It’s been well over a century since Ada Lovelace became the world’s first computer programmer; 70 years since Cicely Popplewell led the Manchester Mark 1 delivery; 50 years since Margaret Hamilton wrote the software that put Neil Armstrong safely on the moon; and 35 years since Radia Perlman introduced STP for our mass-market Internet.
But while these vital advancements were made by pioneering women, the tech sector still struggles to attract female talent. In the UK, less than 17 percent of all technology roles are currently filled by women – an appalling number given that tech is one of the most creative, rewarding and fastest-growing sectors there is. To achieve imaginative, creative ideas, the tech industry needs people from many different backgrounds. We simply can’t afford to waste the diverse set of perspectives that come from gender balance, because having groups of similar people from similar backgrounds breeds similar ideas. Innovation becomes stagnant, creativity gets lost forever, cutting-edge ideas are missed, and problem-solving gets stifled. We must become better at applauding the accomplishments that female technologists have traditionally played in our industry, and we must do more to celebrate the millions of trailblazing women who advance the technological landscape every day. It’s time to inspire and welcome many more women to the technology sector. And crucially, if we want to cement Manchester’s status as a major tech hub, we need to find ways to conquer the barriers to recruiting and retaining female talent.
Manchester: take action for equality
Manchester was identified in the CompTIA UK Tech Town Index as the top city in Britain to have a career in IT. It’s hardly any wonder why; our city plays host to over 100,000 high performing people who work in our world class tech companies and innovative start-ups.
We can add to this by making our tech sector an appealing and viable career destination for women too. Companies should look critically at their existing culture and working practices, and then plan for meaningful improvements. Do we really need people to be glued to their desks between 9 and 5 every day? Are we certain that the culture we promote makes everyone feel welcome, inspired and included? The evidence from companies that have already gone through this process shows that improvements are possible without major structural changes. For example, in just over a year, my company has enhanced its flexible working policies. We’ve implemented generous improvements to our maternity allowance, and we support mothers returning to work too. We’re even enthusiastic supporters of programmes like TechUP, a wonderful initiative that retrains women – many from underrepresented communities – into promising careers in tech. Initiatives like these lead to balanced companies that are more profitable, resilient and innovative. And the benefits are often universal. All employees – not just women – reap the rewards. Things are improving, but we still face the challenge of appealing to school-going young women. Thankfully, there are now plenty of opportunities to learn the fundamentals of coding, but it is also crucial that they know that they can have successful and impactful careers in tech without committing to a lifetime of programming. This is where female role models come in. Talented Mancunian women who make a real difference every day – some coders, others not. Women like my inspirational BJSS colleague Vesna Milanovic who successfully managed the new Ticketing system at Manchester City FC, or ITV’s Janet Hornby who led the delivery of a payments system that is used by many of our nation’s favourite celebrities, or even Emma Grant who evangelically articulates the amazing opportunities that exist in our sector. These role models, and many more, are living proof that local women really do achieve success in our industry. They provide compelling evidence that STEM subjects aren’t really for ‘the boys’ but are the gateway to rewarding and varied tech careers where momentous social impact can be made. The final piece in this puzzle is to create practical and interesting experiences where young women can explore technology in an interactive and insightful way. As professionals already in tech, our role is to showcase the great things that we do, and then let young women experience it for themselves. There are several academic and on-the-job entry routes into tech, but our city has a distinct advantage: The University of Manchester’s school of Computer Science. Renowned as a world class centre of excellence for computing and technology research, the University has committed to advancing equality, diversity and gender inclusivity. By linking local role models with practical experiences, clear career routes and our exceptional academic institutions, Manchester can truly play a major part in bridging the gender divide.
Welcome to the inaugural Digital City Festival
The inaugural Digital City Festival brings together the leaders, creators and change-makers who are shaping the future of digital. It also coincides with International Women’s Day – a global celebration that recognises the various achievements made by women.
Let’s use the Digital City platform to reflect on and champion the women who forge innovation through technology. Let’s celebrate those Mancunian women who have broken through tech’s glass ceiling. And let’s find innovative ways to make recruiting and retaining female talent in Manchester’s thriving tech sector an exciting and promising prospect.