DIDFest: Redressing the Balance

If you follow Vanti on Twitter, you may have noticed a fair few tweets with #DIDFest2019 infiltrating your timeline in recent weeks. Perhaps you’ve been curious enough to click on one of these and find out a bit more about this unfamiliar hashtag, but if not: DIDFest is a brand new event dedicated to promoting diversity in digital, and the inaugural event is all about women in tech.

Born from the brains of the Midlands’ leading voices, and with the support of many of the region’s most forward-thinking companies and organisations, the months of March and April have seen more than 50 events dedicated to closing the gender gap and promoting a more equal culture. Since our very own COO Faye Pressly has played a pivotal role in the organisation of DIDFest, we’ve had a lot of exposure to the various meetups, speaking events, and workshops that have been hosted around the region over recent weeks, and it’s been really encouraging to see so much excitement and drive around the topic.

We’ve even hosted a couple of events ourselves, including Tech Treks, where college-age students paid us a visit to find out more about careers in tech from some of our team members, and a roundtable session we called ‘Everywoman Forum – Redressing the Balance’. This event was geared towards individuals who wanted to have a conversation in a safe space about the barriers and stereotypes women face, either as potential newcomers to tech careers, or as existing members of the workforce.

Hosted by Vanti team members Danniie Francis and Ria Blagburn, the event was truly eye-opening, and we really appreciated the different perspectives provided by attendees from a range of different backgrounds. We enjoyed a fairly free-form, organic discussion that could easily have carried on beyond the allotted two hours, but we managed to group the key points we discussed into ‘Problems’ and ‘Solutions’, which we wanted to share – we’d welcome any discussion on these topics!

Problems

  • Stereotypes and assumptions are rife
  • Women face indoctrination and gendering from an early age – it’s a much wider societal problem
  • Salaries play a role – it can be hard to change career and keep the same money, which can limit people’s options
  • The language society uses around tech is very masculine
  • The group perceived more hurdles for women in tech to jump
  • Companies (especially SMEs) can fear the impact of maternity leave
  • Some people are bigots and just don’t get it – there are certain business leaders who don’t care and don’t want to
  • Some men in tech have a poor attitude towards diversity
  • Women aren’t always allies – some high-powered women in the industry “behave like men” to get ahead and aren’t role models
  • There’s too much hierarchy and bureaucracy
  • Girls and boys are given unequal/gender-biased career advice
  • A lot of education needs to be done and this takes time

Areas for development

We’ve split this into a few sections, as we identified that there were some ideas that applied to everyone, and some that specifically addressed the gender gap at three key stages – school-age children, the current workforce (so the peers of anyone who’d be transitioning into a tech career), and at the board level.

Everyone:

  • People need more context on WHY diversity matters
  • We need to involve men in the discussions to get them on board
  • Give people the information they need to think and empathise
  • Collaboration between ALL initiatives is vital
  • Back up educational pieces with statistics and evidence
  • It’s important to educate and challenge people without attacking
  • We need allies, not enemies!
  • You should be allowed to be techy and ‘girly’
  • Case studies and examples will help people empathise
  • We should encourage people to think about what they enjoy
  • We need to show initiative and take action
  • We can take inspiration from other countries do (e.g. Scandinavia)

School age:

  • Children need more exposure to different opportunities
  • Scholarships in STEM
  • Look for schools that may need additional support
  • Training for career advisers and teachers on tech careers/education
  • Speakers in schools – role models
  • Work experience in tech environments
  • Change of curriculum to put more emphasis on skills

Current workforce:

  • Focus on women’s confidence in a male-dominated workplace
  • Mentoring and promotion of role models
  • Mentoring through LinkedIn
  • Meetup groups and roundtable discussions
  • More flexibility for returning mothers (and everyone else!)
  • Get rid of ‘essential’ parts of job descriptions

Board level:

  • Educating business leaders about WHY diversity matters
  • Legislature and lobbying can help build frameworks
  • Businesses should develop stronger links with schools
  • Have a hiring policy that’s more about the bigger picture
  • More collaboration with industry groups
  • Policy implementation gaps – translating strategy into action

This is very much the beginning of the conversation, and we hope to continue it following DIDFest through some of the initiatives mentioned above.

We’d love to see you at the DIDFest closing event, which will be held at Millenium Point on 23rd May – keep an eye on Twitter (@DIDFest and #DIDFest2019) for ticket announcements and to join the #womenintech discussion!