There has been a global recognition of late around gender diversity in the workplace. None more so than in technology. The perception, for many, is that this is an industry dominated by men; however, there has been a real push recently to change this stereotype. Awards such as TechWomen50 have been recognising female talent and giving women a platform from which to inspire others. We spoke to Jo Franchetti, one of the TechWomen50 winners, to find out how she fell in love with coding and to gather her thoughts on the wider gender diversity topic.
What inspired you to take a career in technology?
I was a slow starter as far as tech was concerned. Apart from far too many hours sunk into gaming, I barely used computers until the year I left school. After some particularly lacklustre careers advice, I’d chosen to study mechanical engineering at uni. I was told that this would offer me the mix of science and creativity that I wanted from a career but I think I always knew that it wasn’t quite the right fit for me. When it came time to pick a uni, I chickened out, turned down my offers and looked for a gap-year job instead.
I applied for an internship with BBC Research and Development. In the interview they showed me some C++ code and asked me what it was doing. I’d never even heard of C++, let alone worked with it! The interviewer was very kind and talked me through what each function was doing and, with prompting, I worked it out – and fortunately they offered me the job! I was there for a year working with a group of incredibly talented and intelligent programmers on some very cool projects. It was here that I really got my first taste of programming and computer science – it was love at first type.
How did you hear about the TechWomen50 awards? And how has the experience been so far?
I was nominated for the award by a very kind friend of mine, Beverley Newing, a fellow codebar organiser, who is also a woman in tech and a brilliant one, at that. I’d not heard of the award up until that point, but it was a lovely surprise to hear that people value the work that I’m doing. I love mentoring and helping other women in tech, but I always worry that I’m not doing enough or enough of the right thing, so even being nominated was an honour. Being chosen for the award and hearing all of the lovely comments on the work that I and all of the other TechWomen50 have done has been incredibly inspiring. I’m feeling very motivated for 2018!
Why do you feel women, statistically, are not as well represented within technology as men?
There is a long and sad history behind the discouragement of women in tech, and many unfortunate contributing factors. When computer programming was first getting off the ground, the gender balance was fairly even. The first-ever computer programmer was a woman, Ada Lovelace! The 60s and 70s is when things started to change – programming was taught in universities that didn’t admit women and the media advertised a nerd identity that was entirely male. Movies depicting hackers as male heroes came out in the 80s, which is when the representation of women in tech really started to decline. There is an excellent film called Debugging the Gender Gap, which goes over this very well. I think media really has a lot to answer for in the way that we perceive tech to be an industry for men and we see that stereotype reinforced everywhere. Schools discourage women from taking sciences, toy stores sell dolls to young girls and meccano sets to boys, magazines encourage boys to learn how things work and encourage girls to try new perfume. The problem becomes cyclical because women don’t see role models in the tech industry so don’t picture themselves there. A toxic ‘bro-culture’ has grown up in many tech teams, which can make working in tech unpleasant for women – meaning that even if they do get there, lots of women leave the industry because they are undervalued, underpaid and harassed.
All of that being said, there is lots of hope on the horizon! There are many organisations working to increase the recognition of the work of women in tech and to encourage more women into tech. Even the media is getting in on the action with brilliant movies like Hidden Figures. We’re finally making steps towards getting representation figures back up.
You teach coding, both as part of your current role as well as outside of work – have you noticed more women showing interest in technology-focused roles?
I think women have always been interested in technology and tech-focused roles, they’ve just not been encouraged to pursue that interest. Now that we’ve got organisations, and even employers themselves, focused on encouraging more women into tech, I hope that we’ll start seeing more and more women applying to – and taking – technology-focused roles.
Aside from awards such as this, what else do you feel needs to be done to encourage more women to explore technology-based careers?
Women have their confidence knocked from an early age, we’re told that we’re not naturally as good at STEM subjects, that we can’t take the pressure of a fast-paced job, or that we should be using our soft skills instead. It is essential that we stop the propagation of this kind of false, harmful message and that we boost the confidence of women who are considering a career in tech. From those at school, to those considering uni or work experience, to those who want to change to tech after a career in something else, the women that I’ve met through work and through mentoring are more than capable of getting a career in tech. They just need the small push towards taking the leap. By mentoring and by being visible, accessible role models, we can be there to bolster the confidence of the women who’ve been knocked down.