Encouraging women in(to) technology
16 February 2016, by Jenny Mulholland
Following on from our managing director Zoe Cunningham’s blog post on getting more women into technology, I thought I’d share some of my own recent experiences around encouraging women in, and into, technology.
Encouraging women and girls to consider careers in technology
I’ve been involved for a number of years in initiatives to inspire girls to consider careers in technology. The money’s good, the industry is going places, the working environment is often progressive (regarding things like benefits and flexible working) and there are far more role models in the industry than people might realise – from top execs like Sheryl Sandberg to the many, many female engineers posting selfies under the Twitter hashtag #ilooklikeanengineer. So there’s every reason to encourage even more girls and women to get involved!
I take opportunities whenever I can to talk to girls at school careers days, workshops, daughters of friends and so on, to tell them why I think tech is great! I also mentor A-level students through the Social Mobility Foundation and have been encouraging my latest (female) mentee to study computer science at university.
Our MD, Zoe, is great at finding opportunities like these to get involved with, and Softwire helps and encourages me in doing so. For example, we recently hosted a Stemettes event at the Softwire offices, where female secondary school students spent the day building apps. I got to be on the judging panel for the apps, which was great fun. I’m taking the morning off as charity holiday soon to speak in a girls’ school in Hackney at an event organised by Inspire! and in summer 2016 we’re going to be sponsoring the Rails Girls Summer of Code, which is another fantastic way to help springboard women into tech careers.
If you enjoy being a woman in tech, consider getting involved with groups like these and inspiring the next generation to do the same. Or if I’ve convinced you, and you’d like to become a woman in tech, check out the Working at Softwire and Diversity at Softwire pages on our website, and apply to us!
Being encouraged myself to consider something new – speaking on a panel
Meanwhile, even though I’ve been working in tech for eight years now, I still find it helpful for my own personal development and wellbeing to receive support, encouragement and mentoring myself from other women.
As an example, Zoe recently sent around an opportunity to speak on an all-female panel at the systems programming and infrastructure meetup Coed:Code, one of several “women in tech” meetups which offer a chance to socialise, network, and discuss everything from our tech stack of choice, to what it’s like being a woman in tech, to pairing on our latest coding project. Coed:Code itself aims to offer “a warm, fun and encouraging event looking at systems and infrastructure programming… a social event designed to give diversity in tech a nudge.”
I find attending these sorts of meetups to be very heartening – in my experience, when you’re in a minority in a workplace, no matter how nice and supportive your colleagues are, it still nonetheless makes a really refreshing change to get out into the wider world and spend an evening in a whole room full of people in the same boat as you, who share similar experiences and approaches to you!
Nonetheless, appearing on Coed:Code’s panel discussing systems programming and Go at their launch event sounded like a fairly daunting prospect – the other speakers are far more experienced than me, and it’s been a while since I last wrote code, having moved into other roles within the industry such as project management. I asked myself the questions that I think (unfortunately) many women in technology ask themselves when considering public speaking opportunities: Who would be interested in what I have to say? I don’t know enough about the topic, do I?
However, I’ve been wanting to get more practice in public speaking for a while, and Anne Currie, the panel’s organiser, was so encouraging – offering to tailor the questions on the panel to my experience and providing encouraging feedback on my ideas – that I decided to go for it!
I’m pleased to report that it was a great success. I really enjoyed the panel discussion; there was a lot more listening to and agreeing with each other than arguing with each other! Anne ran it as an interactive format, with audience members contributing their own insights and questions, so it felt very friendly and inclusive. The audience participation also led to lots of interesting conversations in the social part of the evening which followed.
My top tips for women in tech:
- Formal and informal mentoring and support from other women can be really valuable. Get to know other women you work with and help each other out in what you do!
- Consider joining a group like Ladies Who Code, Women Who Code, and 10 Digital Ladies – feeling part of the wider female tech community can definitely provide warm fuzzy feelings, practical advice, development opportunities and more.
- Consider also mentoring those earlier on in their careers, or considering careers in tech, through groups like Stemettes, Rails Girls and the Inspire! Education Business Partnership.
- There’s room for all job roles in groups like these, and in the tech industry in general – you don’t have to write code to be a woman in tech!
Although this blog post focuses on women in particular, the same message applies for other minority groups in tech too. For example, Softwire staff get involved with other organisations like InterTech, who play a similar role in the LBGTQ* tech community.
Try looking for more meetups and groups, get out there, and get involved in your wider community!