International Women’s Day: we need more diversity in tech

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s also a day to discuss equality and sadly, more often than not, lack of equality between men and women, boys and girls in many areas of life.

The importance of being seen

I’m an architect which means I plan and design systems both technical and human for Co-op Digital. Throughout my career I’ve often been the only woman in the room. That won’t be a huge surprise because it’s hardly new news that the world of tech, digital and design has always been male-dominated.

And that’s a problem for the next generation of women because as the saying goes: if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. In other words, girls aren’t likely to aspire to take on roles and be part of a community that they’re under-represented in.

yellow background and black text. text says: 'If you can't see it, you can't be it.' Followed by #beboldforchange

Time for change

At Co-op Digital we’re committed to trying to break out of the catch 22 situation and reduce the imbalance of men to women in tech. We actively support Ladies of Code, She Says Mcr, Manchester Geek Girls and Ladies that UX. We also made a pledge to support gender diversity at conferences so that no one from Co-op Digital will speak at events or be part of panel discussions of 2 or more people unless there’s at least one woman speaking or part of the panel (not including the chair).  

Celebrating with a screening

To celebrate IWD me and my colleague Gemma, a principal engineer, arranged a screening of Hidden Figures in Manchester for families with children aged 6 and above. Our aim was to inspire young people, particularly girls, to consider a STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) career.

image is from Sunday screening and shows Gemma speaking at the front of a cinema packed with families.

The film’s about 3 female, African-American mathematicians who had a massive impact within NASA in the early days of the space program. They succeeded in engineering, mathematics and software development despite facing gender and racial bias. The film’s based on a true story so it seemed like an appropriate and important thing to show to mark IWD.

image shows the leaflet we gave away at the screening. The text on the front says: 'International Women's Day private screening Hidden Figures. Sponsored by Co-op, Autotrader, Tech North'

Thanks to sponsors from Co-op Digital, TechNorth, Autotrader whose support made it possible to make it a free event.

We’ve made a good start…

The screening was fully booked and we also inspired and supported 3 sister events screening Hidden Figures or Codegirl in Sheffield, Nottingham and Liverpool. As the crowds left the cinema, I overheard 2 brilliantly positive things from young, female attendees. “Can I go to Madlab, Mum? I want to make something!” asked an 8 year old, and a slightly older girl asked, “Nana, do you think I could be an astronaut?”

…but there’s still a long way to go

Sure, over recent years women and minorities are marginally better represented in this sector and that’s in part due to the committed people at organisations like Manchester Digital who created a ‘diversity toolkit’ to address issues around equality last year.

But women are still grossly outnumbered. 

If you’re a parent, consider taking your children to one of the many free creative and code clubs in the north west. Or if you’re are curious about a career in the sector yourself, come along to one of the meet-up groups in our thriving northern tech community.

We need to continue to be bold for change and fight the good fight every day, not just today.

Danielle Haugedal-Wilson
Digital Business Architect
Co-op Digital champions diversity full stop. We mention gender diversity specifically in this post because it’s International Women’s Day.

Liverpool Geek Girl Academy awards

We’ve been sponsoring the Liverpool Geek Girl Academy. The Academy was created to inspire girls who may not have considered a career in technology before to experience what that might be like.

Picture from one of the Liverpool Geek Girl Academy sessions
Image courtesy of Liverpool Geek Girls

Last week they celebrated the end of the programme and showcased what the 15 girls had achieved.

A picture of all the attendees of Liverpool Geek Girl Academy
Image courtesy of Liverpool Geek Girls

Over 8 week 15 girls ages 11-15 coded, bonded and successfully built their own websites using WordPress. 

 Becky Arrowsmith who’s a developer at Co-op also stopped by during the Academy to give the girls a a special master class.

The winner received a one to one with Mike Little one of the founders of WordPress and he also presented the awards. The winner was Amelia Roberts, aged 13 who created a website to celebrate Tim Peake and space exploration.  You can hear from Amelia in the video below.

 

“I have really enjoyed Girl Geeks Academy. It has helped me realise how much I can do and achieve, and that tech isn’t just for the boys anymore!”

Amelia Roberts

It was a pleasure to be at the awards ceremony and see the change in the girls since I first met them on their first day. I saw girls with more confidence and with a new found curiosity in technology. This is so important as studies suggest that only 1% of the tech workforce will be female by 2040 if we don’t try and redress the balance. Providing opportunities like this to show what a career in tech is like will hopefully encourage more girls to take that step.

The Co-op is committed to education and diversity which is why we were delighted to have sponsored this event.

Danielle Haugedal-Wilson
Business Architect

Bringing non-digital experience into the digital team. It’s an advantage

I’m Gail. I’ve been a graphic designer for over 20 years and up to now I’ve worked predominantly in pedestrian signage systems, exhibition and information design projects.

These projects have mostly involved the ordering and arrangement of words (typography) and mapping systems on physical products to help orientate and direct people around cities and spaces.

A picture of Gail Mellows
Gail Mellows

But at the Co-op in the digital team I’m developing typographic guidance for designers and helping them create clear typographic hierarchies without using lots of different sizes and weights (which creates visual noise and makes things harder to read and understand).

In past projects this is what I’ve done in the context of displaying information on physical products in physical environments. Now I’m applying it to information on-screen.

Why am I now working in digital?

Just over 2 years ago I moved from London to Manchester with my partner and daughter. After looking at the design industry in Manchester, I wondered where I fitted into this young, predominantly male, techie and advertising-led industry in which I had few established professional relationships.

I decided to explore other ways of applying what I’d spent years doing

I came across the Ladies that UX group. The first meet-up I went to happened to be at the Co-op in Angel Square. A number of women from the digital team at the Co-op were speaking about their roles and how they had come to be there.

The panel were really encouraging about trying new things career-wise and taking a chance. Ben Terrett was also there and described the principles behind the development of Co-op digital products and services.

There were lots of parallels with my approach and ethos. At the end of the event, feeling pretty nervous, I approached Andrew Travers to talk to him about what I’d been doing.

I’ve now been at Co-op Digital for 2 months

I started by looking at how typography is being used across various products and services and using this information to develop specific typographic guidance for the use of Co-op’s new typeface, Avenir Next. The size, position, colour, juxtaposition, vertical and horizontal spacing of type has a very practical job to do as well as fundamentally conveying the character of Co-op.

For the team that work on our brand I’ve been developing ways of sharing information and best practice for using type, imagery and colour across digital and non-digital applications.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work on the Wills digital service.

It’s a steep learning curve for me

I spend a lot of my time moving bits of type up and down so that they look good as well as make sense as content (familiar ground) and wrestling with things like ‘the fold’, ‘screen real estate’ and CSS modules (unfamiliar ground).

I like the fact that the Digital team at the Co-op is actively encouraging women to work with them and offers flexibility around work and family commitments.

There’s been an open and positive reaction to me bringing my non-digital experience into the digital team. It’s seen as being an advantage.

Gail Mellows
Designer

Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. It’s an international celebration day of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). 

Events in Manchester celebrating Ada

Emer Coleman, Gemma Cameron and myself are taking part in a number of events in Manchester over the next couple of weeks to celebrate Ada, everyone is welcome to join us.

Manchester Digital  Ada Lovelace Day – Fireside Chats
Tuesday 11th October

Ladies of Code at Autotrader – Mob programming with Clare Sudbery
Tuesday 18th October

Ada: The Empowered Technologist at ThoughtWorks
Thursday 20th October

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Ada was a writer and mathematician and is most famously noted for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

Babbage worked on the design of the engine itself (the hardware) and Ada on paper explaining what the engine did. Ada’s notes on the engine include what is now recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine –  what we now call software. Ada is often regarded as the first computer programmer.

Babbage had kept his thinking on his analytical engine to the analysis and output of numbers. Lovelace had expanded that thinking to the analysis and output of symbols. This meant that the machine could analyse and output words, music and pretty much anything and everything – the modern notion of universal computation.

Whilst neither lived to see their work become a the reality we know today, they had 100 years earlier anticipated the implications of modern computing.

Picture of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage
Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage

An opportunity to celebrate diversity & teamwork

I also see the day as an opportunity to celebrate what can be achieved when individuals from very different backgrounds, generations and sexes come together and work as a team. Lovelace and Babbage are a great example of that.

As you celebrate Ada Lovelace Day this year, celebrate the achievements of women in STEM, but also celebrate what amazing things diverse teams can achieve when they work together.

Danielle Haugedal-Wilson
Business Architecture & Analysis

 

Hello to Claire Braithwaite

I’m thrilled that Claire Braithwaite has joined the digital team this week as partnerships & ventures consultant.

Picture of Claire Braithwaite

Digital is integral to the way we do business and we’ve translated our digital approach into four key elements; products, platforms, members and ventures. Opening up to the digital economy, especially in the North, is key to delivering on this.

Who better to support us in doing this than Claire. Along with being the founder of an award winning online retail platform and work in the tech for good and impact investment space, Claire has been instrumental in driving attention and investment in the digital economy in the North for some time, with roles as tech advisor to the Manchester Growth Company and as the first head of Tech North.

We’ve begun to create shared spaces for digital collaboration and product delivery with our partner NOMA in Manchester city centre. Claire will be working alongside Emer Coleman and Ian Dunnett developing our relationships with civic technology partners, businesses and organisations, helping us to create a truly co-operative digital hub in Manchester.

Welcome Claire.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

RailsGirls workshop

I was asked to speak at the first RailsGirls workshop in Manchester, an event with the aim to help women to understand technology and to build their ideas.

Picture of attendees at RailsGirls Manchester Event

Here’s an edit of my talk:

So I hope most of you know a little bit about the Co-op, I hope you’ve at least visited one, we have a store in every postcode so we are hard to miss. We’ve just launched a new brand and we’re over 170 years old, with our origins only a few miles up the M60 in Rochdale. The Co-op was a movement, created by a group of people who wanted to do good for their community and was founded on some amazing values and principles. One such value remains pertinent to us today, helping people to help themselves.

At CoopDigital we are open and agile, we’re blogging about the things we’re doing, please do take a look. One of our aims is to be at the heart of the digital community in Manchester as well as hiring digital talent aligned with our values. CoopDigital has a team of leaders committed to diversity aiming to ensure your gender is not a barrier to you succeeding, this runs right through the team and diverse teams are better – more on that in a moment.

So the Co-op is here because it believes in its members, education, diversity and the tech community here in Manchester – so why me?

Since I had my daughter two and a half years ago, I decided to take a more active role in promoting diversity in tech. My own personal experiences made me think about the sort of challenges my daughter might face when she’s thinking about a career. I want her to do what she loves most and not face the barriers I faced. I have now, after 16 years in the workforce, found a job I love in an amazing environment with wonderful people.

So enough about me – this next bit is about you and why you being here is really really important. So, I’m going to leave you with 3 things to think about today

According to McKinsey:

“Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

So, companies with more women in them perform better.

According to the Harvard Business Review and Carnegie Mellon University:

“There’s little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members. But if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.”

So, teams with more women in them are smarter.

We’re likely to have 1 million vacancies in the tech sector by 2020. Let’s make sure more than half of them are filled by women.

1. Your contribution to this industry is not only valuable, it’s vital

About a month ago I listened to a Ted Talk by Reshma Saujani founder of Women Who Code called – Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection.

It’s a great talk I encourage you to seek it out. I wanted to share some snippets of her talk with you today:

How many of you look at a job ad and don’t feel you can apply unless you meet 100% of the requirements? (Many hands were raised at the RailsGirls event)

Reshma talked about psychologist Carol Dweck who in the 1980s looked at how bright fifth graders handled a difficult assignment, Reshma said of the findings Carol observed,

“bright girls were quick to give up. The higher the IQ, the more likely they were to give up. Bright boys, on the other hand, found the difficult material to be a challenge. They found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts. In short if were were socialized to be brave instead of socialized to be perfect”

You’re here to learn to code and coding in itself is an endless process of trial and error, It requires perseverance. It requires imperfection and being comfortable with that

2. Be comfortable with imperfection not getting it right first time is what coding is – and that’s ok.

Reshma also observed this in her program, she says,

“Every Girls Who Code teacher tells me the same story. During the first week, when the girls are learning how to code, a student will call her over and she’ll say, “I don’t know what code to write.” The teacher will look at her screen, and she’ll see a blank text editor. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But if she presses undo a few times, she’ll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn’t get it exactly right. Instead of showing the progress that she made, she’d rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust.”

It’s rooted in how we perceive ourselves and our output, a professor friend of Reshma’s at the University of Columbia who teaches an Intro to Java told her when the guys are struggling with an assignment, they’ll come in and they’ll say, “Professor, there’s something wrong with my code.” The girls will come in and say, “Professor, there’s something wrong with me.”

3. If it doesn’t work there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just your code

Whilst you’re here today if your code doesn’t work ask for help and please don’t delete your work or you’ll never know how close you came.

Danielle Haugedal-Wilson
Architect

CoopDigital sponsors the first Girl Geek Academy

CoopDigital are sponsoring the first Girl Geek Academy run by Liverpool Geek Girls. It’s an 8 week project based programme for girls between the ages of 11-16 to immerse themselves into the technology sector. The key focus will be building a website with code but will also look at female role models and confidence, something that we’ve recognised are incredibly important skills to have within the sector.

Both Liverpool Girl Geeks and the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) are introducing this as a pilot with the hope for it to be a continuous course. Due to the location of the academy we’re also able to offer extra insight into the tech sector by giving them the opportunity to use 3D printers and robotics as well showcase the great spaces and modern technologies that the industry has to offer.

Picture of girls at Liverpool Geek Girls

Why is this important?

We’re committed to supporting gender diversity in the digital sector, only yesterday we talked about our support for gender diverse panels. One of the ways to tackle the gender imbalance in this sector is to educate girls and young women to show them the possibilities of working in technology.

What will they learn?

Lauren Williams one of the tutors will be facilitating the 8 weeks by teaching the 15 girls how to build their own websites. We want them to learn some basic HTML & Javascript skills as well as build on their self esteem. We want them to speak about their passions, show off their skills. Our own Co-op engineers will join the academy during half-term which is 24 October to 28 October, to do more in depth sessions on code and other skills.

The academy will run from 27 September to 15 November, every Tuesday 6.30 to 8.30pm at FACT in Liverpool. If you want to find out more or apply for a place visit the Liverpool Geek Girl Academy website.

Danielle Haugedal-Wilson  & Chelsea Slater