The proportion of women working in technology teams has risen only fractionally in the past year, from 21% to 22%, while the percentage of female technology leaders remains the same at just 12%.
It’s little surprise that gender diversity within technology continues to be one of the issues which plague the industry, so what better time to drive the conversation than in the middle of London Tech Week!
Yesterday, I attended a Women in Tech Panel hosted by private members club Home Grown. The Dots’ Pip Jamieson, Net-a-Porter’s global manager Beth Vincent and Kidadl co-founder Hannah Feldman discussed how they launched their careers, their work, and how they have seen the world of tech – and women’s roles within the industry – evolve.
It was refreshing to hear that, despite the name of the session – “Women in Tech” – the focus was more about the challenges these individuals had overcome in their rollercoaster careers as founders and business leaders rather than the challenges around ‘being women’ in tech.
There was little or no reference to how they felt working in a male-dominated industry; a theme which tends to take over the conversation in other panels and conferences I have attended.
Instead, topics included employee retention strategies, ways of working, lessons learned and how to deal with the stress of securing funding.
In today’s world, whether you work in Silicon Valley, the Silicon Roundabout or anywhere else in the world – every business is a technology business. The session started off by discussing how the panellists – as ‘non-tech’ tech business founders/leaders – lead technology businesses.
Not being a tech whizz has its advantages, as it allows the founder to view the business through a human lens. Working in PR this is something I can relate to. It’s about cutting through the jargon into ‘plain English’. A mentor of mine who was once a BBC journalist told me in the early days of my career to write articles in a way that “your Granny in Brighton can understand”.
The panellists urged founders without a tech background to make sure they understood the fundamental building blocks of technology. It isn’t the founder’s job to know everything; that knowledge needs to be curated by a trusted team who will have the desired skills such as coding, and user experience.
A significant pain point shared by the panellists was talent and hiring. The harsh reality is that, today, only around 20% of tech jobs are held by women.
Business leaders face a balancing act of not stifling diversity but also hiring the ‘best person for the job’, based on merit. Given the challenges associated with hiring, the theme of employee retention strategies was pivotal to the discussion. The way people work today is so different to a decade ago. Work is becoming more dynamic and personal to each individual; no longer do more hours in the office necessarily mean more productivity.
The panellists are huge advocates of being able to accommodate different people’s ways of working to get the most out of their team. This is something I feel working at FieldHouse Associates I can relate to. People are given the autonomy and trust to work in a way which best suits them. All that matters is the outcome.
At the same time, technology has blurred the line between work and life. We now have so many communication channels available – Slack, WhatsApp, email, SMS – we are ‘always on, always connected’. So how do founders and their teams maintain – or at least try to maintain – that balance to ensure they don’t burn out.
Pip, Beth and Hannah recognised that there isn’t a ‘one shoe fits all’ approach and that different techniques work for different people. It might mean switching your phone off one day a week or going to the gym for a few hours to shut off.
All I can say is that I left the session ready for world domination! OK, maybe not that far, but I certainly felt very inspired.
Home Grown events are not just open to members, guests are welcome. Their next event, ‘Why should anyone be led by you?’by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, is being led by Harvard Business Review on Monday 17th June at 6 pm. The authors present a powerful case: that it takes “being yourself, in context, with skill” to be a successful, authentic leader—and they show you how to do exactly that.