90% of those working in the UK’s tech sector say it would benefit from a gender-equal workforce. Yet, only 26% of UK tech workers are female. Thanks to the Lloyds Banking Group’s women’s employee network, our co-CEO, Pippa Begg, explored the role of female technology leaders alongside Emma Sinclair MBE (CEO, Enterprise Alumni), Nagla Thabet, Goldy Samra, and Joe Soule (Lloyds Banking Group’s Homes Business Platform Lead, Technology Platform Director, and CIO Consumer Lending & Enterprise Risk, respectively).
What challenges do women working in technology face, and what can female leaders do about them?
Women who decide to pursue STEM qualifications and careers often face challenges from the outset. Pippa recalled regularly being the only woman in a class or cohort, and having her choices challenged because of stereotypical views about what women and girls should study. These stereotypes persisted when Pippa entered the world of work: at networking events, for example, she would be mistaken for event staff.
Goldy saw in that an inconsistency on the part of businesses. On one hand, diversity and inclusion are now rightly seen as critical to success: a wide range of perspectives gives you a better understanding of your customers and helps you discover new and better ways to fulfil their needs. But on the other hand, the drive to attract more women and girls to STEM is only a relatively recent phenomenon, with much still to be done.
So, how do you fix that? Pippa suggested starting by auditing what you have in place already, so you know what you need to stop, start, or do differently. Identifying and addressing your biases should be a key part of that process. For example, Pippa and her co-CEO at Board Intelligence realised that, given their own experiences, they were predisposed to hiring women. It was only once they’d acknowledged this bias that they could set about trying to achieve gender balance in their management team.
Change projects focused on promoting diversity and inclusion are a given. But there are also many opportunities to bring diverse voices together within “business as usual” activities, and Nagla pointed to a recent hackathon as an example of this. Normally, only developers are involved in hackathons, but on this occasion the group included people from a wide range of teams such as marketing. Not only was each group able to contribute their unique skills, but the addition of perspectives that may not have been present otherwise also added an additional layer of rigour to everyone’s thinking. Bringing different people together ensured that the group delivered more than the sum of its parts.
What’s the role of mentorship, networking, and community building for would-be female tech leaders?
Joe began by reminding us of the important role that luck plays in success — and that we create our own luck by being open to new opportunities and experiences outside of our comfort zones and adopting a positive attitude to make the most of them.
Having a great mentor can help to open doors. When casting around for a mentor, Pippa advises choosing a person you respect and admire. Nagla emphasised the importance of working with someone who won’t simply show you how to do their job but will help you to develop so that you reach your own potential.
As you progress in your own career, it can be very rewarding to become a mentor yourself — paying it forward and helping others to realise their potential in turn. And beyond mentors, Emma highlighted the importance of having a peer group with whom you share experience and ambition and who will help you develop as a leader.
What impact are fast-evolving technologies like AI having on diversity?
As Nagla pointed out, it’s unrealistic to not expect our world to be fundamentally changed by the advent of artificial intelligence. Although AI will create jobs, it will undoubtedly take others, and it is likely that this could disproportionately impact women, as they tend to occupy more of the roles that are at risk from technology advancements.
However, this doesn’t mean admitting defeat. As Nagla argued, it’s ultimately your choice: you can either rule yourself out as a beneficiary of this revolution or embrace it and make use of it. Women in technology should therefore not be daunted by AI and its impact, but intrigued. Joe built on this, pointing out that curiosity is one of the most valuable skills in any business. Without it, the benefits of diversity will remain unrealised.
Pippa echoed this sentiment, saying that you shouldn’t set out to understand every intricate detail and complexity of large language models and fall victim to myopia. Instead, establish a broad knowledge base through which you can see the whole picture.