must – for instance, shifting the focus away from hours worked in the office to output and results. This will not only help to attract, but crucially, maintain women in the industry throughout their careers.

As Gilmartin summed up “the future has to be co-created”, and we all have a role to play.

 

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