This week is London Technology Week. Thousands of technology experts and enthusiasts have been gathering in the capital to celebrate London’s position as a global locus of technology innovation, creative aptitude and entrepreneurship. Events include conferences, competitions and even ‘hackathons’ (you can see the full line-up here).
But, for an industry that is growing exponentially year upon year, it continues to lack female input. In 2014, a study by the research firm Gartner showed that the number of female CIOs (Chief Information Officers) in the technology industry had remained at a shockingly disproportionate 14% for a decade. This year, a study by the American Association of University Women showed that the percentage of women in computing jobs had actually fallen over the past 23 years. And, just this week, Wikipedia Founder, Jimmy Wales, told guests at London Tech Week that the number of women working in tech was 'disastrous’.
Sarah Drinkwater is head of Campus London (Google’s hub for start-ups in London) which offers open access workspace, education, mentoring and more for over 45,000 members.
She gives us her assessment of the experience of and future for women in tech:
"If you had told me when I was a book-reading, play-writing, day-dreaming little girl that when I grew up I would be working for Google, running a building that helps people launch tech start-ups, I’d never have believed you. My father is a programmer, so we always had computers at home (even in the Eighties) but I was "creative" so I didn’t think a job in tech was for me.
It’s ironic, really, that there are so few women working in the industry today given that the world’s first programmer was a woman. Ada Lovelace balanced her love of maths with a fondness for poetry - inspired by her father, Lord Byron.
In the early days of computers, building software was often seen as a woman’s job. Entrepreneur, Steve Shirley (Dame Stephanie Shirley, if we’re being formal), reaped success with her company Xansa (launched in 1962 as ‘Freelance Programmers’), which employed predominantly female programmers.
Yet, despite women’s role in tech history and endless data proving that mixed teams build better products, there still aren’t enough women working in the field; neither in start-ups, nor in big established companies.
Google’s diversity data, released last year, showed just how stark the gap is; out of the 30% women that make-up the company only 18% fill technical roles. To make matters worse, female representation on the boards of London start-ups was only 6.7% in 2014.
But why is this happening?
The industry has an image problem. The stereotype tells us tech is full of hoodie-wearing, beer-chugging men who get a kick out of hosting late-night coding parties. But that’s just not what I see when I look around the buzzy, busy basement cafe of Campus London.
Besides the low numbers of girls studying STEM subjects, women aren’t traditionally rewarded for taking risks or standing out (Beyonce’s “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss” campaign comes to mind). Unfortunately, these two attributes are vital within tech roles.
And how can we overcome these obstacles?
I’m a great believer in the power of example; we need to see kickass women building companies from the ground up and leading successful teams.
Just recently, seventy girls, age six to twenty, took over the Campus London cafe for a weekend building their own social networks with Stemettes - It was amazing to watch young girls experience the joy of creating something entirely from scratch, then confidently pitching their product to the room.
Let’s learn from their example: whatever our skill set, we should be comfortable testing things out and sharing what we’re working on; even if it’s not perfect – that’s how great development happens.
Maybe I’m an optimist but I’m convinced things are changing. The change is slow and there’s certainly more to be done but right now, for women who work or want to work in tech, there are more education and support networks than ever before.
Included in this list are think code academies such as Code First Girls, Girls in Tech’s newly launched mentoring scheme, and supportive, diverse community, Ada’s List. And supermodel Karlie Kloss has launched a foundation to get teen girls coding.
At Campus, we’ve seen our female community of start-ups, founders, and would-be entrepreneurs jump from 20% to almost a third in only a year.
We should lead with positive role models such as these to build a future that is inclusive to all."