Why do you think that the tech industry is traditionally male-dominated?
If you look at the curriculum in schools and at the teachers of IT and science subjects, invariably the majority of teachers are males, in the UK at least.
I think this influences the sorts of conversations that girls have, both in and outside of school, around roles, occupations and careers. My mum was in tech, so I took my inspiration from her, but the fewer female role models you have around you, the less likely females are to consider tech as a career option. So it's a wider societal problem, as well as an education problem.
I think computing specifically has struggled to encourage more females, because of the education pipeline. I sit on a board for Founders4Schools in the UK, which is trying to get more girls into STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and the conversation we have, is that it all starts when girls decide which subjects to take for their GCSEs – at around age 13.
It’s at that point they are either on the path to becoming a 'techie', or they're not. And if their friends don't take STEM subjects, there’s a good chance that they also won't. There's a lot of peer pressure at this age, and the lack of female STEM teachers and role models in general, all compounds to produce a lower number of girls taking the school subjects which puts them on the path to a career in technology.
I also think the rise of home computers and gaming consoles is a factor. The gaming sector has long been more targeted towards males, and even though the proportion of female gamers has now increased, there's a lag in the system; games companies still tend to be run by men, games are written by men largely for men, and therefore, the industry attracts males.
If we look at the data, we can see we’ve flatlined at around 17% women in the tech industry, and over the last 10 years we've not really made an impact on that. Saying that, as our recent analysis revealed, the SaaS sector and the tech sector in general has a higher percentage of female CEOs than the FTSE 350 companies, so although there's still a long way to go, our sector is doing better than the UK's biggest companies at encouraging diversity.
What roles are there in the tech industry, and why should women be excited about it?
There's a misconception that working in tech means you need to be a ‘techie’. I've never written a line of code. I did a business degree. I only had the confidence to go into tech because my mom was in tech, and she's never written a line of code either.
Every tech company offers a wide range of roles, and the women that I know work in all areas from management to commercial to technical. So, you don’t need to be a programmer to work in the tech industry, just as you don’t need to be a mechanic to work for a car company.
As for the reasons why you should want to work in tech? Well, tech is awesome! It's a fast-paced, exciting industry, it's always changing, it’s dynamic, teams have to be agile, they have to think quickly. The culture of tech companies is not to stand stagnant but to be forever moving. So it always feels fresh and innovative because you’re on the cutting edge of the industry.
Also the technology sector is where society often innovates, so if you want to be at the heart of progress and change and you love to be part of creating solutions to problems, then the tech sector is the place to be.
What path – in terms of studies, degrees, work experience etc – would you recommend women take to increase their chances of getting into the tech industry? Does it differ to the path a male might take?
The path doesn't differ to the path a male would take. The most important thing to know is that you don't have to have a qualification in technology or computing to work in tech.
I've got a business degree and taking the team at Panintelligence as an example, it’s generally only our development team that has technical qualifications. Many of the other teams have never studied a technical qualification and instead, they've learned everything they've needed to know about technology by working for a technology company.
So, there are many paths into the tech sector. You just have to be excited and interested by the opportunity of working in an industry that is at the heart of driving innovation in our society.
If you are really keen on the technical side but don’t have a technical qualification there are still paths open to you. At pi we have people that came via North Coders - a coding bootcamp who retrained as developers mid-career.
They may have a degree in history or the arts but have retrained as a developer. So just because your degree is not in a technical subject, if you decide that you do want to do a technical role, there are lots of organisations that can support you to retrain and reskill; it's never too late.
What barriers, in regards to being a woman, have you come up against in your career and how did you navigate them?
The only time I ever felt my gender caused me a challenge was when I was pregnant with my first child, and I was in a leadership position in a tech company. It felt that there wasn't an option to be in a part-time leadership position.
The expectation was that I'd have to maintain a full-time position and continue to spend a lot of time away from home, travelling. And if not, that I would have to step down or take a different role or leave the company. So it felt like the options for mothers, especially in higher-level positions, were very limited, and the idea of keeping my role but having a greater degree of flexibility around it - just wasn’t there.
That was the reason why I set up my own business because it was a way to control that flexibility, and it was the push I needed to become self-employed. It was probably the best thing that happened to me because I ended up setting up a consultancy business that led to me working with Panintelligence which led to the buyout and where I am today.
What are you doing to help increase gender equality in the tech industry?
I’m involved in a number of different organisations, for example, Founders4Schools, and I try to find opportunities to speak to young people before they decide on which GSCE options to take, and be a role model in tech to help them see tech as a possible path.
I also run a network called ‘Lean In Leeds’ which has just sort of 900 members. And whilst that isn't purely tech-focused, it's about female leaders being more visible, enabling them to both support one another and also find opportunities to have a voice and be seen and heard. I also work with groups like Women in Leeds digital.
And I speak at lots of different events all around the world, not only talking about embedded analytics for SaaS, data insights and building my own tech company, but also often representing diversity in tech.
As a company, at pi we are proactive in building a diverse team and working with other organisations to help us do that. We’ve put in place policies that ensure we’re not creating limitations for people being able to work for us; so far it seems to be working – we have a workforce that’s 40% female, which is well above the industry average, although we continue to strive to encourage even more females to work at Panintelligence, as well as the tech industry in general.
How can women in tech advance their careers and move into leadership roles?
One of the best things that anybody can do to progress their career is to be a lifelong learner. The brilliant thing about the technology sector is that it’s incredibly online, which means content, and news, and access to understanding technology, is all at your fingertips. So there's really nothing you can't learn about tech through the internet.
So if you're interested in working and progressing your career in tech, follow the industry closely via sources like TechCrunch and read the news stories. And there are tonnes of white papers on every technology subject you can imagine, out there. For example, Gartner and Forrester produce white papers all the time about various segments of the tech industry. And there are lots of free tools and free training courses.
Most of the developers at Panintelligence studied in a self-taught way; they taught themselves some discipline of code then did an online course. If you've got an ambition to grow your career, get informed and reach out to people that are well-networked and well-connected in the tech sector and find yourself a mentor, ideally outside or your own organisation, so that you've got a sounding board or someone that can advise you on approaches to accelerating your career.
At Lean in Leeds we have a mentoring programme and we match women to each other on a co-mentoring basis. That really helps them to have a peer group outside their organisation to help them find opportunities to accelerate their career.
What problems might some women face in tech companies, and how might they approach them?
On the whole, the same problems anyone would face. I don't think it's gender-specific in tech companies. But it's still true that the majority of technology development teams are male.
Therefore, if you are a woman in an otherwise all-male team, you might sometimes feel isolated. That’s why I suggest joining local networks or meet-ups outside of your company, where you can learn from other women, find peers and mentors; for example, join your local ‘Lean In’ group. And if there isn’t one already – then create one! (that’s what I did with the Lean In Leeds group).
For every tech leader I speak to, the biggest challenge is that the pipeline of developers is still predominantly male. So building a diverse technical team is hard. In terms of solving the problem of the pipeline - the best thing you can do is help your organisation to think about ways to attract more females.
Get involved in local schools and local STEM network events to raise the profile of your organisation to attract the small numbers of women that are coming into the industry. Try to influence young people in schools to think about technology as an option and be a role model.
What are the business benefits to companies attracting a more diverse workforce?
Technology companies are at the heart of innovation, but you can only build great products if you have diverse teams. Because the best solution to a problem is one that meets the needs of the majority of people that experience the problem.
If you're only building for a small group, then your product will only be used by a small group. So the builders of solutions need to be diverse, to make sure that the solution delivers the maximum value to the most people.
On top of that, diversity in companies builds brilliant cultures where you have a much broader worldview enabling you to gather a much greater range of opinions, attitudes and experiences – which all help to create a better workplace and ultimately a better product. This is especially important for tech companies that tend to make scalable products for a diverse, global audience.
If you have a group of people who all look the same, are from the same place, have the same background and the same experience, then guess what - they tend to behave in the same way. Hiring for diversity creates a better-balanced business with a greater range of wisdom, giving you a competitive edge over companies that are more homogenous.
How can companies attract more women to work for them?
I think there are two areas that companies can work on to attract more women to work for them, and the tech industry in general.
The first is a relatively quick and easy change to implement; make your work policies and culture supportive and encouraging to females, especially mothers. I mentioned before that one of the companies I previously worked for didn't do a great job on that front. So, install policies that empower parents – in particular, mothers – which will attract more women to work for you as well as empowering those women to perform at their highest level.
I’m talking about flexible work schedules, options for remote/home working (the pandemic has helped accelerate things here), the option to switch between part-time and full-time hours to ensure a healthy work-life balance, encouraging parents to return to the workforce after having children, as well as installing a company culture that values all employees, rather than devalues females as soon as they’re pregnant.
Secondly is the longer-term challenge of encouraging more women into the pipeline by being a visible role model. The more women that we can inspire at a younger age by showing them that tech is a great career option, the greater the number of women who will enter the industry.
So if you're a female leader reading this - get involved with local networks. Try to find opportunities to speak and present to young female audiences. Women are more likely to want to work for a company with female leadership. I know that here at Panintelligence, we attract a diverse team because we have diverse leadership.
Ultimately, try to build the company that you would want to work for.
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