Published on in Responsible Business

“I didn’t detect any direct oppression. Girls simply weren’t expected to be into technology.” Kate Russell

I love hearing the experiences of other women in the technology industry. There are common themes, but of course every individual experience is different. Most of us have, at some point, experienced some form of discrimination. At last month’s Women in Technology event hosted by Fujitsu, Kate talked about scenarios that a lot of us can relate to. Being at school in the 70s and 80s commonly meant a lack of choice. Home economics and typing, rather than physics and maths. I agree with Kate – it didn’t feel like discrimination at the time; it just seemed to be the natural order of things. It’s sometimes hard to spot discrimination when it’s become so ingrained in a system you’ve been brought up in.

Like Kate, my introduction to the world of gaming came with Elite. Suddenly a new world opened up. The ZX80, with its audio cassette player storage and games you had to type in and debug because there were misprints in the manual. Crashing after 5 pages of typing. Extracting mangled tape from the machine, and the horrendous little keyboard. But it was all worth it. Games, then and now, offer a way in, a way to start learning about technology without having to challenge a male-dominated work environment.

Thankfully, times are changing – but recent statistics show that we have a long way to go.


The Unbalanced Statistics

“It is a sad fact right now that while women make up 46% of the workforce. Only 15.5% of the STEM workforce (excluding medicine) are women. Just 8% in engineering.

The number of women working in the UK tech sector has fallen from 17% to 16% – and it’s been falling by about 0.5% year on year for over a decade. And yet girls are outperforming boys in GCSEs and A-levels. There are more women graduating from university than men.

Just 12% of engineering and technology undergraduates are women. And in the boardroom, the latest figures from the FTSE 100 show women are very under-represented at board level.”


That’s where Women in Technology comes in. It doesn’t focus on the problems. We all know what those are. The focus is on providing solutions. Although the numbers above can be daunting, and put people off making changes, even small adjustments in the way we all do things can make a significant difference.

We all know that not enough women are taking up STEM subjects at school, and that we are under-represented in technology roles. It’s good to raise awareness about these things, but the big question is: “what do we do about it?” Thankfully, there’s some research here to help us out – and we don’t have to change the world in a single step. There are lots of small things that we can do, that all of us can do, to get us closer to equality of opportunity.

“Let’s stop thinking about them as girls, and start thinking about them as engineers, mathematicians, scientists and technologists – then perhaps they will start thinking about themselves like that too… and you can help.”

So, here’s an abbreviated version of Kate’s recommendations – small things that we can all do to change the future.

 What can we do? Kate Russell’s suggestions

  • Become a role model… go to your old school and offer to speak to young girls about your work and life in technology.
  • Join an organisation like STEM NETS where you will get support and connections with schools looking for ambassadors to come and speak to their kids.
  • Start a mentoring scheme in your organisation so younger female colleagues can get support and guidance from you. Having a role model makes a big difference.
  • Talk about the possibilities. It’s not all about pure science and lab coats. It’s about real-world applications, which are relevant. From designing a new fabric to sending rockets into outer space. Tell them about what YOU do so they can see the context of a career in technology. Get them talking about things in their own life that are important and then discuss how technology careers are connected with those things…
  • You are the perfect role model. You’ve made it, you got past those decades of discrimination and assumptions, and that alone is a noteworthy accomplishment. In you they can see the context of how they might fit in to the work place in a technology role.

And, of course, this isn’t an issue just for women. Equality benefits men. It benefits everyone in our society, as diverse and supportive businesses perform better and have happier employees.

Follow @KateRussell and @Nicola__Holt on Twitter.

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