The future of women in technology and the opportunities and challenges we are facing
On Wednesday June 4, WeareTheCity, an organization for working women in the City of London, Morgan Stanley and Women in Technology invited around 200 women to the Morgan Stanley offices in Canary Wharf to their event “4.0 – The future of women in technology”.
At the event two successful women in technology, Christina Scott, CIO of the Financial Times, and Nikki Moore, founder and managing director of the website Girl Geek Chic, shared their experiences of working in a very male dominated environment and explained the challenges and opportunities that women in technology are facing.
Christina summed up what needs to be done on her slide on Google. Even a modern, new age IT player has 30% women. So goodness only knows what the breakdown looks like in the old guard.
Christina Scott, CIO of the FT presenting at WearetheCity’s “4.0 – The future of women in technology”
Neither of them initially planned to work in technology. Christina was one of just four women in a class of 100 students when she studied Mechanical Engineering, despite initial aspirations to be an accountant or a lawyer. The perception back in the early 90s was that women wouldn’t be able to do engineering because of their brain. Whatever that was supposed to mean as that was 150 years after Ada Lovelace’s work with Babbage. Still, she didn’t let somebody intimidate her and has now combined a successful career and with having a family. She highlighted that technology in, for example, healthcare is now seen as lifesaving citing that surgeons will use Google Glasses during operations and that IT has moved from a support function to something which actually drives the growth of a company.
She also mentioned several reasons why women have the potential to be very successful in their roles in technology:
- Communication skills – women, as is generally known, talk a lot. This gives them the clear advantage of being better communicators
- Emotional intelligence
- Leadership – female leaders tend to put a new bar in and constantly raising the bars
- Stand out from the crowd – Even though it might feel awkward to be the only woman in a meeting room with 10 male colleagues it is an advantage to stand out from the crowd
Nonetheless, the technology industry is still very male dominated. Nikki Moore has always worked in those types of environments and when she moved into investment banking she had realized that there are even less women. In a career it is essential to have a mentor who supports you and advises you. But in a male dominated environment young women often struggle to find a mentor since senior men are still less likely to mentor them as they fear that somebody could imply that they might be having an affair. For Nikki it is important to make it more acceptable that a senior man mentors a less senior woman so that both men and women can have the same opportunities to benefit from the knowledge and experience of their colleagues.
Both women pointed out that it’s important to accept weaknesses and that nobody is perfect. It is tough to manage both a successful career and a family – so it might happen that you try to drop your kids at school even though it’s an INSET day. But both cited that technology helps them to combine their work life with their private life. So for example Christine can be at the soccer field to watch her children play, she can take her eye off the ball on the pitch so to speak and quickly answer some emails and prepare for the next morning’s meeting from her smartphone.
Nevertheless, there are still obstacles that keep women out of technology:
- The lack of confidence and the believe of suitability for managing roles
- The perception of being geeky – working in technology still isn’t considered very exciting by many other women
- Gender discrimination
For a successful career in technology both Christina and Nikki advise women to be yourself, own and drive the balance of your life, be a mentee and a mentor and feel responsible to encourage the next generation.
Networking is an essential part of a successful career but most of the ladies in the auditorium admitted that they do not like it. Although in truth, I think most people regardless of gender feel that way. David McQueen, facilitator of the event, gave valuable advice for successful networking.
- Networking is all about helping each other. So we should think about the following: how can I help you and how can you help me
- You have to be present – there is nothing worse than having a conversation with somebody who isn’t really listening and paying enough attention
- Ask the person for their name – even though at most networking events you get a name badge it is really awkward if people just stare at it instead of just asking you for their name
- Bring people into the conversation – if you see people who want to get involved in a conversation but don’t know how to start it, just ask them if they want to join in
- To end the conversation just say: “it was really nice to meet you. Have a lovely evening” instead of trying to find an excuse to walk away like going to the bathroom
- Follow up if you have exchanged business cards
To round off the event all the attendees got the chance to apply David’s advice during the networking event which was also hosted by WeareTheCity, Morgan Stanley and Women in Technology.
Another up and coming event around Women in Tech is being run by techUK and in support of the e-Skills for Jobs 2014 campaign: “Girls in IT: inspiring the next generation”. The evening event on July 14th at techUK’s Bride Street offices showcases successful initiatives encouraging young people, some of which are specifically aimed at girls and young women, to better understand and get into technology.
This exciting event is open to tech UK members and invited guests. If you are interested, you can find out more here and contact Sharon Clews at techUK.