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Digital & Technology

Women in Technology: why diversity matters

According to the 2019 Women In Tech Survey, 81% of women believe the technology industry would benefit from having a gender equal workforce. But the sector remains dominated by males, with just one in ten female technology specialists at leadership level.

Here, Sarah Novotny, Digital, Creative and Tech Lead at the GC Business Growth Hub, as part of our Inclusive Innovation campaign, explores her experiences as a woman within the sector, and ways in which the sector has become more welcoming and inclusive.

As a female within the technology industry, I’m often asked about my experiences and the associated challenges with working in a male dominated sector.

I began my career as one of a few women in a dynamic digital agency. Through a lot of hard work and an incredibly supportive boss I quickly moved up within the business, having honed expertise in communicating complex technical information to a range of different audiences.

This skill has led me to this incredibly privileged position as the Digital, Creative and Tech Sector Lead at the Business Growth Hub, through which I am able to support DCT businesses to reach their full potential.

The industry evolves

For many, the tech sector has long been viewed as the domain of men, and many of the sector’s figureheads – the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos – reflect this. But over the last few years a significant shift has started, partly due to the rise of Silicon Valley and the increased attention that the sector has received on a global scale.

Technology is constantly changing, and opportunities within the sector are continuously adapting and evolving to keep up with these changes. This means that people in tech need to be agile and prepared to continuously improve. Coding, for example, can be self-taught. The onus on self-skilling in Tech lowers barriers to entry and means that roles are more accessible.

And it’s not just easier to enter a career in the technology sector – it’s more exciting too. The release of ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook and the rise of Apple, Google and Amazon over the last two decades has altered the way that we perceive technology businesses, making it an incredibly attractive sector to work in. This is especially true given the increasing ubiquity of mentoring schemes designed to support and nurture women in the sector, with around a third of the Hub’s own mentor network currently comprising of female volunteers in senior leadership roles. 

The local impact

These shifts are happening on a local scale too. The 2019 UK Tech Town Index found that Manchester is the number one city to grow a career within the IT industry. This, combined with low costs of living, makes Manchester amongst the top UK cities to further a technology career.

Last month saw Manchester host ‘Reframe Women In Tech’, an event that brought together like-minded technology experts to reframe the narrative around women in the sector through positive action.

The event was pioneered by Tech Returners, an organisation committed to providing real skills development and training to change the face of the technology industry. Tech Returners is one of the many organisations that we have supported to streamline its business model and restructure its resources to be future proofed and ensure it could achieve sustainable growth.

Technology is constantly changing, with highly sought-after skills often self-taught - lowering the barrier to entry and making roles in the sector more accessible. Image: This is Engineering.

The Hub's Greater Connected programme brings leaders in the Digital, Creative and Tech Sector together to support business growth and collaboration within the sector.

Beckie Taylor, CEO, TechReturners speaking at the Women In Tech event in Manchester, October 2019. Image: Tech Returners.

Loaf Creative a digital agency based in Ancoats Greater Connected

Loaf Creative are just one of the businesses in Greater Manchester accessing specialist support from the Hub's Digital, Creative and Tech team.

Beckie Taylor, CEO at Tech Returners, said: 

“The Reframe Women in Tech event was all about changing the narrative around women in technology from a negative to a positive, focusing less on the struggle and more on the accomplishments of the amazing women out there who are achieving great things in tech every day.

“It’s been amazing to provide a space for women to grow their support networks, hear each other’s positive stories and the sheer amount of energy in the room today couldn’t be a better demonstration of the power of women in technology. Today wouldn’t have been possible without the support of partners and sponsors like GC Business Growth Hub and we’ve been delighted with the support from them and the community as a whole.”

The event was a remarkable opportunity to learn more about women’s experiences within the technology sector, and ways that we can support and encourage others to seek out careers and drive diversity in the sector even further. The event was not just inclusive, but it even included childcare facilities, which was not just a benefit for my family but for the many freelance and self-employed women within the sector.

Empowering women across the region

Similar stories are cropping up across Greater Manchester. Female-led LIMA Networks, are a Salford-based business that has received support from the Hub, has also been paving the way to support women in the technology sector. One of the main providers of IT support in the North West, LIMA struggled with shifting its focus away from being a product-led business towards a people-led one.

The Hub provided support to help LIMA’s CEO Lisa Thornton to empower her team, evolve its culture to ensure further growth. Through the Hub’s Executive Development Programme, we supported LIMA Networks with a series of in-house workshops, psychometric assessment, a review of vision and strategy, and an assessment of communications and performance management.

Lisa Thornton, CEO at LIMA Networks said: 

“We focussed on maintaining a people-led business – it’s our people that continue to drive our business forward.  The Hub helped us to translate our vision to our Senior Management team and has led to a 20% increase in sales – and opportunities for 20 new people to join our business. We’re in a fortunate position that we’re able to support and empower women across the region.”

This comradery and willingness to support and promote women within the technology industry will only strengthen as more and more women increase their profile within or move into the sector. With mentoring and peer-support networks now more accessible, and the Hub’s expert support on-hand for Greater Manchester based entrepreneurs and businesses alike, the sector is thriving, becoming more welcoming and inclusive, and providing more opportunities to bolster and support women.

The fast pace of the tech sector lends itself to inclusivity according to the Hub's DCT lead #GCInclusiveInnovation #tech4good #thisisengineering

If you are a digital, creative or tech business operating in Greater Manchester

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Sarah Novotny

Sarah Novotny, Head of Digital, Creative and Tech Sector Business Support

Sarah is passionate about bringing effective business growth strategies to the community behind Greater Manchester’s digital, creative and tech sector.

With almost a decade of experience in growing teams and businesses, Sarah strives to bring improvement by connecting creative minds and establishing environments which accelerate growth

Sarah brings an international perspective and is well known for her straight to the point way of approaching business support. She has worked with teams in blue chips, Scaleups, SMEs and Startups, and prides herself in bringing learnings around strategy, sales, innovation, pricing and productization from all these adventures into an ambition to interlink and align industry needs with the GM sector support offering.

Sarah leads several programmes for the GC Business Growth Hub including Greater Connected, Exceed and the Creative Scale-Up Programme which are delivered to the Greater Manchester digital, creative and tech sector network.