5 Female Digital Leaders Working to Reduce the Gender Gap

Women are dramatically under-represented in the digital sector as compared with other UK industries – and their entry into the field is falling.

Just one quarter of the UK digital workforce is female, a drop from 33% in 2002.

Statistics like these press home the need for both men and women working in the industry to encourage and inspire more ambitious women to launch and develop careers in digital.

Brighton Digital Women exists to do just this – and one of the ways in which we try to achieve this is by celebrating female digital role models and enabling our members to learn from their successes.

There are a growing number of dynamic, forward-thinking women in the UK digital sector who are not only successful in their own fields, but who are also leading and designing initiatives to get women and young people more excited about digital.

In this post I highlight five female digital leaders, from varied backgrounds, who are heading initiatives, companies or organisations who promote digital literacy and mentor those wanting to build a career in digital.

1) Martha Lane Fox, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho @marthalanefox

Digital Leader Martha Lane Fox

There’s so much to say about Martha Lane Fox’s achievements that it’s hard to know where to start – so the summary below is only a small slice of her breathtaking career.

The narrative begins with her founding Europe’s largest travel and leisure website lastminute.com in 1998 at the age of 25, which she sold in 2005 for £557 million.

Since then, she has been involved in numerous government led inititatives to bridge the digital skills gap.

In 2012, she launched Go ON UK in 2012; a government-backed charity focused on making the UK the world’s most digitally skilled nation, and currently chairs the board. (The current CEO, incidentally, is another female Digital Leader, Rachel Neaman.)

Lane Fox was awarded a CBE in 2013 for “services to the digital economy and charity” and joined to House of Lords as a crossbencher on 26 March 2016, becoming its youngest female member.

She is founder and executive chair of Doteveryone, the first public value creating organisation dedicated to making Britain shine in the networked age. Its initial focus is on the three key areas of gender balance, digital leadership and building prototypes for public services.

Words of wisdom

In an interview with The Drum, she gave some advice for women starting out in digital, and why you shouldn’t let lack of confidence hold you back:

 “Things are intimidating all the time, like giving a speech at the House of Lords. Everyone has that feeling, but don’t let that put you off. I bet there isn’t a single woman that doesn’t have to flick on that switch of confidence on a regular basis.”

 “Don’t worry too much about planning every moment of your life if you’re just starting out. Everything that happened to me happened serendipitously. It’s about building networks of people and using that for the basis of working hard and building your experiences.”

 “Digital is an immensely exciting and rewarding sector to work in and it’s not even separate to our lives it’s a fundamental part of them now. So understanding it is crucial – use the web to be more of an expert than the person sitting next to you.”

2) Code Club founder – Clare Sutcliffe @claresutcliffe

Digital Leader Clare Sutcliffe

In 2012, web designer Clare Sutfcliff founded Code Club, a nationwide network of free volunteer-led after school coding clubs for children aged 9-11.

Volunteers teach children how to program by showing them how to make computer games, animations and websites. The initiative has brought Clare a whole raft of accolades and awards, including:

  • Best Education Product or Service, Digital Leaders, 2014
  • New Entrepreneur of the Year, .Net Magazine, 2013
  • Win of the Year, Microsoft Ubelly: Critters Awards, 2013
  • Awarded ME for services to technology education for work at Code Club, Honors List 2015

Words of wisdom

Sutcliffe spoke to Heart Internet on the subject of starting a non-profit venture:

“First of all, I didn’t do this on my own, I did it with my co-founder Linda -she really pushed me to do it and had loads of energy from the start … So, I think you do need a good support network around you and even though it took some explaining to other family and friends, they all seem to get it now and everyone has been really helpful and supportive.”

“Also, knowing where your cash is coming from is important and it’s something that we didn’t know a lot about when we first started.

“We thought we didn’t need any money because we didn’t need to hire anyone – we thought that we could just write the project, put it out there and it would take care of itself and everyone we spoke to said we would definitely need to find some money to make it happen.”

“The Code Club way was always: start a project, find the money for it later and ask for forgiveness, not for permission. It’s an exciting way to live!”

3) Kathryn Parsons @KathrynParsons

Digital Leader Kathryn Parsons

Kathryn Parsons is a co-founder and co-CEO of Decoded, whose mission is to bring as many people as possible to “Digital Enlightment”.

Founded in 2011, the company offers one-day crash courses in computer programming from coding to data visualization.

Winner of the 2013 Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award, Parsons is also involved in CodeEd, a campaign for delivering coding education into schools.

Words of Wisdom

She said in interview with Red Magazine that:

“If you are planning to start up an online business, I think having a real passion for what you do is essential, taking that first leap is very scary but once you’ve done it, it’s very liberating.”

“My other tips when it comes to starting a business are to surround yourself with brilliant people, get advice on everything from where to seek investment down to making sure you work with amazing people that you trust and get on with, and are brilliant at what they do.”

4) Georgie Bottomley, co-founder, Ladies That UX @bottomley_g

Digital Leader Georgie Bottomley

Bottomley is a UX designer who co-founded Ladies That UX in 2013 to bring female UXers and digital problem-solvers together in an informal environment to discuss their experiences, both good and bad.

She curated Talk UX in Manchester, the first UX conference with an all-female line-up. The Drum included her in its list of digital pioneers in its 2015 ‘50 under 30.’

Words of Wisdom

Talking to Digital Women, Bottomley speaks on the need for more women to be involved in digital:

“In 2013 I co-founded Ladies that UX. A friend (Lizzie) and I went out for a drink in Manchester, and we were saying how up until that stage we had never worked with a woman that does UX. “

“Even now the number of women I have worked with is very small.“

“Women in technology are not reaching their potential, and senior positions are often very male heavy. We know that as an industry there is an issue with gender balance, in some job titles and in some locations more than others. “

“What user experience does is create solutions to real world problems. But if the people who are solving the problems all look the same, or sound the same, then the solutions aren’t going to be suitable for everybody.”

“What we need is a diverse group of people thinking about these problems, which will allow us to come up with solutions for the whole of society.”

“I absolutely love my job, and want to see more women flourish. Hopefully Ladies that UX provides a space where women can meet each other, and encourage each other to succeed. There has never been a better time to be a women in tech, so let’s go for it!”

5) Elizabeth Varley @evarley

Digital Leader Elizabeth Varley

Elizabeth Varley desribes herself as: “a serial entrepreneur with a background in technology, content, events and growing communities.”

She is Founder and CEO of TechHub, a global community for startups. TechHub also works with corporates to help them with innovation culture and connecting with startups.

She has appeared in all of the major UK tech and business press and has been a judge for many technology and business awards and is a sought-after conference and event speaker around the world.

She was one of the founding steering committee members of the DigitalEve women in technology organisation in the UK and was a consultant with e-skills UK on a project to encourage girls to get involved in IT and new media.

Words of Wisdom

In an interview with London Loves Business, she said on the subject of getting women more involved in tech:

“It’s about getting away from the stereotype that the technology sector is just about guys building grey boxes. It is actually hugely varied and creative. I think there is a lot more interest from women now but there is still a way to go.”

“Things like smart phones have made technology part of everyday life and I think this has helped to encourage women, the idea of creating something for a phone doesn’t feel like inaccessible technology.”

Feeling inspired?

One key theme that has emerged in the ‘words of wisdom’ these digital leaders have to impart is the importance of building networks and communities in order to become successful – which is why Brighton Digital Women was founded!

If you’re feeling inspired by the women celebrated in this post – come along to our next meetup to talk about all things digital in an informal atmosphere.

The details for your diary: Wednesday 6th April from 6.30pm in The Mesmerist.

Everyone’s welcome, whether you’re a newbie, seasoned professional or somewhere in between. We look forward to seeing you then!

Eloise is a freelance writer, translator and editor who is a guest blogging member of Brighton Digital Women. You can find out more about Eloise at Scribe Sheet.


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