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From code clubs to accelerators: how Northern tech is helping women fulfil their potential

7 Mar, 2016

The Northern Power Women Awards, sponsored by Tech North

We’re marking International Women’s Day #IWD2016 and joining the #pledgeforparity in the tech/digital industry in the North with a look at some of the great things happening in our sector – and the initiatives aiming to make things even better for women.

According to the World Economic Forum’s latest number-crunching, global gender parity isn’t on course to happen until 2133.

International Women’s Day is aiming to bring that date forward by encouraging men and women to #pledgeforparity by taking action across a range of areas, from helping women and girls to reach their potential by getting rid of gender bias at work.

Growing recognition

In the tech industry in the North, the understanding of the important skills women can bring to an enterprise is growing, according to Shadow Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, the Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah.

She said: “In the North East and more generally, there is a recognition that diversity in the tech team isn’t just about niceness and fairness, it’s a matter of supporting creativity and innovation, bringing a different perspective and ideas to the table, to get some really interesting products and applications that people want to use.

“There is a real mix of new start-ups with both men and women. That’s positive. It’s great that we’ve got more people talking about women in tech. There are some really strong success stories, like Kelly Wright in Middlesbrough and her fashion app Krystellie.

“But we’ve still got a long way to go before we get the same proportion of women in tech as men. The proportion of women studying engineering and computer science at university is stuck at around 17 per cent.

“There are big skills gaps looming and there is a long way to go to say we’re beginning to address gender parity. With apprenticeships, it’s still hard to get girls and women coming forward or recruited in the same sort of numbers

“We’ve got to continue working to make sure that girls just as much as boys can benefit from the great opportunities in tech in the North East.”

Code Club

Starting with education

Chi stresses the importance of enthusing girls about tech and digital from primary school age. Tech North is a supporting partner in Code Club, which brings together schools and businesses to spark children’s interest in computing. Aimed at nine to 11-year-olds, the programme is having great results across the North with both boys and girls.

Tech North also supports Liverpool Girl Geeks and is funding a scheme teaching javascript, following on from the fully-booked Get Your Head Around Code events which we backed at the start of the year. Liverpool Girl Geeks is a great network for women to share their ideas and build their skills in the North’s tech and digital sector.

Addressing the gap

However, the fact remains that there are fewer female start-up founders in the North than in London.

Laura Bennett, Founders’ Network programme manager at Tech North, said: “This speaks more to the fact that the ecosystem in the North is in its relative infancy compared to London.

“It would be great if, instead of waiting five years or so to catch up, we could put in place initiatives now that help to inspire more women to start their own business.”

Laura, who is speaking at the #PledgeMCR on 8 March on challenging conscious and unconscious bias, doesn’t believe that women-only quotas and initiatives are the answer.

I personally am against “women only” initiatives and quotas as I believe that it makes women the ‘other’ in what is seen to be a male-dominated space, and brings undue attention to their gender and away from their achievements,” she said.

“Yet I do believe that positive discrimination is a good short-term solution that can help change the longer-term dynamic by encouraging more women to work in this sector.

“Dotforge accelerator, based here in the North, is a great example of an accelerator that has a workplace culture that is accommodating and welcoming to women; that looks to specifically attract female founders; that promotes women and makes them visible.

“For example, if there is a woman on the founding team, whether CEO, CTO, COO, it is she who pitches in front of investors. The first time I ever saw women pitching their startup to investors was at a Dotforge event.”

Dotforge at Manchester Rise
Dotforge event at Manchester Rise

Tech for Life

Another initiative aiming to address the gender imbalance in the North is the year-long Tech for Life programme of events, which is also being sponsored by Tech North. Last year, we supported Tech for Life’s Women in Tech events that were organised to coincide with Ada Lovelace Day in October, celebrating the first computer programmer.

Lyndsey Britton, operations director at Ignite 100, an angel-led acceleration fund for early-stage tech companies and co-founder of tech space Campus North in Newcastle, says Tech for Life is a vital component in tackling gender imbalance in the sector.

“Founding organisations Ignite and Campus North already recognise the issues and under-representation on accelerator programmes and have started to take steps to address this,” she said.

“Tech for Life will build on that, creating a strong, supportive community and offering opportunities at all levels, from understanding code, to upskilling, to practical help for female entrepreneurs.

“We will encourage and support more women everywhere to be involved in the tech sector, through mentoring, networks, events, and skills and knowledge sharing. It’s an exciting time in the tech sector and women need to be part of that to benefit from it.”

Although we can’t claim we have gender parity yet, there is plenty happening in the North to support women to fulfil their potential in the tech industry. By deciding to make your own #pledgeforparity this International Women’s Day, you’ll be helping the industry to build on those foundations.

We’d love to hear what you’re doing in your business or organisation. Let us know what you think will make a difference by tweeting us @TechNorthHQ

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