07 Mar 2014

Are things changing for women in technology?

By Lily

TechMums pilot with Sue Black, Summer 2012

It’s easy to see why many paint a bleak picture for women trying to make it in the world of tech. A 2012 report by the Kauffman Foundation found that women form only three percent of US-based tech startups.

But I’m feeling a lot more positive about the position of women in tech than I was this time last year. And as we celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow, it’s a good time to look at how much is changing for women, especially those looking to get their own tech startup off the ground.

At Bethnal Green Ventures we support early tech based startups and we’ve seen applications from women tripple. Our last two programmes had 40% of women founders – it’s still not gender parity but we’re getting there. And I’m in good company in noticing this. In an interview last year Joanna Shields, CEO of Tech City highlighted how much things had improved for women since she arrived in the UK over 13 years ago.

The other thing making me feel positive is the sheer number of amazing women I have met this year. It feels pretty good to know we have them on our side. I can’t name them all but here are a few of the women that have been a huge influence on me (and BGV) this year:

  • Sue Black, Clare Gallagher and Emma Vallintine of Tech Mums from our last cohort are doing amazing work  with their courses for mothers who have no computer knowledge. TechMums aims to breach the digital divide and give more people access to the huge opportunities afforded by technology.

  • Yodit Stanton – founder of opensensors.io and the wonderful Women in Data Meetup has been instrumental in bringing women from diverse technological sectors in one place to learn from each other.

  • Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino – founder of Good Night Lamp  and Paula Graham, founder of Fossbox – who have been amazing mentors on Bethnal Green Ventures, massively generous with both their time and connections.

  • The women of Ada’s List – they are too many to name individually but a hugely inspiring group of people and a brilliant and massively supportive mailing list.

That said – we’re not there yet.  There are still far too few women at tech events, particularly as speakers – despite the work of organisations like Articulate and The Women’s Room. Women founders are far less likely to secure investment than their male counterparts. And we are still regularly patronised and demeaned by a culture of brogramming.

So what needs to change?

  • We need to find ways of getting more girls into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) and supporting them to stay there. Organisations like the Stemmettes and toy companies like Goldieblox are doing great work on this front.

  • We need more female role models, like those mentioned above, who are visible and actively mentoring the next generation. We also need to pay more attention to the women role models we already have, events like the Royal Society Edit-a-thon to get more women scientists on  wikipedia are thinking in the right direction.

  • We need to change the culture around technology startups – which values how much time you spend at your desk over what you are actually building. Providing great in-house childcare in workplaces could be a great way to kickstart this change.

As I look ahead to finding our next group of startups I’m looking forward to seeing many women founders in the mix.