Companies overall need to make it more attractive for women to stay in the workforce longer, according to Joanna Shields, CEO of Tech City and winner of Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Woman in UK IT 2013 award.
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With 27 years of experience in technology and the former managing director of Facebook Europe, Shields believes businesses should be doing more to create an environment that attracts women to tech in the first place, but also keeps them on their career journey throughout their lives.
Speaking to Computer Weekly, Shields said: “I have recently been looking at this issue of part-time employment for women, and I think that as managers and executives we have to be flexible in the options we provide. There is a biological fact that you get to a point in life where you have to take a break and that’s a privilege and a responsibility as a woman and we need to accommodate that to ensure that people come back.
“Women especially tend to have their second child and then leave the workforce. That’s a shame because of all the knowledge and experience we lose, so we need them to come back - we need to create opportunities for them to return in a way that works for their lives.”
Shields was a graduate student in Washington DC, where she studied for her MBA, when she took a job as a research analysis on Capital Hill. Working for National Digital, she entered the world of digital technology just as it was emerging.
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“They were in the business of transmitting pictures over phone lines for the first time. I remember seeing this technology – which is normal thing today – but I remember thinking this is it. This is the technology that is going to change the world.
“As soon as I finished my MBA, I jumped in my car and drove across the US to Silicon Valley where I took a job as a product manager for an imaging electronics company that was creating chips, so I ended up on the hardware side,” she explained.
On challenges she faced as a woman, she said: “I never compromised my looks, I decided to be who I am. I never wore the boxy suits or tried to dress like a man or act like a man. I was myself and, over a certain period of time, that tended to make some folks underestimate me.
“But I didn’t compromise; I just think it is important to be true to yourself. Some of the challenges I faced early on were that I didn’t follow the stereotypes.”
She moved to the UK 13 years ago: “I would say that 13 years ago it was a very different picture. I set up my first international operation here in 1990 and it was a very different picture for women then.
“I am incredibly encouraged by how many women are starting their own businesses now. It’s amazing, there’s this rising tide of successful women entrepreneurs in the UK.”
Shields added: “I have the privilege of working in Tech City, the East London cluster which is really becoming the hotbed of ideas and creativity and there are so many women-led businesses and I find that really encouraging.
“I feel that if we can change this early stage and create an environment where people feel comfortable starting their own companies or entering the tech careers, then this problem won’t exist in five to 10 years from now.”
Shields concluded by saying that diverse teams are important to any business.
“Women are 51% of the population so we need to be represented in every part of life and I think teams are an excellent example of that. You need well-rounded experience, not just in terms of the sexes but also in age.”