Why we work in tech: ORM’s senior women speak out

OPINION / 10th August 2017

Silicon Valley is coming under increased scrutiny this week after one of Google’s software engineers sent a 10-page memo to its workforce stating that women were ‘biologically less likely to succeed at the company’ [than men].

The email, sent by the Harvard educated James Damore, who has since been sacked, stated that men and women have ‘inevitable’ differences and that these “differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”

This scandal comes on the back of an Uber board member recently resigning after cracking a sexist joke about how more women in the boardroom meant “more talking”. Ironically, he said it at a meeting aimed at addressing the allegations of sexual harassment that are plaguing the tech company.

Here at ORM, we hold our hands up high and admit that we don’t have a 50/50 gender split in our company, yet we are taking steps to address this. We regularly attend women in tech events looking for new recruits, and we are working on our employee value proposition to incorporate flexible working, and ways we can incentivise our female staff to rise through the ranks to become part of the executive team.

As a result, in the last year, we’ve increased the number of women in our company from 29% to 31%.  This puts us above the national average and is an improvement on educational stats, where currently only 20% of girls study computer science at GCSE and only 16% go on to do it at degree level and beyond.

But we are not resting on our laurels and we have a lot more to do to achieve a gender balance, especially in our engineering and development roles. With that in mind we have set business KPIs to increase our female staff to 40% by 2020.

So, in the aftermath of the Google memo, we were interested to hear what our senior female colleagues thought about the gender imbalance in the industry. We wanted to find out what they felt like being a ‘woman in tech’, and we asked them for the advice they would give to others thinking of joining this industry.

Here’s what they had to say:

Natasha Blunt, Business Development Director

“I like to be at the forefront of the trends, which is why I have always worked in evolving sectors. For example, I spent seven years in carbon climate change at a time when people didn’t even believe climate change was real. I was attracted to tech because of digital transformation and seeing new businesses are growing, moving and shaking things up, I think that’s what’s exciting about it.

“You find there are more women in startups – or there are more women growing businesses, rather than shaping traditional businesses. From my experience, being a woman hasn’t been limiting. I have been doing this for 15 years and I have seen how things have changed. I used to go into boardrooms full of men who were surprised to see me there. But, that has changed, people have moved on. There are now more women in senior leadership roles, which is positive.”

Suki Chandi-Pickering, Data Analyst

“I love working in my field because I break the stereotype of the analyst - traditionally known to be insular, awkward at communicating, and not so adaptable to other people. So, I am happy to class myself as a geeky analyst with a personality.”

“The technology sector is ever evolving and whilst it’s becoming more complex, it is also more interesting and challenging than ever. I think there are many misconceptions that working in tech means being a coder, working with software, being a geek or that it’s boring or ALL of these things, but that simply isn't true. In recent years I've worked with more and more females in tech, not necessarily in analytical roles, but more on the BI, technology development side, and I think it’s healthy that more hybrids like me are getting into the industry.”

Eleanor Drew, Senior Content Strategist

“Technology is an exciting field to work in, and the variety of projects I've worked on over my career is one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. While some parts of the industry are pretty well-balanced gender wise, there are two areas where the lack of women is very conspicuous – in technical roles, and in senior leadership. While you might look around your office and feel it's a fairly even split, look closely at these two areas and you'll likely notice the women are missing. There's a strong correlation between diversity (both gender and ethnicity), profitability and innovation. Companies that are evenly balanced tend to make more money and create better products, so as an industry, we should all be incentivised to redress the situation. Events like Women of Silicon Roundabout are brilliant for celebrating how far we've come, and asking hard questions about how we can tackle the barriers that do still exist. We need more men to attend these kind of events too.”

“To all women thinking about joining the industry, I would say go for it! It's a hugely broad field which means there are endless opportunities, and the fact that technology and user behaviour are constantly evolving means you've always got new challenges. You don't have to be from a technical background to work in the industry either. My degree was in English Literature, and I've made my way to content strategy via account management, digital strategy and copywriting – whatever your background and skill set, there will be a role for you.”

Jacqueline Jauncey, Client Director

“I never think of myself as a ‘woman in tech’; I never think in terms of women versus men. I've been in technology my whole career and it’s an amazing space to be in. We are in the era of the digital revolution, where consumers drive buying behaviour and companies that refuse to make the change to digital or adopt changes fast enough will be out of business. If you want to be assured of a career, stick within the field of technology as it's the driving force of digital disruption.”

Sade Onile-Ere, Project Director

“I really enjoy being a ‘women in tech’ especially in a senior position. It was more of a challenge when I was a developer because the perception is men make better coders. It is a very interesting sector and there is never a dull moment. The environment is buzzy and it is exciting to be continuously innovating and pushing the boundaries of technology. If you like a challenge, this is the sector to be in.”

Emma Rosenberg, Global Talent Director

“I’m not necessarily a ‘woman in tech’, but I work in the tech environment, recruiting people. Unfortunately I feel there is still a lack of women in tech. I did a lot of technical recruitment when I worked at the BBC, and I had a definite quota that I had to fill, and it was hard to meet that, no matter what I did in terms of recruitment drives. I think at ORM, we have improved the number of women we have working with us, but we still have so far to go. We are looking into offering women more flexibility, and we want to make sure there is no glass ceiling here too.

“The advice I would give women wanting to join this sector is the same advice for anyone joining any industry: if you want it, go and get it. You’re in charge of your own destiny. Don’t let anything get in your way, whether it’s a male dominated profession, or not. If you want something you’ve got to put your heart and soul into it to succeed.”

Sara Stangalini, Lead UX Consultant

“It’s an exciting opportunity working in tech, even if there are more men than women in this field.  I’ve never felt discriminated for being a woman. I’ve been lucky enough to meet men who have supported and encouraged me throughout my career. A few years​ ago​ when I was still quite junior and was feeling frustrated because of a project I was working on, my (male) manager at a previous company reminded me to be proud ​of myself as it takes some courage to be a UX designer in an agency, in London. Meaning there’s a lot of competition out there, but if you’re passionate and have the right skills, it doesn’t matter if you’re man or woman, you will succeed.

“The advice I would give to other women thinking about joining the sector is not to be discouraged if things sometimes don’t go well. Ask a woman in the industry you admire/you are inspired by to be your mentor… and join the tech community, there are a lot of professionals to support you. For UX specifically, I’d recommend joining the group ‘Ladies that UX’, as it periodically organises useful talks for women in our sector.”

Peter Gough Peter Gough Managing Partner & Founder Peter Gough