We need more women in STEM roles, but bad experiences like this prove that sexism is still a huge problem in the tech industry.
Why aren’t there more women in tech? It’s a question we have to continue asking.
A 2017 report found that just 15% of the people working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) roles across the UK are female. It also showed that only 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women.
And yet, we know how vital it is to have more women in these roles. Most recently, we reported on how virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa are entrenched in sexism. And we must mention Dr Katie Bouman, the 29-year-old who made that black hole photo possible earlier this year.
So, what’s holding women back from going for these roles?
With only 78% of students in the UK able to name a well-known female working in tech, it’s important to champion more visible role models. You cannot be what you cannot see, after all. Also, the gender pay gap needs to be addressed, as a recent study reported that men in tech companies earn 25% more than women. This is 7% more than the national average.
One person who knows this all too well is businesswoman, philanthropist and public servant Martha Lane Fox, who is also Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho.
Lane Fox founded Lastminute.com, co-created the Government Digital Service, and is the founder and executive chair of Doteveryone.org.uk. She entered the House of Lords as a crossbencher on in 2013, becoming its youngest female member, and was appointed Chancellor of the Open University.
But still, she was called “Tinkerbell” during a presentation.
“There was a bank of men, me and my boss. I was allowed to say one thing in the presentation,” she said during a conversation with Lord Mark Price on The Happiness Podcast. “They all clapped and said ‘Tinkerbell! She speaks, she speaks’. I had no idea that was how they were seeing me”
Lane Fox is calling for the tech industry to do better when it comes to diversity and is calling for “really clear legislation” from government to create a more inclusive environment. During the interview, she explains how she feels depressed at the state of the internet and why it was intimidating entering the House of Lords.
On the podcast, Lane Fox takes the free Workplace Happiness Survey by Engaging Works and scores 906/1000. She compares her work now, sitting in the House of Lords, running her think tank DotEveyone and being on the board of Twitter, with the early days of co-founding lastminute.com.
While building the travel website, Lane Fox says her and her co-founder, Brent Hoberman, “were nuts” and “really knew nothing”. During the interview, she also describes the sexist comments she encountered with one venture capitalist asking her business partner what he would do if she got pregnant.
Commenting on the need for diversity specifically in tech businesses she says: “It’s really important to have a diverse set of people who are building our future”.
Urging for direct government policy, Lane Fox cites the Government of Rwanda who, after the 1994 genocide, implemented quotas so there was a diverse mix of decision makers. And with 600,000 job vacancies in the Tech industry, she urges society to think about how we can improve childcare and encourage more women into the sector, particularly mothers coming back into employment.
Discussing her workplace happiness Lane Fox cited her time sitting in the House of Lords and said that upon entering it was intimidating. She says: “It was mixed, not entirely happy, the crossbench group is extraordinary because you get a very broad selection of talented people, and then me. So that was kind of intimidating”.