How can London ensure IT gender balance?

In this contributed blog post, Jacquelyn Guderley, co-founder and managing director of social enterprise Stemettes, discusses the London technology scene and its potential for showcasing diverse technology talent and improving gender equality.

Guderley is also a candidate for the General London Assembly for the Women’s Equality Party, who are standing their mayoral candidate, Sophie Walker, for election in May.

Far from being a ‘boys club’, the technology industry could be London’s ticket to showcasing what a gender-equal tech-forward city looks like. Sophie Walker, mayoral candidate for the Women’s Equality Party, and Tech London Advocates Women in Tech, met at a roundtable last month to develop this vision for London.

When looking at gender balance, determining whose ‘domain’ the technology industry is still poses a worryingly easy task. Men account for over 83% of the UK technology workforce, leaving women to pick up the remaining rather meagre 17%. Thankfully, in 2016, it is no longer going unnoticed: after Facebook published their diversity figures, TechCrunch made the pointed observation that Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Facebook “all get an F for being heavily skewed male, white and Asian”.

Much like our US counterparts, our UK technology companies still aren’t acing their diversity exams. But the fast-approaching mayoral election will give Boris Johnson’s successor the opportunity to shape a truly gender-balanced, forward thinking and diverse vision for London’s technology sector. That’s why Sophie Walker, mayoral candidate for the Women’s Equality Party, joined Tech London Advocates Women in Tech at a roundtable this month, to share and build on her plan for a manifesto for London which tackles head-on the current gender skew in the technology workforce.

As a working group that drives action, the TLA Women in Tech advocates, both male and female, called on a wealth of experience to question and challenge the nuances of gender bias within the industry. But though we are used to the story that the pitifully disproportionate ratio of women to men in tech tells, the story coming from this room was a refreshing one: that great momentum for change exists within the tech sector via its current initiatives, groups and ambassadors that are committed to advancing gender parity for Boards, Funding, Education, Mentoring and Business Practices.

A number of those people, initiatives and groups were feeding into the debate with Sophie Walker and TLA Women in Tech including: Global Invest Her, an organisation demystifying the funding process so that women entrepreneurs can become investor-ready and get funded faster. Stemettes and Code Club, both working to inspire younger generations of girls to embrace their right to be creators of technology and their critical part to play in the UK’s growing digital economy. Lifeshifter, a specialist recruitment platform that connects employers to highly skilled women who want to work flexibly. CEO’s – male and female – who recognise and embrace their responsibility in catalysing conversations on cultivating gender parity.

Not only have these innovative initiatives and figureheads made their home in the technology industry, but many technology companies exemplify non-traditional workplace practices that we know make balancing family and career life an easier task. The technology industry on the whole has long been champions of mobile and flexible working, its products and companies simultaneously creating, and encouraging, the ‘virtual office’. Yet still, onsite childcare, a pivotal resource in levelling the playing field for parents, remains an untapped facility globally; just 7% of US tech companies have an onsite creche.

Movement towards change clearly exists in the technology sector already – it just needs to be taken to that next step. Let’s see technology companies providing creches. Along with individual organisations that are fighting their corner to encourage gender parity – and doing this brilliantly – let’s see scalable solutions that can work across cities and industries. Groups like Tech London Advocates Women in Tech, who focus on bringing together organisations and a #SheCanDoTech manifesto, is a fantastic example of this.

The Women’s Equality Party are committed to this vision for London. As Sophie Walker returned to the Party HQ with a head full of ways to address gender imbalance through the Women’s Equality Party manifesto, the buzz in the room was not one of agitated frustration, but of excitement and expectation at pulling together to harness the potential that the technology industry holds to facilitate and exemplify gender equality.