I recently read a study from PwC UK that found that only 27% of female A-level and university students would consider a career in technology, compared to 61% of males. To add to this shocking figure, over a quarter of the female respondents said they would be ‘put off’ a career in technology because it is too male dominated.
Having forged a career in technology that I have found to be incredibly rewarding and exciting, it is disappointing to see statistics like these: I have worked at companies with female leaders at the helm and have seen first-hand the importance of promoting the best talent, regardless of gender.
Upon graduating from university, I joined Darktrace, the cyber AI company headed up by the brilliant Poppy Gustafsson. Darktrace is a fiercely meritocratic company where it quickly became clear that, no matter your age or gender, if you worked hard you were rewarded. Two years after joining the company, I moved to South Africa to set up a Darktrace office there. At the time, it was incredibly daunting because cyber AI in South Africa was not a huge market, but it ended up being one of the best moves I ever made and by the time I left Cape Town, I was leading a team of over 20 employees.
Now, in my role at Luminance, I’m incredibly proud to be running a company that has a strong female executive team, further reinforcing the idea that successful tech companies don’t always need men in leadership positions.
That’s not to say that my career so far hasn’t been without its challenges. I remember arriving at a meeting in South Africa and being asked when my boss would be joining us, for instance. I have found that the best way to counter experiences like that is to be confident in why you are sitting there - understanding your EQ (emotional intelligence) can really help in a business environment and, in my experience, this has been crucial to get a deal over the line or to bring a team together.
But above all, both of these roles have taught me a lot about how important it is that we continue to create opportunities for women in the tech sector. This is because technology like Artificial Intelligence is crucial to our future world and global economy. We have already seen the strides technology like AI has made in areas such as healthcare, banking, law and cyber. In a post-pandemic economy, cutting-edge technology will be all the more important, providing massive commercial opportunities, creating jobs and driving profit. It is therefore critical that women have the opportunities to succeed in the sectors that will define our future economy.
However, we are still a long way off from achieving gender parity in the tech sector - in 2020, less than 20% of technology roles in the US were held by women and females now hold a lower share of computer science jobs than in 1980.
I believe that, fundamentally, this culture shift needs to start in school – we need to do more to mentor girls and encourage them to study STEM subjects. In particular, the need to educate students starting at an early age is clear, and I wholeheartedly endorse the AI Council’s recent suggestion that every child should leave school with a basic understanding of AI-based concepts and technologies.
But a shift is only going to happen when women and girls are able to see that pursuing a career in technology is a valuable opportunity for them: I see no reason why half of technology businesses shouldn’t be run by women. At Luminance, I just want the very best people.
Meritocracy should form the basis of every company. At Luminance, I know that I am respected by my team not because of my title or in spite of my gender, but as a result of my wealth of experience and expertise. If we want a future of female leaders, that is how it should always be.
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