diversity, boys club

By Alison Mulder, Reporting Analyst, Simpson Carpenter

I have a confession to make – I’m rubbish at conforming to stereotypes.

A reporting analyst with a side career as a competition level glider pilot, I’m used to being outnumbered by men.

Yet, when I compare my experience as a woman in these two areas, my greatest challenge hasn’t been learning to fly, but rather negotiating the barriers and obstacles to forge a career in the tech space.

Don’t get me wrong. Competing as a glider pilot has required real grit and perseverance. But once I slip into the cockpit to compete against my male counterparts, the test is one of skill not gender.

By contrast, as a woman working in the tech scene, despite high profile women in tech such as Kathryn Parsons, Eileen Burbidge and Amy Chang, my gender has been a real issue for some of my male colleagues. Unfortunately, these colleagues have often been the gatekeepers to progressing my career.

The challenges began when I discovered my fascination for data analysis after writing code for market research questionnaires early into my career. From a lack of management support for helping me acquire the necessary skills, to having colleagues take credit for my work, I felt that my tech aspirations were not taken seriously simply because I was female.

Even though I’m very technically minded, the gender-based assumptions my colleagues and superiors made about my capabilities meant that I have worked extra hard to get where I am today.

I’d love to be able to say my experience is the exception, not the rule, but it’s simply not the case. Despite all the awareness around gender equality and equal opportunities, deep rooted and pervasive gender bias continues to exist in tech, especially when it comes to the data space. At Simpson Carpenter, I’m part of a team that values a person’s skills rather than what gender they are.

So how can women beat negative gender stereotypes to progress their tech careers?

Here are three insights I’ve learned along the way.

Invest in your skills

A company I used to work for made the decision to switch its programming language to Python and, naturally, I was keen to get myself trained on it. But the company wouldn’t agree to this and said it wasn’t necessary for me and my role. Today Python is considered one of the top five coding languages every techie and data analyst should know. Missing out on Python training could have been a potential career blocker. I wasn’t prepared to be held back by this decision, so I took the initiative and learnt about Python myself online, along with other programming languages.

With new coding languages emerging all the time, learning the right one at the right time can open up doors and opportunities that give you a real edge in this field. If an employer is not willing or able to offer you the training you believe you will need, look into alternative sources.

For example, Code: First Girls offers coding courses aimed at female professionals while 23 Code Street runs classes and workshops in London in addition to an online webinar. If you are not able to pay for training, check out this list Geek Girl Rising has put together on free online coding courses.

Finally, to stay at the cutting edge in tech, we need to continuously assess our current skills versus the skills we are likely to need in the coming years. This means reading as much as you can lay your hands on about current and future tech trends in your sector, particularly around emerging technologies and the skills likely to be required to work with them.

Find a tech mentor

Whether it be learning from their achievements and mistakes, or being able to tap into their network, having a trusted mentor can help fast track your career progression. But the lack of women within the tech industry means it can be hard to meet and get advice from a woman who has walked in your shoes.

Thankfully, there are now organisations set up to connect aspiring female tech talent with experienced mentors. Some of my favourites include London-based Girls in Tech, which runs six evening speed mentoring sessions, along with MentorSET that helps to match mentors with rising female professionals in STEM. And if you don’t have the chance to meet face-to-face, there are also a slew of podcasts you can tune into like Women who Startup or Fearless Women, which invite real female leaders on to share their stories and offer essential career advice.

Join your own ‘girls club’

No matter how much I got along with and respected my male colleagues as professionals, being the only woman on a tech team can sometimes be a lonely experience – from occasionally being excluded from post-work drinks to not always picking up on the male banter. Pixar’s “Bro Co”, a fascinating short animation perfectly captures what it can be like for women in the workplace.

Thankfully, there are now a growing number of groups that bring women in tech together and help them to grow their support network such as Girls in Tech and Girls Who Code. Tapping into these can help to make you feel part of vibrant and motivating networks of like-minded women.

Our future

Today, in the UK alone, it is estimated that there’s a shortfall of 173,000 skilled STEM workers. With new STEM roles expected to double in the next 10 years, the tech skills shortage can only deepen. The sector urgently needs to encourage more women to fill these roles, and give them the training and support they need to succeed.

But in order to do that, harmful gender stereotypes and sexist views around the roles women can and can’t do need to be weeded out of all organisations. When I’m competing against male glider pilots in the air, gender is not seen. Other pilots, the judges and spectators recognise and celebrate my flying skills – nothing more, nothing less. This gender-blind perspective is something talented women in tech could really benefit from.