Women in tech: advocating for advocacy

I originally wrote this article for Tech City News – after more than a year of not writing I wanted to write.  I chose to look at the way we as individuals could do more in increase the number of women in our industry.  

I work at Level39 a Technology Accelerator that has over 80 member companies. Just 15% of our members at Level39 are women.

While we are proud that this is higher than the industry standard of 9%, we still don’t think it is good enough.

To try to counter the imbalance, we’ve been supporting women in tech by hosting events such as the Code First Girls course, which was attended by more than 70 female graduates, Women Shift Digital including speakers such as BBC Click’s Kate Russell and private sector group meetings such as Tech London Advocates’ Women in Tech group.

But we believe we can do more – and we will.

Changing perceptions

It takes time and commitment over years to create such change.

If you are a woman in tech when was the last time you told your story? How did you get to where you are?We have started but there is still a long way to go. We believe that the best way to dispel the myths about women in technology is to actively advocate and champion women that are doing amazing things in our industry.

When I’ve said to people I work in technology, they often say I have broken every single preconception they’d held about the ‘type’ of people that work in technology.

This perception will only change if more advocacy and championing occurs across all layers of the ecosystem.

Remember your roots

The tech industry has an appetite and a need for female advocates. Many universities are crying out for their alumnae to engage in some way.

I’ve gone back to my university almost every year since I graduated four years ago to speak to students. So go and dig out that email address, and even if you have to take time off I urge you to do it.

It is especially important to engage young women, as the reality is many do not know the technology industry is an option.

I went back to my secondary school in Mile End to speak at assembly.

I picked stories that I knew they’d talk about in the playground: meeting Bill Gates because of Twitter, checking into the Facebook UK office on Facebook and being given my first website project.

Forward guidance

Actively collaborating through mentorship and sponsorship is also key.

Claire Cockerton, the Deputy Head of Level39, is my sponsor and mentor – one of many within and outside the technology sector, both men and women.

I know that mentoring is an old concept, but it’s a good one. We never stop learning, and what better way to learn about the highs and lows of tech, than to be mentored by someone who has experienced them – maybe even invented some of them!

I have mentors who are investors, VC’s, professors at top universities. Mentorship can take many forms – from face-to-face coffees to email updates.

Don’t ask, don’t get

It sounds like basic advice, but I find many young women starting out are not asking the question.

If you do not ask you do not get, and research shows that women are, particularly in the workplace, less likely to ask for what they want. So we need to proactively encourage young women in order to help them make the most of their opportunities.

The technology sector must show that it is a vibrant, creative industry for all types of women who are interested in using technology to solve problems.

From reaching out to students of Code First Girls, to proactively supporting other women – there is a lot that both men and women can do to help change the perceptions of what it is like to be a women in our industry.

TEDx Accra 2012

On the 5th of April 2012, I was lucky enough to be in Ghana while TEDxAccra (@tedxaccra ) was taking place. I love the idea of TEDx and believe that platforms for sharing good ideas, is a great way to foster collaboration. Having been to TEDx London last year, I was looking forward to my first TEDx in Ghana. 

Watch my interview with Jonathan Gosier a designer, software developer, and serial entrepreneur. He now serves as Director of Product for SwiftRiver at Ushahidi building a platform for making sense of streams of realtime data. He’s also the founder of Appfrica and HiveColab a business accelerator and incubator for East African technologists. Appfrica was founded in 2008 and the goal is to build local capacity for young technologist in the region. Appfrica is an active mentoring group and investor for software developers in Africa and works with a number of multinational firms who wish to do work in the continent. He’s also served as an investor for many African startups including the Kuyu Project and Status.ug, a now defunct Ugandan mobile-social network.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uR-Z0HAyWBY&w=953&h=580]

It was great to be at TEDx Accra – if you want to follow some great people from the TEDxAccra community – follow @mjamme @Abocco@ttaaggooee @alloysiusattah and @gamelmag .

TEDxAccra gave me the chance to experience tech and start-up culture from across Africa. Twitter has been a great way to continue the conversations and I hope there will be many more TEDx’s across Africa soon.

To find out more about TEDxAccra like the Facebook page here and check out the photo album here. TEDxAccra was only part of my trip to Ghana in April – so over the next few months, I will blog about my other experiences.