International Women’s Day – Women in tech
Tech for life Ada Lovelace Day Panel, L-R: Lyndsey Britton, Tamma Carel, Danielle Stone, Naomi Morrow, Mary Youngs
Last October I sat on a panel organised by Tech for Life in honour of Ada Lovelace Day, discussing careers in STEM industries (Science Technology, Engineering and Maths). Myself and three other women panellists discussed our routes into our industries, challenges that we had faced and that face our industries going forward. The discussion raised many questions, and it was interesting to hear both positive and negative experiences faced by my fellow panellists.
I am thankful that I have not faced many gender-related challenges in my career to date, and have worked mostly in agencies with strong female leadership and supportive senior staff setting the tone for the organisation. It is clear however that these challenges, both to women and to minority groups too, still need to be discussed.
It is clear that although the landscape has developed hugely in recent years, we still need those advocates for change, those championing women in STEM industries, asking difficult questions, making real opportunities and facilitating change.
I wanted to share with you a few people and initiatives, both here in the North East of England and further afield, that are part of the ongoing conversation and that are passionate about delivering change:
ASKING THE DIFFICULT QUESTIONS
Content strategist, Philadelphia
An inspiring voice in the tech industry, Sarah speaks about empathy and compassion in design, with a focus on designing for real people.
She also speaks out about the gender bias in the tech industry and in technology itself. Sara pushes for inclusion, challenging what our view of a ‘normal’ user is and encouraging us to design for all humans. This means championing not just women but also looking at how we can consider race, gender, sexuality and those struggling with their mental health.
Her most recent book, Technically Wrong, explores the unseen bias in our everyday technology, and how we can be aware that lines of code can judge us and put us in boxes, arguing that our tech is ultimately only as open-minded and unbiased as its creators.
Sara speaks openly and honestly about some pretty tough subjects and difficult life experiences that she has overcome, in talks that go beyond the practical application of design and technology.
You Know Who, London
Not as vocal on equality as Sara Wachter-Boettcher, I nevertheless wanted to include Sarah Parmenter as she was a personal inspiration for me. I attended an app design workshop run by Sarah nearly 10 years ago. I learnt a lot from the day that I still draw on today, but I was also struck by her as a person and the authority she had as a young woman in the tech industry.
Sarah started out in the industry at the fresh age of 19, and has since built up a respected agency, impressive set of clients and string of accolades and reputation as a speaker at events around the world.
At her most recent speaking engagement: An Event Apart in Seattle, Sarah picks up on some similar themes of the biases that we have during the design and creation process. Sarah also tweeted about the queue for the ladies loos – enjoying the fact that there were more women at the conference than at other tech events. Who knew that queuing for the loo could represent progress in equality!
INSPIRING YOUNG MINDS
As well as career progression, our panel also looked at the challenges faced by girls choosing STEM subjects and opportunities for STEM careers in the first place. If we look at the digital sector, on the design side of the fence the male to female ratio is good, however female developers certainly in the North East are still as rare as a vegan sausage roll in Piers Morgan’s lunchbox! This fits with the statistic that only 13% of the UK STEM workforce is female.
Social Enterprise, UK and Ireland
If, as Sara argues, our digital products are only as diverse as their creators then it makes it doubly important to encourage young women into the tech industry. Stemettes is an organisation dedicated to inspiring young women with an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths. With events, programmes and mentor schemes, for example a recent hackathon day in Newcastle, the goal is to create a positive buzz around these subjects and to remove the barriers that often distance girls from engaging with these subjects.
At the Ada Lovelace Day event I also met Lucy Smith, a Game Technologies student who was in the audience. Although still a student herself, Lucy is passionate about encouraging girls to get into code, specifically in the gaming industry which is notoriously male dominated. Lucy is a STEM Ambassador and is already seeking out opportunities to encourage girls into game development. This Easter, along with Sally Blake, Senior Producer at Hammerhead, and supported by Newcastle college she will be running #GirlsMakeGames workshops in Newcastle encouraging young women to get into the games industry.
EQUALITY AND PERSONAL GROWTH
Tech for life and 50:50 Future, Newcastle
I couldn’t write this blog without including Tech for Life who ran the Ada Lovelace Day event. I first met Founder Lyndsey Britton, Lynsey Harbottle and Gemma Sayers at their Campus North venue where they first started running a variety of sessions from engaging young people in tech to providing training to women in leadership roles. They also supported me to deliver my first industry talk so thank you to them for that opportunity!
Their most recent venture is 50:50 Future which strives to achieve equality in the workplace through a variety of initiatives. Including both men and women and offering opportunities such as networking, mentoring and tackling subjects such as the gender pay gap, leadership and recruitment.
They also support young people into tech careers with their Future Leading Ladies programme inspiring young women into choosing STEM subjects by demonstrating the career options that this will open up for them. A group of these girls were in attendance at the Ada Lovelace Day and though shy at first, soon started to ask insightful questions that gave us hope for the future of our industries.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
I hope these women serve as inspiration for us all to build a more equal future in our industry, both for women and men, and others who feel marginalised in their careers or through the technology that they use. It is 176 years on from Ada Lovelace’s work on what came to be known as the first computer algorithm and we have come a very long way since then. As technology becomes more and more a part of our lives and our work, it’s great to have people out there working hard and speaking out to make the industry unbiased and open to all.
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