‘A lack of women in technology jobs is not just a problem for women, it’s a problem for the whole sector.’
That’s the conclusion reached by the Tech Partnership and Founders 4 Schools, who recently published research into diversity in the sector. Alarmingly, this research also found that only 17% of technology staff are female. Worse still, fewer than 10% of these women are in leadership positions.
At Comic Relief, however, things look much brighter: our technology team is 41% female, with many of them in leadership positions. To celebrate International Women’s day, we decided to #Beboldforchange and ask some of our female technology team members to share their experience as a woman in the technology sector.
L-R Heleen Mol – Junior Developer, Leigh Hall – Digital Designer, Dawn Sainsbury – Campaign Data Analyst, Faye Benfield – Head of Product
Why did you decide to work in Technology?
Leigh: When I graduated in graphic design in 2009 I realised the movement of web design and felt an ambition to go in the same direction. Even though all of my experience had been in print design, I imagined more opportunities and growth for me in digital design. In my first role after university I designed for web and learnt front end code, both new skills and completely different ways of thinking to what I had developed whilst studying, and I loved it!
Heleen: Web development is the perfect combination of solving puzzles and being creative!
Dawn: It wasn’t such a conscious decision to work in Technology. I’ve worked for technology companies and charities but in more of a marketing role. As channels of marketing communication have become more digital and targeted communications have become more sophisticated, there’s been a growing need to report and analyse data. I love seeing the impact that communications can have and to provide analysis to help organisations be as effective and efficient as possible in their activities.
Faye: For me the most interesting thing about technology is the people that use it. Tech is only valuable if there is a problem to solve or opportunity to discover. Tech is an enabler, and I’m in awe of some of the solutions that some of the brightest minds have created for society. Behaviours, needs, expectations and the technical possibilities are constantly evolving, there’s always something new to learn or discover.
Why did you choose Comic Relief?
Heleen: I searched for companies I actually wanted to work for to see if they had any software development vacancies. Comic Relief seemed like a positive and fun place to work and my work there would contribute to society as well!
Dawn: I chose to work for Comic Relief as I wanted my work to matter.
Faye: I’m passionate about solving real problems, and working for Comic Relief gives me the opportunity to contribute to improving people’s lives. I’m part of the Technology Management team at Comic Relief and I’m proud to be a female technology leader within the charity sector. I’m currently working with my peers across the sector to share knowledge, solutions and opportunities within tech better. This means my potential impact and contribution is larger than my responsibilities here, and is hugely fulfilling.
Leigh: I have been a digital designer at Comic Relief for nearly 6 years. Many people don’t realise we have in house design and tech teams and I’m really proud to say I am part of it. I’ve been able to work on some really amazing digital products and work with some really talented tech people. Being part of one of the leading charities in the sector is pretty special too.
How do you think Tech has changed over the past 5 years? Is it more accessible for women?
Faye: I’ve been working in technology for 14 years, the industry has always had a male bias, but it is starting to change and become more balanced. I believe this is reflection of all of us and the efforts of parents, teachers, STEM organisations and more to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) opportunities to women and girls. And this is so important culturally and in society, I’m thrilled this is the trend.
Dawn: I’ve never really thought of being a woman in this industry as an issue or a barrier. I think organisations realise that if you can do the job, it doesn’t matter who you are.
Heleen: I’ve worked in the industry over 3 years now and have only had a positive experience. I took a post-grad course in Interactive Media in Cork and it had a good balance of men and women. After that I hadn’t much trouble finding an internship and was lucky enough there to have found a good mentor who helped me get up to speed quickly. I think the Code Camps for Girls initiatives are a step in the right direction for girls wishing to move into this type of career.
Any advice for women wanting to work in Technology?
Leigh: What I’ve learnt is communication and visibility are key. Understanding everyone’s roles and responsibilities within a product team is essential and everyone’s investment from the beginning really makes a difference to the success of a product. I love working in tech, I love the challenges, the opportunities and I love making a difference. Do what you feel passionate about, approach everything with a positive attitude, never be scared to give your opinion… it counts!
Heleen: If you’re interested in changing your career try following a couple of courses via a MOOC (massive open online course), such as Coursera or Edx, to get started on the subject you’re interested in. I was able to follow a full time course for a year, but if you can’t do that MOOCs are a good start to learn a new subject. If you want to learn how to code a great way to do this is by getting stuck into a side project like building your own webpage. Further, there are meetups you could join to meet like-minded people and get support and mentoring. There are plenty of options to explore and find what’s right for you.
Faye: If you have an interest or passion for Technology or STEM go for it! Follow your dream and do not define yourself, or let anyone else define you, by your gender. There are tons of courses, resources and inspirational women, and men, out there to learn from. For starters check out free online courses from universities via Future Learn, on Twitter check out Dr Sue Black and watch this inspirational talk by Icelandic entrepreneur Halla Tómasdóttir about running for office. Afterall, diversity makes us stronger.
You can contact Heleen on LinkedIn here.