Event Report: Women in tech: How can we promote further diversity in the tech sector?

Pictfor hosted a roundtable discussion in the House of Commons on Tuesday 24 April in partnership with the Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group. With this year marking the centenary of (some) women getting the right to vote as well as being the Year of Engineering, this event explored the barriers and challenges women in tech face as well as solutions to ensure a diverse and vibrant tech sector.

Those leading the roundtable included:

  • Dr Ruth McKernan CBE, Chief Executive, Innovate UK
  • Vicky Ford MP, Pictfor Co-Chair
  • Gillian Keegan MP, Women and Work APPG Co-Chair
  • Ivana Bartoletti, Head of Privacy and Data Protection at Gemserv and Chair of the Fabian Women’s Network

Event chair and Pictfor Co-Chair Vicky Ford MP opened the event by welcoming the recent unveiling of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament. She said that the UK Government is investing more money in research and science than any other government in the past 40 years, and said that this could help to improve access to stem subjects and careers for women and girls.

Gillian Keegan MP, Co-Chair of the Women and Work APPG, stated that the Women and Work APPG initially started as being about women returning to the workplace. She went on to say that the APPG is increasingly focused on how to make the industrial strategy work for women. She said that technology is a great social mobility tool and understanding technology is a good way to power your future. She also noted that the culture of organisations presents a barrier to women working in any sector, and said that the first CEO to embrace flexible labour will give permission to the rest of the company.

Event chair Vicky Ford MP then introduced Dr Ruth McKernan CBE, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, saying that Dr Ruth McKernan CBE is one of the brilliant women at the top of UK tech policy.

Dr Ruth McKernan CBE said that arguments around diversity have been won. She noted that the latest data from McKinsey & Company, a Management Consultancy, showed that companies with more diverse businesses perform better financially. She said that we should try to understand why women aren’t applying for funding to start a business. She went on to say that this was limited by three areas; funding, role models and confidence. She gave an example of how Innovate UK had tried to tackle this by saying that Innovate UK created a competition for funding that was specifically at women. Dr McKernan said that 1700 people registered which was the most applications for any competition they had ever run and that the competition intended to fund five projects, but ended up funding thirty-five. She said that this   campaign led to female applicants for funding grants increasing from 14% to 24% the next year.

Dr McKernan said that other initiatives to increase women applying for funding and roles included a mentoring programme, a programme with Getty images to put together an exhibition of women entrepreneurs and innovators, a focus on using gender neutral language for recruitment and ensuring a diverse selection panel during recruitment. She advocated for the industry to bring more talented women through organisations into leadership roles. Dr McKernan closed her speech by saying that the Government has done good work on gender pay gap reporting and companies are now recruiting on the back of these statistics.

Ivana Baroletti, Head of Privacy and Data Protection at Gemserv and Chair of the Fabian Women’s Network, said that women are at the forefront of technology and cited Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham as an example. She said that women in tech are too often not seen at panel events or conferences. Ivana went on to say that she was excited to see the future power of data and what it will bring. She said that emerging tech will also bring new challenges in how we govern and particular attention must be paid to the fact that that algorithms can be biased.

Event chair Vicky Ford MP then asked attendees to introduce themselves and answer the central question “How can we further increase diversity in the tech sector?”. The responses from the roundtable attendees were as followed:

  • Sarah Rench, EY and DevelopHer, advocated for accessible training to upskill while at work.
  • Ava Miller, 360 Leaders, said that unconscious bias training in schools would help and that building networks is important to advance women and their careers.
  • Claire Cockerton, Plexal, said that women should make the work environment work for them and use social media to “name and shame”.
  • Michelle You, Songkick, said that there should be equal parental leave policy.
  • Philippa Tucker, Code first: Girls, suggested that there be more reward for companies that have a better gender balance.
  • Sam Hepher, Living Wage Foundation, stated that one third of women in work earn less than the living wage.
  • Rose Lewis, Collider, said that women investors should be encouraged further.
  • Seema Bennett, Every Woman, said that women should work with men at the top to make changes.
  • Emily Atkinson, DevelopHer, said that talking about career ladder, and how to move up them, should be made into a more comfortable conversation.
  • Laura Chung, DevelopHer, advocated for reverse mentoring and more male mentors for women in tech would help address the gender imbalance in tech.
  • Haude Lannon, Access Partnership, said we need more apprenticeship programmes.
  • Maureen McLaughlin, Iridium, argued for more women on boards and more women directors of public companies.
  • Rikke Rosenlund, BorrowMyDoggy, said that there should be more funds for women entrepreneurs as there is a lack of investors in the tech space.
  • Marta Krupinska, Azimo, said that stakeholders should refuse to go to events that are all male and, when recruiting, companies should build in more time to find a female candidate.
  • Alex Potter, Broadgate Search, said that he was going to promote to clients a 50/50 shortlist when recruiting.
  • Miranda Ward, CyLon, said that flexible working practices should be promoted, especially in the tech sector.
  • Mansata Kurang, Freestyle 4 Africa, argued for an approach using STEAM rather than STEM would help.
  • Nicky Kirshen, Decoded, said that a culture of life-long learning should be fostered so that anyone can retrain or upskill throughout their career. She said that employers should use the apprenticeship levy for training, digital skills and technologies.
  • Michaela Jeffrey, Women of Silicon Roundabout, said that we should make technology more accessible and make the benefits of technology more exciting and visible so that more people will be attracted to work in the sector.

Event chair Vicky Ford MP said that in addition to working to ensure the tech sector is more diverse, we should also recognise that the UK is in the top 15 countries in the world for gender equality. She then asked for closing comments from the speakers.  

Ivana Bartoletti said that women should never be afraid of challenging unfairness.

Dr Ruth McKernan CBE said that there is a lot that the people in the room can do as employers or policy makers. She said that a key thing is to enable people to work in a way that accommodates them.

Gillian Keegan MP talked about how she was passionate about technology and its ability to bring about social mobility because it worked for her. She also said that more should be done to communicate technological stories that make a difference to people’s lives. She ended by saying that a challenge for women to overcome is a double dose of self-awareness that makes us less confidence at putting ourselves forward.

Vicky Ford MP closed the session by thanking all speakers and attendees.


 Please click here for a list of attendees

If you would like further information on this topic or about Pictfor’s programme of events, please contact admin@pictfor.org.uk.

Please note: This document includes the minutes of the meeting. This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.


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