The split between men and women in the UK workforce may be close to fifty-fifty, but finding a female software anything is a rare sighting. There are only 4 per every 100 male software developers, and women make up no more than 19% of the digital tech workforce, according to official reports. For all the talk of International Women in Engineering Day, girls-only hackathons, and broken glass ceilings, the UK has the lowest proportion of female software engineers than any other European state.
Considering that women make up 60% of university graduates, experts have identified the disparity is emblematic of a psychological rather than physical pain point caused by the barriers which women are required to handle throughout their STEM careers such as unsupportive work environments and the absence of doctrines which tell females that they can move into the tech space without judgement and flourish there.
Determined to make a change, London-based coding school Makers Academy and Europe’s largest fintech accelerator Level39 joined forced with Computerweekly.com earlier this year to forge a gender based initiative focused on championing UK-based women holding technical roles. Loosely modelled off of the popular Women in Tech Influential List, the Women in Software Power List is first and foremost a platform where women can be nominated for a peer-reviewal and be recognized–if successful–for excelling, inspiring, or trailblazing in their respective sectors.
Its judging panel was composed of six iconic women with decades of experience in software: Jo Brown, Enterprise and Group Design & Data Lead at Lloyds Banking Group; Joann McCann, IT Director at Unilever; Ashwini Kulkarni, Lead DevOps at Hotels.com; Clare McDonald, Business Editor at ComputerWeekly.com; Chris Astley, Director at KPMG UK; and Kim Rowan, Head of Engineering at the Ministry of Justice.
At the event, Joan McCaan spoke out about the importance of the initiative. “The women on the Software Powerlist are far more than a fraction of the workforce. They are individuals who are fearless and talented in technology for their respective businesses. They are also role models actively helping colleagues, friends and society outside of their day job. Their stories are incredible–and that alone deserves celebration–but there is a stronger message underfoot.”
“We know from the latest statistics that the 22% of entering STEM workforce are women, and that young girls and university students are walking away because they don’t see role models in that space. There is a void where inspiration should be, and it is in that respect that public praise of some of the wonderful, inspiring, and creative things that women have achieved in technology is necessary because if we do not create inspiring examples today, the next generation will stay clear of STEM.”
Over 150 profiles from finance, academia, software, media, healthcare and government were nominated for the inaugural 2019 edition. Some, like staff members from The Financial Times, KPMG, BBC, and Google were anticipated mentions, whilst others confounded expectations.
Kavita Kalaichelvan from Ascential has been coding for less than 18 months but somehow found time to create a non-profit coding workshop, organise London’s PLIMBTTBHGATY parties, teach at Code First Girls Professionals, and build incremental portions of AWS for the deployment of Elixir. The striking Nigerian Stephanie Itimi is only twenty-four years old but squarely earned her place through strong advocacy of gender equality for ethnic minority female groups through the apprenticeship of digital skills. Her academic novel “The Informal Sector in Nigeria and its impact on Development” and moving keynote speeches have made her a celebrated icon in the UK and West Africa. Of the 30 nominees and 30 shortlisted, not one had failed to pour volunteer time into instilling coding interest in children through math, computers, science and animation classes. A trend which highlighted the group’s instinctive need to promote further diversity.
Victoria Carr – Researc/hers Code, King’s College London.
Fatimat Gbajabiamila – StoryShare.
Grace Chang – GoCardless.
Phoebe Thacker – Unilever.
Nancy Fechnay – BedrockX.
Meha Nelson – Predina.
Jaycee Cheong – Immersive Labs.
Poppy Rainer – Thrift+.
Grace Stuart – Revolut.
Flora Tasse – Selerio.
Kavita Kalaichelvan – Ascential plc.
Paula Muldoon – Cambridge Cognition.
Sarah-Beth Amos – University of Oxford.
Kayla Shapiro – BBC.
Sarah Rench – EY.
Ella Schofield – Bloom & Wild.
Isabel Lewis – Publicis Sapient.
Sophie Koonin –Monzo.
Clare Joy – Onfido.
Ariane Gadd – KPMG.
Nathalie Christmann-Cooper –Treat Out.
Stephanie Itimi – UK Government.
Elin Ng –Salvehealth.
Jessica Falk – Improbable.
Pip Jamieson – The Dots.
Jessica Sapick – Google.
Anna Holland-Smith –The Hut Group.
Misa Ogura – BBC R&D.
Rachelle Mills – KareInn.
Charlotte Zhao – Codebar.
As the nominees and supporting firms gathered in L39’s foyer on May 8th for the Women in Software Power List’s launch party, their stories were shared to raised glasses in an atmosphere of genuine comradeship. “There is so much personal gain from sharing your journey with others who have been there and done it too,” explained Rachelle Mills, CEO of Sharein. “It supports you personally, emotionally and practically for the road ahead. Finding my tribe has been an important part of my own journey, and I believe the Power List has just created another.”
Although clearly a demarcation of achievement and even proof of a shift in workplace mentality, the event was also a starting gun for the women to continue solving the underlying, time-sensitive problem with STEM.
Because more than an exercise in political correctness, having a diverse workforce with equal numbers of men and women impacts a company’s performance.
Scientific research and surveys show noir sur blanc that gender-balanced firms gain an automatic competitive edge when accessing new markets, earn on average 41% more revenue, and generate stronger innovation by supplying their production chain with authentic cognitive diversity. By avoiding inclusion and cultural diversity, the industry is sapping itself where it arguably matters most.
Many of the attendants had watched the damage that a lack of diversity could do to a firm. After 10 years in STEM, Power List member Sharon Russell from ComparetheMarket felt lucky to have found her current employer. “I’d gotten used to being the only woman at a meeting and being held at a distance or subconsciously accountable by teammates for outdated clichés like ‘women think emotionally rather than rationally’, ‘women are a distraction, and ‘women are always plotting to fall pregnant’. Such mentality sacrifices team cohesion on the day, but what comes after? It snowballs into team vision, the product, and finally corporate direction. The majority bulldozes in one direction, and women cannot be blamed for retreating in the other. I am relieved to see that there are firms with progressive mindsets like ComparetheMarket.com intent on taking initiative. This is the start of the industry’s re-balancing, I am quite positive of that.”
Picking up on that, fellow Power List Sarah Rench, Senior Advanced Analytics and AI Leader at Ernest & Young, underlined the required corporate strategy: “Leadership teams will need to ensure gender parity is achieved not just in the software development teams but in the governance, management and senior leadership teams, as well. Having one without the other won’t unlock better systems, innovation and ROI. A second critical goal will be to encourage teams to demonstrate ‘collective intelligence’ by building systems together rather than ‘individual intelligence’, which is when staff develop independently and thereby create design, development and integration issues for both the product and the individuals involved.”
Sarah Rench, Advanced Analytics, robotics and AI, Senior Leader at EY
As a female and an AI leader, it know that it is critical to be inclusive and get teams working towards being ‘collectively intelligent’ by working together to build ‘ intelligent’ and well designed systems, rather than just ‘individual’ intelligence with smart people developing independently but creating a risk of design, development and integration issues. Collaboration, communication, helping train and develop all team members as well as the wider community is imperative, and ensuring good coding practices are applied, are key for any project and teams success. Leadership teams need to ensure gender parity is achieved not just in the development/software team but in the governance, management and senior leadership team, as this is the key to better systems, innovation, ROI and society as a whole! Equally supporting the wider community to be ‘tech savvy’ and prepare for the future by having the right education, support and mentorship in place to ensure present and future generations want to get into STEM and see the power technology is having on shaping society not just now but in years to come.
Rachelle Mills, CEO, Founder, KareIns
There is a personal gain from sharing your journey with others who have been there and done it. It supports you personally, emotionally and practically for the road ahead. Finding my tribe has been an important part of the journey, but there is definitely more that can be done to make this easier. I would like to see those of us that have broken through to play our part in paying it forward, get out there and being more visible, sharing openly the path we have taken and the lessons we have learned along the way.“
Flora Ponjou Tasse, Co-Founder & CTO at Selerio
“ Build the diverse teams I cannot not see in my space, mentor more talent from under-represented groups, and strive to be the best at what I do which is building the tech of tomorrow.”
Clare Joy Senior Strategy & Expansion, Onfido
It’s really about advocating for transparency and honesty amongst leaders. When we look at the stats, women are most often just as well qualified as their male peers. But until leadership are honest and open about the stats in their own organisations and industries, they won’t acknowledge that there is a problem and that change needs to happen.”
“I hope to learn, grow, share and inspire other people of colour to pursue a career in technology. I’ll do this by continuing to blog, by taking opprtunities to build on my skills & give back to the community by introducing to something they may not have knowledge of being coding. We know that there is a gender diversity issue in tech and leadership but underneath that, there is an ethnic diversity issue especially representatives that are of African and Carribean heritage. I hope that I can be in a position of influence so people that look like me know that they can look like me, (male, female or non-binary), they can rise sky high and their voices are of importance and value in the tech industry.”
Alexandre Margarint, Junior Developer, Vodafone
I think events of this kind are key in spreading the word on what is possible for women in and outside of software. In my own path, I am planning to encourage open conversation and mentorship. As a first tech job for me, what I have learnt from my peers at Vodafone is that there is always time to have a conversation, to help someone improve their work or their skill and especially, that everyone has great knowledge in very different areas and I would encourage sharing that more and celebrating the diversity that we are surrounded with. That is what I plan to focus on in order to improve leadership in Software.
Ariane Gadd ,Lead DevOps Engineer at KPMG UK
On female leadership, I think that this is a huge area that we can help improve. Being in leadership myself, and the only female out of 10 of us, I’m very keen to improve it. I think there’s a case of ensuring women have the confidence to go for leadership positions against their male colleagues. I don’t think it’s the lack of competence but I definitely see a lack of confidence in their abilities, something I struggled with myself. We also then need to educate our male leadership to understand that a lack of confidence in our women does not mean they cannot do the job, in fact, they are doing the job just as well, and a lack of confidence is not hindering their capability to do the job well. Educating the hiring managers that giving them the opportunity of leadership will help with that confidence. I also would like to hire and train up more females in my team to get to those leadership positions, by attending women in stem events, code first girls, any opportunity to meet ambitious women who want to get into technology and software roles. I will also continue to speak at conferences and events, about how I’ve got to a women in technology leadership and hopefully give more women confidence to apply for those roles, and more men confidence in hiring women into those roles.
I’m on a mission to solve a problem through tech. It’s a tough challenge and when I started out I didn’t know if I could do this. It was extremely difficult to find any older women like me retraining and breaking open doors into the tech industry. That definitely held me back. When I finally found someone I could relate to that was all I needed to have the confidence to try. This experience taught me the real value of role models. It’s vital to keep vocal and visible no matter what stage you’re at so I intend to keep documenting this journey. I want to inspire other mums, like me, to believe that they too can retrain, reenter the workforce and find a challenging and rewarding career in the tech industry. The startup path is not easy and it certainly isn’t a catalogue of insta perfection. Authenticity is important. We should be honest about the difficult times as well as the good, so that others can acknowledge it’s all part of the process, keep motivated, take confidence and find strength in knowing that we are all in this together.
Jaycee Cheung, Software Development Manage, Immersive Lab
‘My goal is to help placing more women in leadership role in software, by continue my mentoring and coaching effort to make it happen!’
Loree Lee, Lead Developer at Unmind
“I plan to improve leadership in software by continually learning about, advocating for, and demonstrating what excellent tech leadership looks like. I’m also always very keen to help those who aspire to become leaders themselves to get there.”
Jessika Falk– Improbable
There are so many talented women in Tech, but they are often less confident and therefore less likely to take chances that they deserve. As a Powerlist advocate, I want to support and encourage those women to take the leap and not be afraid. I want to create a support network for women to give them a safe space to talk and connect with other women.
Dimple Deby, Senior Dev–Ops, Comparethemarket.com
I believe in leading by example. What I missed the most during my junior years in the industry was a role model to look up to, a sample trajectory path to follow. I wish I knew what to look out for or probably some general guidance during the tough self doubting times. I want to improve leadership in software by being that role model for the coming generation that I so missed having in my initial years in the industry. And if that means being more visible and vocal in the public space, thats what I want to strive to do through by tech blog, talks and meetups!