Showcasing tech start-ups
Hats off to all the women who presented at 5050tech, the event held by Baroness of Soho Martha Lane Fox and her team at doteveryone, to showcase tech start-ups with at least one woman director on board.
Dr Sue Black: a role model
First we heard from the amazing Dr Sue Black: from council estate and three children to computer scientist, tech columnist and social entrepreneur, with a PhD in software engineering and a string of accolades, not to mention an OBE. Her story is certainly inspiring. One part resonated with me – had Sue been the given the opportunity to do a computer systems course at university, she would have taken it – me too! Instead Sue did mathematics. I did electronic and electrical engineering – the software modules were definitely more fun and I enjoyed writing code :-)
Turning doteveryone into reality will take teamwork
What stood out from the 5050tech presentations? Well, lots of great tech ideas, many with traction in the market place and first stage financial backing – impressive! For a roundup of who was there, see list appended. But what also stood out from the presentations was great team work, and that’s because success is rarely achieved alone – everyone needs support and more than one pair of hands to make things happen. And that’s what we need to do collectively to turn Martha Lane Fox’s vision for 5050tech and doteveryone into reality.
Three ingredients for success
1. More women in STEM
The first step is getting more women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) sectors. I believe we’ve come a long way since Sue and I were at university. There are now many schemes, mentors and role models, like Sue, who are already championing and encouraging young women into STEM careers. However, according to the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign’s latest analysis of UK labour market statistics, women make up just 12.8% of the STEM workforce. The proportion had increased by only 0.2 percentage points since their last analysis in 2012 (The Guardian). So let's not get complacent because we need to keep up the momentum to get to that magic 50:50.
2. Fix the gender pay gap
The second step is to address the gender pay gap. There’s lots happening in this arena, both politically and socially. Gender pay gap reporting is likely to become mandatory this year for companies with over 250 employees, but that still leaves 60% of employees whose employers won't be covered by the reporting requirements. 75% of part-time workers are women. Part-time workers are paid less per hour than full-time workers with the same qualifications. At post-graduate level this equates to £3.51 per hour less (Source: Joseph Roundtree Foundation). Multiply that up over a working year and you see how far we still have to achieve parity.
3. It’s not just about women
The third challenge is how to keep women in the workforce beyond the point of having families. Not just in the tech sector, but in all sectors. Many reasons are cited as to why women don’t return to work: lack of child care, cost of child care (particularly during school holidays and for single mums), lack of part-time, term-time and flexible working jobs, lack of confidence, out-dated skill sets and the desire to be there for one’s children. Weighing everything up, couples (as it’s often a joint decision by partners) feel that they will have a better quality of life by having a stay-at-home parent. I say parent, because although it is usually the woman who stays at home, there are actually a growing number of stay-at-home-dads, and who knows how many working dads would actually prefer to swap places with their other halves if it were more widely culturally acceptable and financially beneficial. The challenge should not be viewed in terms of how to retain women after career breaks, but how to retain people (women and men) after any type of career break be it due to caring for children, as a result of an accident or illness, or caring for elderly relatives. What we need as a society is a different way of looking at employment at different life stages. Let’s face it, we’re all likely to live longer and will need to work longer (as pensions erode) but we’re not all going to want to, or be physically able to, work full-time into our 70s, 80s and possibly 90s. We need to reassess the job landscape and provide opportunities for updating skill sets and employment to all.
In some ways the job landscape is already changing. Many resourceful women are creating their own jobs and starting their own businesses, partly to earn money and often because they want to and need to do something stimulating in those hours that their children are in school. On the face of it that’s great, but it takes an awful lot of effort and in particular, time, to get a business off the ground and that doesn't always fit well with being there for your family. Surely we can find a way to channel all that effort and amazing talent into existing businesses!
A hybrid solution is needed
Tech is great but it doesn't suit everyone. Having said that, I am sure it would appeal to a lot more people if they were given the opportunity to learn in a supportive environment. Martha Lane Fox’s answer when I questioned her on how to involve women-returners in the doteveryone story was for them to code from home - that would help bridge the digital skills gap and, of course, you can code from anywhere – all you need is a computer, e-learning tools and Wi-Fi. But, to get the best out of people, you need a hybrid solution to working: working from home or in co-working spaces is great now and then, but for people to achieve their full potential they need to be part of a team and teams need to meet face-to-face and not just over the ether.
We need radical change, not just ways to fit long hours around family life
So, on what level can we help to bridge the digital skills gap? Well, I think it comes back to getting more women into STEM careers and then providing the platforms for everyone (not just women!) to take career breaks and structure jobs that fit with family life. Flexible hours should not mean 40+ hour working weeks fitted in around school hours, evenings and weekends. It is sustainable for short term fire-fighting, but not as a long term business or life strategy. We need radical change where both parents can work, take turns at doing the school run, help with homework and share time with their children and each other. For single parents the challenge is even greater.
The workplace needs to change fundamentally to get the best from our UK talent pool
The doteveryone philosophy is about harnessing technology to benefit society as a whole. But that alone is not enough. Alongside this, we need a meeting of minds between the decision makers in business and the skilled, but underutilised, return-to-workers. Together we need to create jobs that work for everybody in our society. At Business Clan we are actively taking steps to make this happen. If you are interested in finding out more or would like to join us then get intouch.
The start-ups at 5050tech:
CRACK + CIDER
A shop where you buy essential items which they distribute to homeless people. www.crackandcider.com
Ding Smart Doorbell
Ding® is a connected product start-up that is revolutionising the doorbell market with its Smart Doorbell that connects your home with your phone from wherever you are in the world. www.dinglabs.co.uk
An award-winning online platform that allows decision-makers at schools to engage and rate support programmes for pupils. www.edukit.org.uk
A rewards-based crowdfunding and support tool for social good products addressing humanity's greatest challenges. www.helpingb.co
Invest for Health myHealthHub
Helping Commissioners engage hard-to-reach communities in proactive health behaviours beyond the clinic. www.investforhealth.co.uk
A social enterprise developing an online educational platform - the Scientific Literacy Tool - making science accessible for curious people. www.literacytool.com
A backup memory to help people live well with conditions such as early dementia, mild cognitive impairment, stroke or brain injury. www.memricaprompt.com
A digital queue management system that allows customers to enjoy their waiting experience and receive updates when it is their turn, and businesses to reduce walkouts and serve more customers each day. www.qudini.com
Your eye, a window to your health - first ever cloud-based instant automated pathology screening report from your digital retinal image. www.retvas.co.uk
An on-demand service where you can find, book and pay for professional, vetted window cleaners in under 60 seconds. www.squeakyclean.cc
A digital platform that brings individuals, companies and charities together through volunteering to create local social impact. www.volo.org.uk
A web-based measurement impact toolkit that simplifies the process of capturing, tracking and reporting on social impact initiatives in a flexible and affordable package. www.yardstic.co
Delia Porter, MD & Founder