It's a well known fact that there are not enough women working in the technology and design industries today. Women only make up 12% of the workforce, and only 5% of board members at FTSE listed companies are women. However, with girls outperforming boys in education, with 72% gaining A-C's against 55% of boys in sciences and arts subjects. We have the talent, but it's not coming through to the industry. With 95% of women seeing the industry as nerdy, more is needed to inspire women to work in this rapidly expanding industry.
Web Heroines, founded by successful web designer Keri Lambden in 2011, was set up to celebrate women working in the tech and design industries, bringing women together and inspiring others to work in the growing tech industry. Rather than criticise and point fingers at the restrictions, the group's aim is to showcase and celebrate achievements, sharing opinions, and then investigate potential solutions to the girl gap.
Emerge was a mini conference set up to start that very conversation. The three day event ran during the 16-18 January, starting with webinars by speakers from all over the world sharing their knowledge on a variety of subjects from SASS to juggling a freelancing and a day job, accumulating with a panel discussion in the British Library with four inspiring women all working in the industry. Julie Howell, confidently claimed that she 'invented social media' back in 1995 by setting up one of the world's first online communities; Jooly's Joint, and has won five awards for her influence on accessible design. Sarah McVittie co-founded Texperts, the world's first text message questioning service, which was sold to KGB in 2008 in a multi-million pound deal. She has since founded Dressipi, a 'contextually aware fashion recommendation system'. Sarah Parmenter started her business at 19, and is a completely self-taught UI designer and coder. An early adopter of designing for the iPhone/iPad, she regularly speaks at conferences both in the UK and abroad and recently won .net designer of the year award 2011. Jess Ratcliffe came up with the idea for her video game swapping website, gaboom, when she was just 15. She has recently appeared on Dragon's Den, and has recently re-launched the website.
The first question posed is was one on all of our lips; why are there so few women working in tech and design? Confidence is felt to be the main issue. Julie Howell said there is the talent but people are just not coming forward. Women need to adopt more of an 'headphones off' method of working, by talking and sharing ideas with other people and not hiding away. Sarah McVittie agreed and said there are not enough women role models in the industry, more needs to be done to inspire other young women, and as an entrepreneur you have a responsibility to educate others. The panel agreed that there is less of a gender difference in the workplace these days, and women should embrace that they are better at different things, such as nurturing and being empathetic, all qualities of fantastic leaders. As more gender specific products are being built with women in mind, this will hopefully encourage more women into the industry. Sarah Parmenter even said that sometimes being a woman has played to her advantage when winning contracts, such as her work for Breast Cancer UK, and women should not be afraid of playing this to their advantage.
The topic of self confidence kept popping up through the hour long talk, with the panel agreeing that having bags of it and the passion for your idea can be a real driver for your work, but lacking self esteem and even listening to social media backlash can put some on the backfoot. The real issue isn't that women are lacking talent, but they lack the self-confidence to continue with their ideas. The best thing to do to combat this is to put yourself out there, be it through teaching, mentoring or even taking part in conferences, which will not only boost your own confidence, but will also help inspire others. Emerge was a successful event, and hopefully this is the start of many more conversations to get more women into the tech sphere.