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.

Supporting the Manchester Digital Skills Festival

Last week, Co-op Digital sponsored the Manchester Digital Skills Festival, an event that promotes careers and collaboration in tech, digital and design. Students, graduates and educators from local schools and universities had the chance to meet more than 180 digital organisations from across the north west.

Photograph of hall with attendees and speaker inside Manchester Town Hall

Co-op Digital contributed to an experience day where a group of 13-14 year old pupils from a local Co-op Academy came into The Federation; a talent day for students and graduates with an interest in the industry and a conference day aimed at starting conversations between digital organisations and educators.

Getting young people interested in digital

During the festival the need for digital organisations to engage with people at a younger age was flagged (again) as a good way of improving diversity in the industry.  

With this in mind, we invited pupils from a local Co-op Academy into The Federation. We gave them an opportunity to get a feel for what it’s like to work in the tech community by spending time with some of our communities of practiceThey also took part in user research, coding and agile delivery workshops.

Pupils working collaboratively on a lego project

There was a chance for digital organisations to talk to educators from local schools and universities. The 2017 skills audit was a big talking point and Rob Bowley, Head of Engineering, was part of a panel discussing key issues flagged in the report.

Bringing more digital people to the Co-op

Principal Engineer Gemma Cameron talked about the Co-op’s culture and values and how they help us build products and services that meet the needs of our members, customers and communities.

Over the past year and a bit Co-op Digital has attracted loads of fantastic digital talent. People who care about doing the right thing for our Co-op colleagues, members and their communities. We’re looking to encourage diversity in the digital and design community, and we’ll be recruiting more great people throughout 2017.

You can find out more about a career at Co-op Digital and follow Co-op Digital on Twitter.

Matt Eyre

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