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UKtech50 2018: Women are making their mark

Women are making strong progress in the UK technology industry, with seven of the top 10 on Computer Weekly’s UKtech50 list being female

Computer Weekly’s ninth annual list of movers and shakers in UK IT shows that women have made significant progress in the country’s technology scene.

The UKtech50 list aims to identify the most influential leaders in UK IT, decided by an expert judging panel together with a reader vote. This year, women dominate the top of the list, taking seven of the top 10 spots, including the top three.

So who are the women leading the charge and driving change in the UK tech industry, and what does this mean for diversity in the sector? Have we finally reached the point of equality, or is there still a long way to go?

The coveted top spot is held by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) chief digital and information officer Jacky Wright, who climbed from number 11 in 2017 to be named the most influential person in UK IT in 2018.

Wright is a strong role model for many. The daughter of a Windrush immigrant, she has previously said that she “might not fit into the small box of what some people think of as a typical civil servant”, but she is certainly helping to change that perception.

Not only is HMRC one of the departments with the most challenges caused by Brexit, but Wright is also in charge of one of the biggest technology programmes in the civil service – making tax digital.

The second spot also goes to a civil servant, former Home Office CIO and now NHS Digital CEO Sarah Wilkinson. The NHS is going through the biggest transformation since its inception, driven strongly by the need for digital initiatives and transformation, which Wilkinson is ultimately in charge of.

Third on the list is TechUK president Jacqueline de Rojas, who is also a member of the Computer Weekly Most Influential Women in UK IT Hall of Fame, and the next woman on the list, UK information commissioner Elizabeth Denham, comes in at number five.

A long road to equality

Despite women featuring prominently in this year’s UKtech50 list, this is not always reflected in tech businesses themselves. The percentage of women recruited to tech company boards has remained relatively unchanged for the past 20 years, according to a report by Tech Nation. In January 2018, the cumulative number of women appointed to tech company boards was 75,097, compared with 252,916 men. 

However, according to research by Booking.com, almost 60% of women believe their gender has a positive impact on their ability to pursue a tech career because of the shortage of women in the sector. 

Those women who are in leadership roles are often seen as role models for others climbing the career ladder, as well as for girls interested in a potential technology career, and/or science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.

But there is still a big barrier for women to access a tech career in the first place. A study by Tech City UK, published in January 2018, found that almost half of young women feel they do not have the skills needed to work in the technology industry, while another study by Microsoft found that 62% of girls and women aged between 11 and 30 said they want more encouragement and access to role models.  

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Earlier this year, Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose, who came sixth in this year’s UKtech50, said girls should be encouraged into Stem and given access to role models as early as possible to stimulate their interest in the industry. 

In ninth place on the UKtech50 list is Ofcom’s Sharon White, and 10th spot is claimed by Amali De Alwis, who is among those working to tackle the gender gap and encourage more women to take up a role in the tech industry. De Alwis is CEO at coding education initiative Code First: Girls, which teaches women from all backgrounds how to code.

She also believes that a key way to encourage more women into the tech industry is to ensure there are visible role models and to mentor younger people. In an interview with Computer Weekly earlier this year, de Alwis said mentoring is useful at every stage in the career pipeline and that it is never too early to start mentoring someone. 

Although there is still some way to go before women become as prominent and as prevalent as men in the UK technology industry, this year’s UKtech50 shows there are women out there who are notable leaders in their field.

They hold significant influence in the UK economy and the tech industry, not because they are women, but because they are simply the cream of the crop of the UK’s technology leaders.

Read more on CW500 and IT leadership skills

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