Wendy Tan-White on sceptical men and Twitter success

Wendy Tan-White is in a unique position – she’s a former programmer, with a computer science degree from Imperial College London, whose parents both worked in traditional IT roles. But she’s also the founder of a fast growth internet-based technology company which has just used Twitter to run a hugely successful marketing campaign.

While she comes from, and understands, the traditional IT industry, she is able to look forward and adapt to change in a way that corporate IT often isn’t.

Her company, Moonfruit, allows people to build their own websites for free. She and her husband and business partner Joe White realised back in 1999 how important communities would be to the web, and Moonfruit’s aim is to allow people to “share their passions online” and build communities with other web users.

She says the corporate world needs to take social media and the internet far more seriously, but instead is allowing bureaucracy and uncertainty to slow its response down. “We’re seeing the statistics now and they’re showing things like Twitter can have a real impact on businesses. Even the mistakes, like Habitat, are getting talked about a lot. It’s something they’re going to need to take much more seriously.”

There’s one more change the IT industry has been slow to improve its performance on – increasing the number of women it employs. But she says women in technology have it easier than women in other sectors.

“It’s a general problem for women at work. If you put it in a hierarchy, technology is actually not that bad compared to banking, for example, where men tend to be a lot harder on women.

“Working in the technology industry, you tend to get a suspended belief – they’re a little bit skeptical and suspicious of you. You have to win them round. But I prefer that to out and out sexism, men asking ‘why are women at university?'”

That’s no reason to get complacent, though – it is IT’s image problem that is putting girls off the subject at an early age, and the low number of women in IT speaks for itself. “In India, technology is a popular choice because it’s seen as a good career. There’s something about how we talk about it, and how the media portrays it, that needs to change. Somebody needs to go to girls in schools and show them how many degrees are a combination of technology and business, or technology and something else. Even if they’re not into computer science, there are a lot of hybrid degrees.”