Martha Lane Fox claimed women who are out of work could be trained in digital skills to plug the IT skills gap.
Speaking at the Microsoft Future Decoded conference in London, Lane Fox said there were thousands of unemployed women in the UK – yet only 4% of the world’s engineers and 10% of technology company founders are women, despite the progress the sector has made.
“The internet is awesome and every day it takes my breath away.” Lane Fox said.
But she said she was “disturbed” by the lack of women in the industry, and that it was “not viable” for the sector’s future to “discount half the working population”.
“There’s a skills problem. Skills in using the net, but also skills in filling jobs,” Lane Fox said. The skills gap is only set to grow over the next 10 years as the need for digital and technology skills increases, she said.
“There are currently 800,000 unemployed women in this country, and there so many different groups that help train people and get them into digital jobs, surely some of them could start filling those jobs we’re trying to fill?” Lane Fox said.
Referring to recent research into ancient tribes, Lane Fox explained how a group of archaeologists had found a group of women's skeletons equipped with tools they needed for hunting, such as bows, arrows and spears.
“There was so much less gender bias in 3,000 BC,” Lane Fox said.
“We should be equipping women with the tools of the future – the digital tools of the future.”
She said the UK had made much progress in the digital technology space, citing the UK’s success in the finance technology Fintech and e-commerce markets, and praising "joined-up" services such as the Gov.UK website.
But she said there remains much to be done to involve the 12m adults who cannot use the internet to achieve even the most basic tasks. She said most of the discussion surrounding the future of digital came from a group of people in the US – which was “not very diverse”.
“We still have some very profound challenges,” Lane Fox said.
“I absolutely believe we could make an enormously huge jump into the future, if we had a bit more of a joined-up vision and application for what the UK can achieve.”
Lane Fox referred to her "Doteveryone" project – which she launched during her speech at the 2015 Dimbleby Lecture – explaining her intention for the institution to cater for and act as a platform to fuel the discussion around startups, governments, gender and skills.
“I’ve seen again and again the power of helping people use the internet,” Lane Fox said.
“We need to be much bolder, and we need to go much faster, and we need a much deeper level of ambition for what our country can achieve.”