How to get more women into tech

By - Tuesday 17th June, 2014

Croydon Tech City co-founder Sarah Luxford puts forth her own argument on how to get more women involved in the tech industry

CTC co-founder Sarah Luxford with Cristina Camisotti, founder of Silicon Milkroundabout, and Jonny Rose, Andrew Collinge and Nigel Dias.
Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

Just over a year ago, I had the opportunity to attend a fireside chat with Sheryl Sandberg in London via Croydon Tech City, talking about her ground-breaking book Lean In. Whilst being aware and supportive of my fellow women looking to raise the corporate ladder, or kickstart their own business, or even get on the funding bus with a Tier 1 investor, it wasn’t until last year that I started digging deep into the very real facts and acknowledging with dismay how the same issues were arising time and time again. Groundhog day… times twenty years.

I could tell you that there is still a lack of women on boards (Fortune 500 hire less that 17% of women on their boards (2013 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500)), companies are still not equipped with the tools to bring back leavers (2.4 million women in the UK are not working and want work – Women’s Business Council: ‘Maximising women’s contribution to future economic growth’, June 2013) and out of the FTSE 100 companies there are four women running these businesses. However, we also actually have a lot to celebrate. With the rise of influencers such as Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook), Ursula Burns (Chairman & CEO, Xerox), Marissa Meyer (CEO Yahoo) and more, never has the ‘gender agenda’ been so prevalent.

We are witnessing the rise of tech communities coming together with learning and networking opportunities in abundance, government getting behind the diversity agenda talking about quotas, launching a fund for female entrepreneurs and creating a steering group in the form of the women’s business council as well as corporates acknowledging their diversity stats are dismal and now taking action (Google). Yes, we still have a long way to go to ensure that action leads to results but one way is to be able to share experiences, resources and education. Whilst policy changers both at government and corporate level are getting to work on diversity  – we also have responsibility as individuals to equip ourselves with the best knowledge as possible to lead to success. As Dr Seuss said “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose”.

That’s why I’m keen to share with you some observations:

Start Young & Start Now

With the endless possibilities that technology provides (greater connectivity, easier access, changing industries) it important to stay on top of the technology advancements. Not everyone needs to know what Ruby on Rails (sounded like a drug when I first heard this name!), Java (coffee?!), or C# (music key?!) means – although learning these can lead to some incredible careers and are increasingly in demand – and hence lucrative. What is important is to gauge an understanding of what tech can mean, how that plays into our lives and what opportunities it can lead to – at any age, gender indifferent.

At Croydon Tech City we are committed to creating a female-friendly environment

Whilst new lengths are being taken by the education system to adapt the school curriculum, there has been an emergence of organisations that are taking it upon themselves to teach school children, teachers and parents tech skills. One such organisation is Code Club, which now holds over 2300 clubs and has recently taken their mission global (twenty clubs of which are in Croydon). Recently I heard from a further coding organisation whose best student is a grandmother in her late sixties who enrolled in a coding course because she wanted to understand what her grandchildren were up to and join in – it’s not boring, it can be highly creative and something that you can experience as a family. If not yet checked out, take a look at some of the following organisations:

  • CodeClub
  • Apps4Good
  • FreeFormers
  • Decoded
  • CodeAcademy

In addition to this, it’s not just about the tech itself – a field trip to a local tech firm where schoolchildren get to interact with smart and motivated workers within a fun environment can encourage learning through this experience. Similarly connecting with the likes of Founders4Schools, (a volunteer organisation led by serial business angel Sherry Coutu) enables schools to invite great tech leaders to attend assembly or a specific event and help provide insight into the world of work within a tech-influenced world.


I’m lucky to have had such great mentors during my career to date – a mix of both male and female. I didn’t actively ask, it was something that happened naturally as we got to know each other and I hold those relationships with the upmost respect. It’s not necessarily about scheduling specific time each week in the diary to catch up and talk about objectives of the week and raise questions (although adding scheduled time in the diary helps!) but about being able to take those nuggets of wisdom and implement as much as possible. Learning never stops and personal growth is something we should take on ourselves as a key priority.

My top tips:

  • Some companies create ‘buddy’ programmes or specific mentoring programmes – seek these out if they are available to you. Or consider setting this up yourself within your organisation
  • There are mentoring programmes specifically for women such as MentorSET, an initiative created by the Women’s Engineering Society or the Cherie Blair Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme. Explore these resources available to you and see what works best.
  • Arrange that coffee. Don’t delay in reaching out to fellow colleagues/senior management at work to ask for advice or insight.
  • A number of female friends and IT companies have begun to implement and run Lean In Circles. These ‘Circles’ are small peer groups that meet regularly to learn and share together.

Be seen and be heard

Network, network, network. I’ve heard from the many tech leaders I have interviewed that there are times for inclusion and times for segregation and we are fortunate in the UK to have the opportunity for both from a networking and learning perspective. Broaden your network – a Global VP HR for a well known tech storage firm made sure she increased the diversity of her team by 40% at each new role she took; a major way of doing this was through networking. Diversity starts with yourself. Look outside your traditional network and make those connections! Offered to speak on a panel, or write an article…? Grab it! Whilst being conscientious of your time and diary – use these opportunities to build a profile for yourself and engage with others. Here are an example of some of the events and organisations available:

Women in Tech Groups:

Above is just a snapshot of some steps we can look into. At Croydon Tech City we are committed to creating a female friendly environment and we will be discussing this in further depth at our upcoming event on 19th June, at Croydon Conference Centre from 7:30pm onwards, with great speakers including Juliana Meyer, whose start up SupaPass recently won 2014 start up of the year at SXSW Hatch and Alex Depledge, who is changing an industry via Hassle and recently secured Tier 1 investment from Accel Partners.The stats are clear  – apart from being the right thing to do, diversity reaps awards. So here’s to more innovation, performance and growth…

Whatever your background or interests, the ‘women in tech’ event promises to be an inspiring and thought-provoking time for men and women alike!

To reserve a place at the event please sign up here, or . This event is free to attend.

Sarah Luxford

Sarah Luxford

Croydon born and bred, Sarah is a truly international executive search consultant working at European Leaders. She has extensive experience recruiting key strategic talent and building world class management teams for both large enterprise and start up ventures across EMEA, the US and LATAM. Speaking French, Spanish and Russian, Sarah has a strong appreciation for companies looking to grow globally.

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