Whether it be the pay gap, harassment in Hollywood or sexism across the political sphere, one topic which has circulated with regular occurrence of late is gender equality. Within the context of the digital industry there is no less prominent a discrepancy, particularly concerning the representation of women in tech roles - or rather the lack thereof.
In terms of sexism, a 2014 article in The Guardian around the prevalence of such attitudes in the tech sector found that 'women complained of being routinely overlooked for promotion as male colleagues “would not respect a female boss”, with some reporting that they felt patronised, undervalued and seen as less competent than male counterparts.’ Unfortunately for women, the digital horizon is frequently an entirely male-dominated one and, if that article is still to be considered relevant, 73% of people believe the digital industry is sexist and 52% say that women are paid less than men for the exact same job.
However, a study by The Candidate two years ago determined that women were gradually paving their way into a previously male-dominated industry, albeit favouring ’soft skills’ roles such as marketing and social media, PR, communications and account management; the more ‘technical’ roles such as SEO and PPC were, predictably, taken by men. Indeed, some women who have not only found a foothold in Digital but also worked out a way to significantly progress their careers have perhaps inevitably moved on to the next logical piece of the puzzle: actively trying to increase the female contingent in the industry and promote professional avenues across the sector for women.
She Does Digital, Leeds
In 2016, Annie Moss-Quate and Rose Mountague were invited to host an event at that year’s Leeds Digital Festival while working for a Leeds-based digital agency. Both were somewhat unimpressed with the number of women they saw in key digital roles and as such agreed to collaborate on and host a speed networking session. It proved popular enough to not only be a sell-out but result in other like-minded professionals queueing up to help out; while the event itself never grew beyond the bounds of the festival its core concept and principle message clearly had legs.
Shortly after the festival the pair founded She Does Digital, a collective of people passionate about the ever-growing digital industry in Leeds focussed on encouraging more women to pursue careers in the sector. First and foremost, their aim was to specifically address the gender issue - currently comprised of only 26% women - and ultimately increase it to a more balanced (and representative) 50%.
Being of the opinion that women aren’t as well respected in certain roles, and to address the general underrepresentation that exists, they also sought to discover female role models and position their work centre stage for others to take note of. One approach to this is their #wheredidyoustart campaign which is designed to encourage as many women as possible to share their stories and generate more recognition of fruitful career paths, possibly even going on to speak at their events. While the existence of platforms like this that imply that women’s contribution to the industry is still all too unsung, the fact that they are being implemented with intent is the first step on a longer journey towards parity.
Another initiative focussed on increasing that 26% is Ahead Partnership’s #GirlTechLCR at Leeds Digital Festival, which provides over 100 Year 9 students the opportunity to meet and communicate with digital employers through the means of panels, speakers and workshops, giving them a chance to learn the variety of roles available in this diverse sector. The reality is that the most accessible routes into roles in Digital are still relatively obscure, even to women who make the conscious decision to forge ahead and actively seek employment within the sector.
The organisation works hard to engage, inspire and motivate young people in general around skills and future employment: “This event has seen the number of students considering a career in digital almost double in previous years so we’re very excited to be offering this to even more students this year” says Lola Wilson, Marketing and Business Development Coordinator.
Young people have a clear interest in technology but for Ahead Partnership, gender imbalance remains a prominent issue. “The latest research shows that 30% of girls aged 11-16 think ICT at school is “more for boys” and less than half of girls questioned were clear about the types of jobs they could do in tech. Considering that only a quarter of the UK tech workforce is female, employers could go a long way towards meeting their skills needs if they made a concerted effort to attract more women to the right roles.” It is clear that capturing the imagination of women at an earlier stage of their career, and perhaps even before it has begun, is pivotal to creating a healthy interest in the field and securing a longer term gender balance.
When business and commerce takes heed and invests in vital partnerships and programmes it usually spells good news, and thankfully the issue is being taken note of by key industry employers in the area. Lola is positive about future prospects: “The employers we work with on our programmes are incredibly passionate about redressing the gender balance in digital and thanks to some truly visionary partners we are seeing some exceptional female role models volunteer for our events, ensuring that we can reach more young women than ever before.”
Creating a hub of resources is always going to be key when raising awareness of the roles available in the industry and also when providing advice to women on how to go about securing these jobs, raising their profile in the process. She Does Digital use their blog to promote the #wheredidyoustart stories along with leadership articles aimed at inspiring more people to join the sector. They aim to continue growing this into a platform which goes someway to showcasing the amazing achievements that women are contributing to the digital industry on a daily basis. As they told us, “We’re always looking to increase the number of volunteers and supports we have and over time create a strong network of people who are passionate about achieving the same goals as us.”
Overall, She Does Digital are realistic about setting goals: “We understand that what we want to achieve is a big task and change isn’t going to happen overnight. We’re in this for the long run.” Despite the pragmatism they have already made giant strides in the two years since their very first event, making a range of key connections and hosting or speaking at various events. In addition, they have worked closely alongside schools and universities to inspire and mentor the right people. “Although we’ve found it generally difficult to measure the effect of what we do, we’ve reached bigger audiences than we ever initially expected and individual responses have been really encouraging from people who have been inspired to take a leap or to stay and progress within the industry.”
Our next #wheredidyoustart is live, and it's a good one! ☺️ @LynnKraken explains all about how she went from teaching, to web development. Natacha puts her success down to "grit and self determination" and believes we should all keep learning 💻📚 https://t.co/76StsFMaok pic.twitter.com/N2PYNY4EDR— She Does Digital (@shedoesdigital) March 15, 2018
The key aim for the collective through 2018 is to encourage graduates to stay in Leeds and consider digital careers in the city, “acting as a conduit between education and establishments, businesses and students or even career changers. Leeds has an incredible digital industry with exciting career prospects readily available but we want to make it clear just how interesting, diverse and accessible the field is.” Perhaps one potential risk inherent to the rapid growth in the digital sector in Leeds and surrounding area is that expansion occurs at such a rate that the community of businesses and employers overlook effective promotion of the right roles to the right people, at the right time.
There is undoubtably huge value in women currently working in the digital industry to speak up and share their experiences, to talk about the benefits of working in a tech role and why more people should be considering it. If men and women alike can move past certain positions being inherently male oriented then there will almost certainly be a host of driven, talented females vying to take up the challenge. If the industry as a whole isn’t ‘just for boys’, neither should any roles within it be considered likewise.
*Article originally produced for Leeds Digital Festival
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