What Inspires Women to Get Into Technology?

It was clear that some of my colleagues pursued career in technology career for the love of it and because they could see that it will transform lives, even though their teachers and family may have actively discouraged them.

In 2001, Belinda Parmar left one of the world's leading ad agencies with a mission to make technology more appealing and accessible to women.

Parmar is the woman behind Little Miss Geek, a highly successful initiative to help address the gender imbalance in tech.

She launched the widely acclaimed 2013 campaign 'Her in Hero' commemorating past and present female tech heroes. As she says of her own inspiration for getting into the industry, she wanted to transform the education system in a way that "lays the groundwork for a child to push on into adulthood with not only an interest in technology, but also the skills to start competing in the industry."

It's a powerful story, and one that made me want to explore what inspires women to get into tech and how we can learn from these experiences.

Identifying inspiration points

I wanted to hear what inspired my female colleagues at Ocado Technology to choose a technical career path. I invited twelve female colleagues to a day of roundtable discussions and exploration on the theme late last year. What I learned from this day and some additional desk research on female tech pioneers, is that our reasons for going into tech can be broadly broken down into three main themes: family support; inspiring teachers or an understanding of the power of technology to change lives.

For instance, two women said their teachers played a transformative role in encouraging them to continue with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects at school. Several women said their careers were down to their parents' role in nurturing their interest in technology.

It was also clear that some of my colleagues pursued career in technology career for the love of it and because they could see that it will transform lives, even though their teachers and family may have actively discouraged them.

What these women relayed to me in the roundtable discussion in many ways mimics the observations from others in the industry.

For instance, what inspired Belinda Parmar to change her advertising career for one closer to tech was the 'shrink it and pink it mentality' of the technology industry and that females are massively underrepresented.

Parmar is not the only example of a woman choosing a career in tech to change things. Rebecca Rachmany, CEO of Gangly Sister Productions, wanted to take action after seeing the 'dismal' figures of women in Computer Science programs across the US.

In response, she created Purple and Nine, an online 3D animation series. It tells the story of two eponymous geek characters who love tech and want to save the world. The programme resonates with a young female audience, getting girls excited about tech at a young age when nurturing that passion is vital.

We know from research just how important a computer science education at school is. Cindy McKenzie, VP at Jacobs and former CIO of Fox Entertainment, describes her computer science class as an eye opener that helped her understand 'what she really liked'. For McKenzie, the computer science class drilled down that she had a real passion for solving business problems through technology.

Yet, technology not only helps solve business challenges, but wider social issues that help us lead better lives. It is at the heart of everything we do, from choosing our universities, employers, places to live and now even our partners.

This passion of wanting to make a difference persuaded Sheryl Sandberg to take up a position at Google, even though she had more lucrative offers. According to Sandberg, providing 'the world with access to information' was too good an opportunity to ignore. In the words of Cindy Bates at Microsoft, who runs the DigiGirlz initiative for the Redmond giant: "Technology is woven into everything. You can't talk about anything these days without technology as one of the ingredients."

Learning from inspiration points

I love hearing why people choose a career in tech. They can often be an inspiration. I think it is especially important that as many women as possible share their stories by way of encouraging other women and girls into technology. If you are not in technology already you often only get a lecture in school about working in 'an IT Department'. You see lots of photographs of young men behind screens with a token female in the middle. I do not think this inspires girls or their parents.

Inspiration comes from real life stories of women (and men) who have an impact on the world around them. These stories can explain and inspire parents to encourage their children to consider a career in technology, in a way that a lecture on 'working in IT' could never do. Inspiration will drive those that are underrepresented in the industry to take up careers in technology.

Little Miss Geek is helping to do this after realising women don't want diamond encrusted mobile phones and baby pink DAB radios. Thousands of women across the world had similar moments of inspiration that got them into tech.

Please share your inspiration points in comments below. I would love to hear what got you into tech.

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