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Women of Silicon Roundabout – getting females into technology

Women of Silicon Roundabout – getting females into technology

28 Jun 12:00 by Jane Abbott

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A few interesting statistics:

7% of students studying Computer Science at A level are female. Of all the UK female workforce, just 17% are working in the tech sector – despite the UK economy being driven by tech business. We lag behind many other European countries – especially Eastern European countries where it was expected that women would work and care for their children under the communist regimes – knowing this, women chose to study the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects where they believed they would be able to earn the most money. Of the female workforce in Bulgaria, 30% work in tech. 

Why is it so important to encourage girls to study STEM subjects and to have more females in the tech industry?  Because businesses need this diversity.  We have probably all now heard the story about the Apple health app. There was much hype around the launch of the health monitoring app and all the metrics it could track – not just the simple things but how much alcohol in your blood or your sodium intake.  But despite all this, it couldn’t track your menstrual cycle.  This omission wasn’t intentional – it just didn’t occur to the men who were building the app that this would be needed. There were no females in the team and so no female input or perspective. If we want to build a truly inclusive and diverse world we need to encourage females and show them the opportunities that exist in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

Thankfully there are some great organisations working and taking action to change this.  This week I attended my second Women of Silicon Roundabout conference – it’s part of a global series of events including the US, Australia, and mainland Europe, and has a growing number of attendees. Last year, the number of attendees was 4,000 and this year, its 4th year, it had grown to 6,000. The conference helps people and organisations to interact to help take action on gender diversity and inclusion.  I’ve been so inspired by attending, not just from the speakers, but by the many people you can meet and talk to throughout the two days.  Whether you want to work in tech or already do, there is something for everyone at this event – lots of great tech companies who are hiring and want to meet with job seekers, keynote speakers, start-up sessions and legal advice, workshops on everything from Data Science to How to Improve your Confidence and much more. I’ll share some of my experiences with you, but what I wanted to get out of it could be so different to what you are looking for, so take a look at the website to see the full extent of what goes on and I urge you to attend next year.  Badger your boss, your parents, your uni or school so you can attend or share with other women or men in tech, where diversity and inclusion is important – and be ready for a very busy couple of days. Below is a glimpse into my experience there (written between workshops!).

I've never been to a conference where there are too many talks that I want to hear, so do your planning carefully. I'm curious about the presentation by Susie Ramroop - Can We Ever Truly Be Ourselves At Work - so decide to attend this as I know I'm different at home to how I am at work. A room of maybe 250 people of all ages but with lots of young women and a sprinkling of men.  Susie wanted to make this an interactive talk, so had 3 soft microphone cubes that were thrown around the room to those wanting to interact and to many who would normally shy away from this sort of thing.  She managed to get us all involved.  We debated on whether we should "wear different hats" or behave differently depending on who we're interacting with. We agreed that we all need to feel we can be our true self, whether that is in work, on a date, on our CV or at an interview. Be yourself and don't keep trying to be the person that you think others want or expect you to be.  At the end we were asked to close our eyes and picture the "me" - without being who we think we should be. I couldn't quite believe that I started to well up.  I think I was grateful for the woman I am now - because experience brings confidence and I felt emotional for the young "me" who was not confident for a long time and kept trying to be someone who I thought others wanted me to be.  I was also thinking of all the young people in the room and hoping they would have the courage to be themselves rather than waiting for experience and age to give them such confidence. The final takeaway was on judging.  If we judge others, then we also fear being judged and when we're fearful, we stop growing. Experience has led me to stop judging but what a lesson to learn at a young age and to do away with our fears. Fear can stop us trying new things in case we fail or giving our opinion in case others don't agree.  If we can learn to observe rather than judge, then maybe our fears of being judged will go away. I really didn’t expect to attend a session like this at a tech conference!

I managed to get into a workshop - note to self and anyone booking for next year - book early. I didn't manage to sign up to a single workshop and there were so many good ones; Exerting Influence without Authority - Aimee CardwellFinding Your Ideal Mentor - What You Need to Know - Joanne RoseGetting an Innovative Mindset: Why the World Needs Entreprenuers and Intrapreneurs - Shilpa Shah & Ed GreigGrowing Your Personal Brand and Influencing Others - Gillian BrooksIntroverts and Extroverts-Getting The Best Out of Your Personality Type in a Tech Business - etc etc. So I queued to get into a workshop - Confident Speaking for Women.  It was massively over-subscribed but thankfully the organisers managed to squeeze another 25 or so of us around the tables.  Sarah Palmer presented a highly interactive session, giving us clear and confident pointers and advice on presenting - whether in meetings, one on one or to an audience.  She got us all talking and asking questions and who knew that the best way to stand when presenting was to put yourself in the position of a cat landing after a fall. Try it!  Jump in the air and see where your feet land...it feels like a good, secure way to stand doesn't it?

As I move from conference halls to seminars and workshops, you get to talk to others there - it's just nice to talk to people who you wouldn't ordinarily get to talk to and I'm so inspired and hopeful about the future when I come to events like this - we're just trying to improve ourselves and the world we live in.

My next stop was to listen to Lesya Liskevych - Ten Ways to Get Your Colleagues To Work With You Better. My key takeaway from this was the importance of a business mission statement, or at least the vision of where the company is going. Leaders can have a very clear view but that may not always be true for the rest of the people in the business. I love the idea of having a matrix plan to see how each individual will be doing their bit to achieve the mission. I think leaders just take it for granted that the other people in the business will be on the same page all the time.

I'm staying until the end of the day. I want to go to a presentation titled "My Way: Being an Authentic Leader" by Catherine Trotter which promises to give me takeaways on how life shapes you as a leader, how to find strength in sharing, bringing your whole self to work, being proud of "this is me" and knowing that you are good enough - I shall be sure to take my whole self there to get the most out of it!

The day has given me time to reflect, time to think about my business and the people in it. It’s been super busy and I haven’t managed to go to all the talks that I wanted to and it was frustrating not to have been able to book workshops – but I urge you to take some time out next year and encourage other females to join you. I hope you too will be inspired.