A cause for celebration, optimism, and a big dollop of realism

Not only is today Ada Lovelace Day (which is marked annually on the second Tuesday in October), but 2018 is also the bicentenary of Lovelace’s birth. To celebrate all the initiatives and efforts now run all over the world in Lovelace’s name to promote women in STEM, today’s post is my review of the ‘Delivering Diversity in Tech’ event, which took place on September 26th in London.

The annual Computer Weekly and Mortimer Spinks ‘Delivering Diversity in Tech’ event was held this year on September 26th at the offices of EY, London. (This is a wonderful venue with incredible views of Tower Bridge—I also loved their inclusive toilets!) The event not only provided an opportunity for attendees to share and learn about diversity in tech but also celebrated some amazing achievements by women in the past 12 months. The event culminated in the announcement of the 2018 Most Influential Woman in UK Technology award.

‘Delivering Diversity in Technology’ conference promotion
Gender-inclusive toilets send such an important message.

I was delighted to be invited and was looking forward to meeting inspiring women in tech and gaining new ideas on how voxgig can drive diversity and inclusion. The day didn’t disappoint!

We started with a welcome from Computer Weekly editor-in-chief Bryan Glick. Brian set the mood for the event by stating that he was “looking forward to the day when the event would no longer have to take because the diversity in tech problem had been solved”! However, he explained that there is still a huge amount of work to be done before we are anywhere near achieving this goal.

Bryan Glick and Clare McDonald from ‘Computer Weekly’.

Next, attendees broke off into three different practical workshops, which repeated throughout the afternoon so that delegates could attend all three if they wished.

The first workshop I attended was by Siobhan Baker, Programmes Manager at Code First:Girls, an amazing award-winning organization with a mission to teach 20,000 young women to code for free by 2020. Siobhan gave practical tips and insights into driving diversity, inclusion and retaining female talent in the workplace. She cited the tech consultancy ThoughtWorks as an example of an organization making big strides in achieving greater employee diversity and inclusion. The company has adjusted its recruitment and HR policies to build an inclusive workforce, led by Chief Talent Officer Joanne Parke. Their new approach includes the following:

  • Re-specifying qualifications so that other non-traditional attributes are valued (over simply academic qualifications), including candidates who demonstrate passion and knowledge of tech through blogging, attending events and conferences, and being active in the community, among other things.
  • Having diverse interview panels to ensure a balanced view.
  • Introducing a leadership program to help staff progress into senior roles more easily and with sufficient support.
  • Ensuring pay equity.

Siobhan then split us into small groups in which we came up with practical ideas to drive diversity in recruitment and the workplace by looking at brand values, recruitment methods and ways to maintain a supportive working environment.

The key takeaway I gained from the small group exercise and the workshop overall is that we must all make extra efforts to ensure we think about how our brand and recruitment process can be structured to attract as wide a range of candidates as possible for tech roles. Also, once recruited, these candidates need to feel included and supported in the overall company culture.

Natalie Gray, voxgig, with Dania Lyons, Mortimer Spinks.

Next up was a workshop held by Charlotte Butler, MD of diversity and inclusion consultancy Altogether Different. During Charlotte’s fascinating talk, she explained that the time for ‘tick box training’ is over. When driving true, meaningful diversity and inclusion in an organization, it is essential that we take a holistic view of the workforce, taking into account differences in gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, caring responsibility, physical ability and socioeconomic status. We need to come up with policies to ensure that diversity pervades every aspect of working life.

Charlotte went on to play a short video featuring the talented young film-maker and artist Heather Agyepong. In the video, Heather discussed the issue of microaggressions. As a black woman, she has experienced microaggressions throughout her life. This has made her feel marginalized and violated purely because she does not physically fit the traditional stereotype of a young, white British woman. A powerful example she gave was people grabbing and touching her Afro hair without asking, simply because they regard it as exotic and different. When she went to touch the hair of the other person, they became agitated and did not like it—a case of massive double standards!

The workshop concluded with a practical exercise. We were asked to write down a situation in our working life where we felt we had been overlooked for being different. Some of the responses were read out and provided a lot of food for thought. It became clear that almost everyone in the room had experienced some level of sexist, ageist or racist behaviour by their managers or colleagues during their careers.

The final workshop was held by a team from EY and voxvote.com. We were asked to ‘live vote’ our thoughts and views of how emerging technologies would change the way we work and on whether we thought the adoption of new technologies would have a positive or negative impact on the workforce.

A key takeaway that I garnered from the workshop was that women will be more negatively impacted than men due to the automation of lower-level jobs by technology—jobs that are held in greater numbers by women. We also learned that EY is keen to help more women gain a better understanding of emerging technologies, demystify the jargon and help them gain new skills to become future tech leaders. They aim to do this via a new four-day Women in Emerging Technology immersion course that EY is developing in partnership with the Henley Business School.

After some refreshments and networking, we all came together in the main event space for the keynote talks, panel discussions and the announcement of the award winner.

The first keynote speaker was the remarkable Dr Jess Wade, a physics postdoc and gender diversity campaigner. A truly inspiring speaker, Jess outlined numerous studies and facts around the massive gender disparity of girls and boys studying STEM subjects. A fact that jumped out in particular was the shocking reality that only 800 girls took A-level Computing in the UK this year. This represents less than 10% of the total number of students doing Computing!

Jess talked about how gender bias pervades the internet when STEM subjects are discussed online. She gave an example of Wikipedia, where there were very few notable mentions of female physicians. She has since made a huge contribution to a campaign to create pages on Wikipedia about notable female academics, in order to create more role models in STEM. You can find out more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jess_Wade.

A great slide from Jess Wade’s talk

Next up was an interesting panel discussion featuring a diverse group of business leaders in technology: Abigail Rappoport, CEO of Emoquo, Josh Uwadiae, founder and CEO of WeGym, Arfah Farooq, co-founder of Muslamic Makers, Gabriela Matias, People Partner at GoCardless and Paul Guerrieria, Senior SDM, CSA team at Google. The panel was chaired by Computer Weekly’s Business Editor Clare McDonald, who asked each person their views on achieving greater diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, both in the recruitment process and workplace practices. The overriding message from all speakers was that we should embrace diversity, realize that everyone has an equal and valued voice no matter what their background is, and that true inclusion means feeling free to be your real self and not having to put on your ‘work face’ or a perceived expected persona to fit in to the organization. The panel also recommended that we stop talking about ‘part-time’ work, as it can have negative connotations—the term ‘flexible working’ is preferable—and recommended having a culture where other commitments (childcare and other caring responsibilities) are put in the open and not hidden, so that they become the norm.

The panel also discussed mentors. Speakers strongly recommended that job candidates actively seek out mentors in the industry who can sponsor and support them in terms of career development, and give advice on overcoming any difficulties. They suggested a ‘skills swap’ where the mentor could, for instance, offer management advice in exchange for the mentee offering social media advice. This is a fantastic idea and one that I will be exploring further myself.

Next up was a second keynote talk from Emily Forbes, founder of Seenit, a video sharing platform. Emily talked about her fascinating journey, starting out with very little tech experience, to build her company from the grass roots up. To help her grow her business, she joined an accelerator programme where she was able to access the tech skills she needed. She talked about the power of creating a loyal community to follow Seenit’s progress and help build a client base. Emily is a brilliant role mode for other women with a great idea but not necessarily tons of tech experience. She has proven that there is help and assistance out there and that if you have a solid business plan and plenty of motivation and drive, you can achieve greatness!

The second panel of the day was focused around VC funding. This panel focused on advice on how more female entrepreneurs can successfully gain funding. The panel consisted of Anna Faelten, Associate Partner at EY, Amy Thomson, founder of Moody, Joe Krancki, Partner at Frog Capital and Megan Neale, cofounder of Limitless. There are many very worrying statistics when it comes to VC funding of businesses in terms of gender. One is the fact that male-led businesses are 86% more likely to get funding and that only 2% of all VC funding goes to female entrepreneurs.

Megan raised an interesting point about actually asking for money (she has successfully gone through two rounds of funding with her company Limitless.) Megan’s advice was to get rid of the fear, make up your own rule book as there is very little help online, and get out there and ask. She also recommends having a co-founder who compliments your skill set to provide more validity with VCs.

Joe talked about how his company has invested in a number of female-led startups and now has more females on the board to provide a more balanced view. He also stressed the importance of ‘calling out’ gender bias when it is experienced in meetings and at events (he cited a VC event where out of around 100 VC investors, only one or two were female). Amy recommended that when presenting to investors, it is critical to have a story, and a credible vision and dream that they can buy in to. She suggests approaching the process of gaining VC funding like a sales process and starting with the commercials (as male-led companies would do).

Another slide from Jess Wade’s talk.

Like the previous panel, the speakers also recommended using mentors to help drive your business and to help gain experience and skills when dealing with VCs. They suggest doing this by searching out the superstars and engaging with them on specific projects—but don’t drain them!

The overall action from the panel was that everyone should continue to call out any gender diversity we encounter when interacting with investors. It is also critical to measure both the success rates and numbers of female-led tech businesses that are gaining investments in order to drive gender parity.

The final keynote of the day was by Jacky Wright, Chief Digital and Information Officer, HMRC. A true pioneer and remarkable global tech business leader, Jacky discussed her journey from humble roots in North London to becoming a highly respected senior director in tech companies both in the US and UK. She achieved all this whilst regularly dealing with and overcoming race and gender discrimination throughout her career.

A particular story that chimed and demonstrated the sacrifices that Jacky has made to progress her career was that she caught a two-hour flight every Monday morning, leaving her two young children back home, and returned home every Friday. She did this for such a long time that the airport and airline staff knew her by name and worried when she was not there one Monday! She decided to make a change when her young son said he didn’t care about all the toys she was buying for him, he just wanted his mum around a bit more. This story of a working mum guilt resonated with me and I am sure will ring true with many women out there trying to do the daily juggle of work and family life.

Jacky imparted some fantastic advice to the audience about how to ensure better diversity and inclusion in the leadership team:

  • Ensure that everyone in your team has an opportunity to speak and contribute.
  • Think about how everyone can contribute to the mission.
  • All types of people are needed in a digital company—embrace this and utilize everyone’s diverse range of skills and expertise.
  • Have people around you that are smarter than you! They should feel empowered to call you out as a leader if they don’t agree with you.
  • Let every voice be heard to be truly inclusive.

Jacky is now involved in transforming the digital culture of the UK Revenue organization. She is also a member of the Civil Service Diversity Task Force, where she plays a key role in championing and driving diversity in government.

The final part of the day was the announcement of 2018’s Most Influential Woman in UK Technology award. The nominations were a who’s who of incredible females in the UK tech sector. The winner was announced as Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First:Girls. Amali’s organization teaches coding to young women and informed us about the startling fact that her team are teaching coding to more females than all of the UK universities put together! Amali is a very worthy winner of the award. We are lucky to have organizations such as hers that are redressing the balance and helping more young females into STEM than ever before.

At the end of the event, we stayed for some drinks, canapes and networking. Some interesting and useful connections were made and the overall feeling was one of optimism for the future, pride that there are so many amazing women driving diversion and inclusion in UK tech, and some sadness that the disparity is so huge between the genders in 2018.

For me, the afternoon demonstrated the power that our events industry has to bring people together to share ideas, learn and make real change. Events are also a great way of building meaningful connections and creating business relationships and an efficient way to gain current, expert knowledge and practical advice in a relatively short amount of time.

I very much look forward to discussing what I have learned with the rest of our team at voxgig and implementing some of the ideas gained to drive diversity and inclusion in our startup.