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Why Women Make Technology Work Better
Google ‘famous technologists’ and you’ll be presented with a line of head shots, all of whom are men. Does that mean women haven’t played a part in the development of technology? Of course not. Just because women have been written out of history doesn’t mean they weren’t there.
As history is a story humans create, we have the power to rewrite it, starting here.
In this article, we’ll be:
- Tipping our hats to some of the amazing women in technology
- Getting the views of two of REPL’s female leaders on what it’s like to work in tech today
Writing Women Back into Tech History
From the second world war to the 1960s, women were a critical but hidden part of the tech industry. There are many reasons why women don’t feature as heavily in tech’s chronicles as men but a potted history goes like this: when computers first came into use, coding was seen as a lowly task well-suited to women with high-speed typing ability.
Women were transferred from the secretary pools to do the work. But, as the industry became more valuable and glamorous, men began to squeeze women out. To the point that today, when you Google famous technologists you just see a long line of men.
But behind the testosterone are a large number of women who have played important roles in STEM throughout the centuries. To honour their role, we highlight a few of them here:
- Ada Lovelace, 1815 – 1852
As a teenager, her mathematical talents resulted in a long working relationship with fellow British mathematician Charles Babbage, also known as ‘the father of computers’. She invented coding and was highly involved in Babbage’s work on the Analytical Engine.
- Emmy Noether, 1882 – 1935
A mathematical genius whose work underpinned Einstein’s theory of relativity by completing the calculations he couldn’t.
Founder of the software company Freelance Programmers, Dame Shirley created job opportunities for women with dependents. She adopted the name Steve to help her in the male-dominated business world which clearly worked as she went on to be extremely successful in her field, making millions and retiring aged 60.
- Female Codebreakers of Bletchley Park, 1939 – 1945
- NASA’s BAME Female Computers, 1960s
Brought to public attention via the film Hidden Figures are the mathematical whizzes who also happened to be black women. Known as the ‘computer skirts’, they were the cornerstones of multiple space programmes for NASA.
- Dr Sue Black, 1962 –
Dr Black is a professor of computer science and technology and a modern Dame Shirley who started #techmums to encourage women into tech.
Why is it important to write these women back into tech history? Because the omission perpetuates misconceptions of women as uninterested or incapable in the field. Clearly this isn’t the case as, against the odds, the female of the species has played a very significant role.
How REPL’s Female Leaders Continue to Blaze This Trail
From diversity comes innovation, a critical ingredient for any tech company’s success. It’s the reason REPL welcomes people from a range of backgrounds with different ways of thinking that drive strength through divergence.
We caught up with REPL’s Chief Executive Officer, Cerys Johnson, and Liz Bate, VP US Operations to get their take on women working in tech today.
Social Conditioning Starts Young
It’s fair to say that women still face an uphill struggle when it comes to carving out a career in tech. Not least thanks to social norms that are prevalent from a very young age. “I was a girly tomboy and the first girl in school who did woodwork”, says Cerys.
Luckily for REPL, Cerys’ early interest in tech received a fan to flame the spark. This came in the form of Cerys’ uncle who was a professor of physics. He made the topic accessible and fun, igniting an interest in science that inspired Cerys to study physics and electronics at degree level.
Things worked out slightly differently for Liz. Although she enjoyed and excelled at STEM in school, she ended up taking English, geography and French at A-level. This led her to a degree in physical geography which included a lot of science. Liz says: “The split on the course was 50/50, male and female as geography was traditionally seen as female subject and science more male.”
For Cerys the gender split was pronounced: “Typically for the time, I was the only female on the course and one of just three women in the whole year group.”
Despite holding a degree in physics, Cerys’ strong track record in maths and taking exams pointed her towards a career in accountancy. Starting out as a management accountant for EON, Cerys then moved into aerospace and defence before crossing over into retail where she worked in strategic planning, project management and IT management.
This path led her to join REPL, initially as a project manager before sitting in most seats giving her experience across the entire organisation.
Following a slightly different path, Liz started her career in retail before working for law enforcement as an intelligence officer. This role involved gathering new requirements for and training people on IT systems, a journey that eventually led her to REPL.
With both women now working in senior leadership roles, it’s clear that the glass ceiling that exists in so many tech firms has been smashed at REPL. And they believe that for other women to follow in their footsteps, finding the right tech company to work for is paramount.
Find the Right Fit For Your Ambitions
Discovering the right company to work for isn’t plain sailing, as Liz recognises: “My background is in sharp contrast to my experience at REPL. At previous employers, everything was governed by process and unless you were male or had been there a long time, you didn’t have much of a voice.”
Moving into REPL was a breath of fresh air for Liz. She said: “Everyone has their voice and you’re recognised for what you add to the company and bring to table.”
Cerys echoes this stating that: “REPL is unusual. Rather than trying to be gender inclusive we’re inclusive all round. Being a woman has never been an issue. I’ve never felt as if my opinion is worth less or the work I do isn’t equivalent to a man’s.”
What is it that makes REPL different to other tech employers? Cerys puts this down to REPL’s pioneering spirit: “There’s a sense that we’re all in it together, combining our skills to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”
Supporting Women’s Success at REPL
REPL values the talent that their diverse workforce brings. One strand of the diversity programme is to become a best-in-class employer for women. This has included tactics like:
- launching a Women in REPL group
- establishing a culture of female empowerment by giving representation to the female workforce
- placing visibility on women in tech initiatives
- regularly putting women forward for speaking opportunities
- following best practice in recruitment by running adverts through gender evaluation tools to ensure the wording isn’t biased
- posting ads on female-friendly job sites
Cerys also points out that: “We’re aware of gender differences in the recruitment process, like women only applying if they meet 100% of the essential criteria whereas men will apply with gaps in their experience.”
All the women in this article have fought against the odds to carve highly successful careers in tech. If you’re a woman who wants to follow in their footsteps, Cerys and Liz advise you to “screw up your courage and follow your dreams”. And who knows? You might just be featured in a similar trailblazing list in 20 years’ time.