Ladies first: Celebrating a step change for women in tech.

Peter Robbins, Managing Director Mercato Solutions – creators of KnowledgeKube

For many years, December 10th has passed largely uncelebrated. Yet its significance last year to the UK’s 32 million-strong female population was bigger than ever. That’s because it marked the 200th birthday of Ada Lovelace, often referred to as the world’s first computer programmer due to her work on the Analytical Engine.

Ada would probably have had a lot to say about the lack of progress we’ve made in securing gender equality for women in tech. How can it be that two centuries on from her birth, more than 80% of the EU’s eight million IT roles are occupied by men, leaving women representing just one in ten (14%) UK tech positions.

Part of the problem lies with further education. Last year, there were more male than female students in all but one major A-level STEM subject. Move on to higher education, and between 2013 and 2014, more than half our male undergraduates studied a science-related course, compared to four in ten women.
 

The real problem however comes when people enter this ‘small but strategically important segment of employment’. Why is it that 40% of our tech graduates are women but just 14% of industry employees are female?

This two-part problem needs a two-part answer. It seems that we’re slowly getting more students studying STEM at school by promoting tech as gender-neutral – and success in achieving that should have a knock-on effect on the number of women taking tech degrees moving forward. But how do we get more of these students to realise careers and get them into roles now?

Groups like Ada’s List are part of the solution. Set up by four UK women alienated by the loneliness of being a female working in tech, the group now has over 1,500 members. It provides an entrepreneurial space for women in the industry to gain advice, network and share jobs.

It’s a place to ‘mobilise’, to enable women to learn and practice practical skills, like how to deal with disputes with male colleagues, or negotiating higher salaries – particularly timely, given last year’s furore over Equal Pay Day.

The same is true for Women Who Code. Set up with the aim of inspiring women to excel in tech careers, the group trains them up with the skills the industry needs, then uses its network to connect people with job opportunities.

They’re slowly working to introduce more women to the possibility of a job in STEM via a sustained and continuous programme of coding boot camps, courses and talks.

Both resemble the best parts of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In campaign. Two years old, it promotes the idea of arranging ‘circles’ of connected and empowered women, where members can talk in person and online about their fears, insecurities and problems with being an ambitious woman working in technology.

But yet there’s something jarring about Lean In, especially when Facebook, where Sandberg is COO, has a major gender bias – 84% of employees working on core technology are male. It’s disappointing her own organisation is not reflective of the diversity she so clearly believes in.

If the upper echelons of the industry won’t take action, it’s down to women already fulfilling those roles to force this change.

We’re starting to see the industry recognise that women can bring a much needed different skillset to the sector. Whether it’s a tendency to recognise and take advantage of opportunities, or expertise in networking and building relationships, there’s a huge range of skills that women can – and should – be bringing into STEM.

From imagining the smart city solutions of the not-too-distant future to looking at how technology can take organisations’ time-consuming manual tasks off their hands, now is a great time to be working, living and breathing this industry. With 39% of UK enterprises having struggled to fill jobs requiring specialist IT skills in 2014, it does beg the question – where are the women in all of this?

It’s great that the barriers to access are being broken down. No longer do women have to rely solely on a university education to become leaders in their STEM field. There are a great range of tools out there that are helping to reduce the skills gap, providing women with the tools they need to innovate. Our enterprise app development platform KnowledgeKube, for example, allows all users to design and prototype applications without even having to write a single line of code.  This has opened the door to introduce a new skill base into the business with fresh ideas to overcoming problems clients face, and over half of the KnowledgeKube team is now female as a result.  This includes women with diverse backgrounds from nursing to history graduates.  

Ladies first: Celebrating a step change for women in tech.
Anne-Marie Imafidon computing, mathematics and language prodigy behind Stemettes, with the ladies from the Knowledgekube implementation team.

There’s always going to be a need for traditionally trained software engineers, but innovation is fostered by inclusivity, and this relies on helping people enter the sector from other industries. It’s in all of our interests to be opening up the sector as much as possible right now. Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come while being realistic about the distance left to go.