Sex and the Croydon Tech City

By - Friday 24th May, 2013

Sarah Luxford offers some potential solutions for the tech sector’s gender imbalance


Recently on an evening out with Croydon Tech City, I went to see Sheryl Sandberg on her book tour, giving a talk about ‘Lean In’. Contrary to some opinions, whilst it wasn’t a room full of ladies with pitchforks, ready to douse the latest copy of Heat magazine, it did strike a chord.

Telling it as it is

Working within the technology executive recruitment sector I am painfully aware of the imbalance between female and male candidates not just within tech-focused roles but generally at MD or C-Level. A recent GM search for a leading SaaS player produced a handful of female candidates compared to tens of male candidates. Recent press has also revealed that out of the FTSE 100, only three CEOs are female. I am often asked why such an imbalance still exists – the answer is simple. Women continue to be a minority within the technology sector. I think the question that should in fact be addressed is what solutions can we put in place to encourage more females in tech?

Education, education, education

Education plays a part. Looking at a recent study funded by Elseiver, it noted that women were severely underrepresented in educational degree programmes in relation to Science and Technology. So is this due to a lack of awareness, or just lack of excitement around these subjects? One company that is leading the way to make tech education more fun and accessible to all is Code Club, co-founded by Clare Sutcliffe. Code Club is a nationwide network of volunteer-led after school coding clubs for children aged 9-11. Since a Croydon Code Club committee was set up only a few months ago, already twelve pilot projects have been granted for local primary schools across the Croydon borough, teaching both boys and girls alike… hopefully the first series of projects of many…

We use technology too!

Emily Blaze, founder and CEO of a start-up, BLAZE Components, is an up and coming leading lady in the south London tech scene. Having left reading Physics at Oxford University to follow her intrigue and passion around tech, Emily changed course to Product Design at Brighton University where she graduated top of her year and sent on an entrepreneurial scholarship in America. From here Emily formed her own company launching  the ultimate innovation for urban cyclists. She comments of her journey, “I definitely do sometimes feel I’m in a boy’s role, but that’s nothing new. I was the only girl in my physics set at school and there certainly weren’t many of us at university, which is sad. However, now I’m doing my own thing I actually find it helps. As long as you can clearly communicate what you’re doing and why, you’re memorable in this space as a female… and being memorable as an early stage company is important!”

It’s not all doom and gloom – those women entrepreneurs who do enter the world of tech, specifically those who work within high tech start-ups, are, according to new data, hitting a healthy and wealthy note reaching an overwhelming 35% higher return on investment compared to male-led startups. Kirsten Campbell, MD of Europe’s leading micro-seed investment and mentoring program, SeedCamp, witnesses this daily and comments, “Women are the leading consumer of tech and should therefore by default play a significant role in shaping the development and future of our technology. There are already great role models in many of the best tech companies across Europe – together we need to ensure we inspire the future generations to join this fast growing industry.”

Inspiring others

With awareness being heightened around gender diversity in the workplace, we are seeing a further uptake of ‘diversity champions’. New initiatives are being highlighted, such as Deloitte’s ‘Women in Technology’. Through this network, employees are able to share ideas and learn from each other as well as providing social and networking opportunities too; subsequently this has seen an uptake of women in tech roles within the company. Outside of the workplace we are seeing a rise of influential ladies taking matters into their own hands and offering guidance and support through networking and events such as Girls in Tech, Girl Geek Dinners, GeekGirlMeetup, or now, thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, ‘Lean In’ groups.

It’s a numbers game

‘Girl Power!’ I hear echo in my mind, but according to the Kauffmann Institute, diverse teams are in fact better-performing teams. The disparity at senior executive positions, however, is still evident. So do we cheer when we hear controversial solutions such as that of Lord Davies’ request for 25% female board represention by 2015, or the use of all women shortlist candidates within the Labour Party? Is this imposing guidelines for imposing guidelines’ sake, or will it be seen as supportive? One country where this is making an impact is Norway. Martin Falch, President of the Norwegian Chamber of Commerce  believes that “Scandinavian leaders are hugely attractive as employers… they are very inclusive, they care about people… and in Norway, they have just had a small revolution, when they forced women on to boards. I think that is fantastic. It is a way of building an inclusive culture, boosting performance and retention, and creating a long-term, sustainable business.”

Whatever gender, race, or ability: lack of education or discrimination should not be used as barriers towards the development of successful career paths. We have a duty to ourselves and to generations after us – with a constantly evolving technology-driven world, we and our children must adapt and take a lead. If it just so leads to more women taking up the gauntlet in the tech sector… then so much the better.

Come join in on the discussion. Croydon Tech City will be holding a ‘Women in Tech’ event on Thursday 30th May at 7:30pm at Matthews Yard, Croydon.

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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  • Anne Giles

    Excellent. When I was young, my father told me that he could only afford to send one of us to university and it had to be the boy. At school we were advised to become either teachers, nurses or secretaries. In one job I was told that I would be useless at computers.

  • Kake

    It’s worth mentioning that being “memorable in this space as a female” isn’t necessarily an entirely positive thing. For most of my professional life as a programmer, I was “the female one” and I would have much preferred not to stand out in that way.

    Examples of sexism I’ve personally experienced in the software industry include people walking into my workplace and assuming I was the receptionist (multiple times), and a man opening a conversation with me after a tech talk with “So, I assume you’re here with your boyfriend?”

    I think things have got better in recent years, mainly due to the efforts of people like the team behind the Geek Feminism Wiki — not just women, but the men who support us and who do their best to make sure our voices are heard.

  • Christian Wilcox

    3 factors here I want to flag up:

    1) Mars needs women.

    As a male nerd ( I own a cloud & started my nerding 18 years ago in mind-controlled prosthetic limbs ) the language I speak is awfully nerdy. I’m not a gamer, I’m a real engineer. How on earth am I going to score a date if I speak a different language to the ladies?

    Some people may well disagree, but you work to live ( not vice-versa ); and dating is important. Also…

    Surround kids with fun tech and they will learn. But the days of ‘dad in his study’ are over, as no-one can afford a spare room any more. So ‘tech families’ are needed so that kids can explore and play with tech. If mum does not want computers in the front room or kid’s bedrooms then, well, how do you let that kid nerd-out in a safe ( supervised ) way? Serious question.

    2) Business needs women.

    50% of the populace are female. That’s a lot of customers to tap. Men don’t always get women, so we need female nerds.

    3) Gender stereotyping.

    I’m confident the vast majority of young boys won’t be into flower arranging or pink hair-brushes. But Tom-boys are real. If a young lass is into ‘boy stuff’ then let her explore. You may have a budding nerd on your hands. Points 1 & 2 need female nerds or it’s over.