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Gender pay gap to STEM skills: In conversation with award-winning female leaders

With the entry deadline looming for the 2018 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards, former winners explain what attracted to them to the tech industry

How do you inspire the next generation of women to work in the UK’s technology industry?

An obvious solution is to share inspiring stories of female tech innovators that can serve as role models, and to recognise these individuals with awards and accolades so that they will encourage future female leaders to pursue a career in technology.

The 2018 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards is looking to do just that.

With entries closing at midnight tonight, we spoke to a trio of 2017’s winners about what attracted them to tech, their biggest challenges and their thoughts on how best to tackle the gender pay issue.

In conversation with:

Kate Newhouse, portfolio impact director at venture builder Blenheim Chalcot

“Innovator of the Year” at the 2017 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards, Newhouse supports ventures from start-up to scale to exit, giving them access to the global networks and business development services they need to grow. Newhouse was formerly CEO of Doctor Care Anywhere, a digital healthcare company.

Sarah McVittie and Donna North, co-founders of Dressipi

Winners of “Entrepreneur of Year” at the 2017 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards, McVittie and North's digital fashion service allows shoppers to create their very own “Fashion Fingerprint” online through answering a detailed questionnaire. The questionnaire results can then be used to search and browse some of the largest retailers including Nike, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.

Sophie Deen, founder and CEO of Bright Little Labs

Winner of “Start Up Founder of the Year” at the 2017 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards, Deen's business Bright Little Labs makes gender-neutral media, engaging children with coding. Its flagship story is Detective Dot which creatively encourages young children to pursue interests in IT.

What attracted you to the technology industry?

Newhouse: “After working with the public sector to improve how they offer access and services to their customers, and looking at services that could be delivered digitally, I realised how transformative and cost effective tech and how thinking “digitally” could be.

“I realised that the role of technology in delivering this step change was crucial which is why I wanted to pursue a career in the industry – to deliver life changing and disruptive innovation into a sector that matters to every one of us – healthcare.”

North: “It wasn't a conscious decision – technology was the means through which I could solve the problems I wanted to solve and that excited me.”

Deen: “It was an accident! I was at the start of my legal career, working in a global law firm, when I realised I wanted a to do something more creative, and ideally, with kids.

“I started studying part time to be a child therapist and found a new job at a tech start-up. The pay was good, hours were flexible and the company seemed interesting – it measured the performance of the internet. I became fascinated by the industry.”

What do you think needs to be done to tackle the gender pay gap divide and support more women in tech?

North: “In the first instance it's about top down accountability. Boards and stakeholders should hold their businesses accountable for any gender pay gaps, asking where and why they exist and what the plan is to equalise.

“Obviously it's not just a case of simply looking at pay though – there are a complex set of causes that create the differences, from family and work choices, which need a more enlightened and flexible approach by employers.”

Newhouse: “Firstly, I think that STEM subjects and computer science should form part of everyone’s education to a certain level (and this is coming from a history graduate!).

“As regards to women specifically, there are some scary statistics out there stating that only 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice and 78% of students can’t name a famous female working in technology. This needs to change.”

Deen: “I don’t think there is a simple answer. With Detective Dot, we’re focused on early intervention. Girls are intrinsically just as curious about the world as boys – science, technology, engineering and maths are all disciplines which seek to understand and to build the world around us, but girls are conditioned over time to think that STEM is not for them.

“I think media portrayal is the biggest issue for encouraging STEM take-up with girls – the images and language we are exposed to in movies, on TV, in adverts, and in the way kids toys are marketed.”

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in the tech industry?

Deen: “Doing something for the first time is really challenging! I’ve worked in tech and with kids but building a global media company is brand new.

“I’m learning about the industry as I go and often feel like the new kid on the block. I don’t know acronyms or the industry norms, and this makes me doubt myself sometimes.”

Newhouse: “Without a technical background and having read history at university, at first I found it a little daunting to “speak” tech and to couple that with having to “speak” health without a medical degree. I needed to have confidence in what I was bringing to the party!

“I hope that, as tech becomes more integral to the education curriculum, this potential barrier might be overcome.”

North: “It's always the same – the biggest challenge is focus, and this isn't just limited to tech. Every new business has limited resources and limited time – every minute of every day is precious and can't afford to be squandered.

“So the challenge is always getting everyone aligned, everyday, and focusing on the one or two things that will take us all a step closer.”

For more inspiring women in technology, click here.