Diversity in tech – Mind the gender gap
28 October 2016
Debbie Zaman, MD of Withpr and Tech London Advocate
This month over a thousand business leaders in London’s tech community gathered to examine diversity in tech at an event hosted by Tech London Advocates. With new stats showing that almost half (46%) of companies are unsure whether a more diverse workforce could improve their business, there is clearly still much to move forward on.
The luminaries on stage included the doyenne of tech Maggie Philbin, entrepreneur Baroness Lane Fox, Deputy Mayor of London for Business Rajesh Agrawal and a host of brilliant organisations making diversity happen.
As a female business owner in tech, the most inspiring rallying cries that I heard were:
- “A lack of diversity means you will always get chocolate milkshakes” – Liz Ericson, McKinsey & Company
A fantastic way of making the point that if you surround yourself with people just like you, you will all make the same decisions. If you have a diverse work force you will see things from different perspectives, have new ways of solving problems and come up with more original ideas.
- “To achieve diversity you need to hack conformity” – Gi Fernando, Freeformers
Conformity is embedded in the way almost everything is done in the traditional business world. Classic degrees from Russell Group universities; a senior white male recruiting in his image; age old CV plus covering letter applications. If we bring a hacker mentality to every step of this staid process, then we can shed the shackles of non-diversity. And this WILL make businesses more money.
- “You can be more creative with computers than you can with baking ingredients” – Code First: Girls student and tutor
When asked to identify the issue behind a lack of gender diversity, a female software developer on one of the panels simply stated ‘Lego Friends’. In a pink and blue world, computers have too long been blue. This is an area where comms experts can help – STEM subjects need re-branding for a generation of young women free to make different choices for their futures. The proof is in the fact that in over 50% of British schools, not one single girl chooses Physics as an A Level, according to the Institute of Physics. Coding is only the path: our girls need to see what they can do with it.
- “Women were more likely to die in car crashes because crash test dummies were modelled on men” – Martha Lane Fox
In the same vein, if the development team for the whole of the Facebook Platform are men, what will the impact be? Baroness Lane Fox shared that in the early days of LastMinute.com a VC turned to her business partner and asked “What happens if she gets pregnant?”…and terrifyingly she sees bias, both unconscious and otherwise, every day.
- “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it” – Sherry Coutu
According to Coutu, less than 20% of start-ups are founded by women and 1,000 London-based companies employ only males. However, Coutu’s work at Founders4Schools alongside that of Lane Fox’s doteveryone project also shows that women-led businesses are the ‘driving force of the UK economy’. It is therefore our job and the job of the media to proactively promote and celebrate female role models. Without role models in tech, young women will find it less natural to choose a career in tech, and as a result the industry as a whole will suffer.
Ultimately, the Tech London Advocates event brought together those seeking to diversify the tech sector with pioneering organisations making change happen. It left me wondering if our children shouldn’t be learning about Baroness Lane Fox and Sherry Coutu as much as Edison and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.