The year is 2021 and while our ancestors thought we’d have fully functioning hover boards by now we’ve got some more pressing issues to address. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,”, a global celebration of the “tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain.”
There are some great organisations, leadership and activism examples in GirlsWhoCode CEO Reshma Saujani and BlackGirlsCode CEO Kimberly Bryant as well as great UK groups such as Women in Tech UK and Black Women in Tech. Yet if we look at the data, women only make up 16.4% of UK Tech roles with then 4% at leadership level.
We wanted to get draw a spotlight on the situation in our sector and get the viewpoint from the women of Spica Technologies. I sat down with Chief Product Officer, Lynda Gillson (LG), and HR Director, Gemma Cottrell (GC), to discuss women in tech:
What are your thoughts on the current state of women in tech?
LG: We struggle to get the same number of job applications from women. It is a challenge for us, they’re not necessarily getting through.
GC: In my early career most leaders in tech roles were men. It’s definitely an issue, which is surprising because there’s a focus in school curriculums to promote wider participation amongst women. It’s trying to understand where that gap begins. Why are we not managing to engage a more diverse audience?
LG: I’m not sure where the breakdown is. From a STEM perspective, girls outperform boys throughout school. When I did maths at Uni there was a fairly equal distribution between men and women. Maybe it depends on the specific subject. On a positive note, out of the women I went to Uni with, a number of them moved into the tech industry. A lot of them have been really successful, so I don’t think there’s necessarily a barrier to women doing well in tech. It’s about getting them in the first place.
When most people hear tech leader, they might think of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. Is that a roadblock? Is it a stereotype we can address?
GC: I’ve definitely seen a shift in the last five years, women in STEM has been promoted much more heavily. When I was at school, girls did home economics and the boys did wood technology, whereas my children have had a different experience. My son is interested in traditionally female dominated topics. It’s great to see him get the chance to get involved without the stigma.
46% of women reported experienced discrimination in the European tech sector. Do you think companies need to do more to help?
LG: I think so. No one ever told me, ‘Oh, you can’t do this because you’re a woman’ but, it’s more microaggressions. Things like people looking to the man in the meeting for the answer when I’m the one who knows. So that’s why a positive workplace culture is really important, to make sure there’s equal opportunities.
GC: I agree. I definitely experienced gender discrimination early in my career, and although it has improved, it’s still present.
How would you say that Spica is different?
GC: I’d look to how we recruit. We are committed to finding good people. We’re open-minded and recruit based on their skills. We get enthused when we have applicants from a diverse background who can broaden our team’s horizons.
LG: Also, we’re not massively hierarchical. We don’t follow the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). That doesn’t really play here. Having that culture means it’s more welcoming and everyone’s prepared to listen. That diversity makes us build better products.
Does that level playing field make challenging those tech stereotypes a possibility for us?
LG: Yeah, for me it is word of mouth that helps. I know other women working in tech and there are a lot of good organisations that connect women in the industry, some are official organisations, and some are more ad hoc meetups.
GW: That’s a great point. Celebrating other women in tech as well is also important, like with the Women in Tech awards.
GC: Yes! Lynda was nominated for one last year. It was fabulous seeing so many talented women out there doing fantastic work in a tech environment.
LG: We did it really nicely, all the women in the company went to the awards, so it became a way for us to have a great bonding session.
What about attitudes in work? A lack of flexibility in the workplace can prevent women from entering tech. That’s where Spica is different, isn’t it?
GC: Spica is amazing for its flexibility in terms of attitude and working hours. It’s a company that’s really committed to people, not numbers. Throughout Covid, the only pressure I have felt has been the pressure I’ve put on myself and I’ve been greeted by an understanding and flexible senior leadership.
LG: I think actually working with family orientated men has helped as well, when one of the guys says, “Oh, I’ve got a pickup the kids from school” it’s great because it shows they’re really engaged in their family life. It means there’s no such thing as women’s work at Spica, it’s a great environment.
Where do we go from here? What would you say to women thinking about entering tech whether that be school leavers or those looking for a career change?
GC: We know to be successful; diversity is key. We are enthused to attract interested candidates that aren’t all the same. Our products are used by many different people, so we want to build a team that represents the vast array of people we serve.
LG: Firstly I would just go for it, there’s lot of opportunity and we’re always excited to get diverse applicants, there’s space to grow into roles so you don’t need to hit every requirement on a job spec: enthusiasm, passion, good grades and a willing to learn go a long way. For me having a mentor and friends in the industry really helped, being able to bounce ideas around, having support to build my confidence and learning about other people’s experiences.
At Spica we look forward to more women entering the sector and being part of designing solutions that have the user experience of both women and men in mind. So let’s keep talking about the issues, looking for answers and encouraging women to join the tech sector.
Find out more
For more information and support for women in technology, click on the links below to find out about these organisations.
Black Girls Code (US)
Girls Who Code (US)