For a long time, the image of geeky male programmers has dominated the tech world. But things are changing. Women entrepreneurs and business leaders are making their mark on London’s Tech City.
These days, the narrow streets that once housed the printing industry in London's East End are the centre of Tech City - the UK's government-backed version of Silicon Valley.
And set within this rich history of the industrial East End is a bright, welcoming and very traditional English pub called "The Slaughtered Lamb."
The pub's profits skyrocketed because techies – both male and female - love a beer or three after a hard day of programming, says Wendy Devolder. She's the founder and CEO of Skills Matter, a company that trains software developers.
Devolder is one of a growing number of new young, social and female tech entrepreneurs in London.
There are a lot more women in tech than most people think, but things are still far from being equal, she says.
“If we run a pure programming related conference, probably 95% of the attendees are men and 5% are women,” Devolder notes.
She points to the lack of encouragement girls are given to pursue the sciences, as one reason the tech world is still dominated by men.
New Tech City boss
But things are changing. The appointment of Facebook's European boss Joanna Shields, who Devolder describes as “awesome,” as Tech City's new CEO promises to make the tech world more female friendly.
Tech City, officially known as the Tech City Investment Organisation (TCIO), was set up in 2011 as the UK government's investment group for technology start-ups.
“It's just such a great victory for the TCIO to have someone of her calibre join us,” says Benjamin Southworth, Tech City's deputy CEO.
“She brings a huge wealth of experience from the private sector, a huge network and contacts and the ability to really lead this organization forward in a really dynamic and exciting way,” he notes.
Southworth believes Joanna Shields, who takes on her new Tech City role in January, will be a role model for women in the tech world.
“The democratization of the Internet means that these days anyone of any gender has the ability to create amazing companies,” he says.
Not "women vs men"
Although there aren't as many women in the tech world as men, numbers are growing, says Rosario García de Zúñiga Canivell, a senior software engineer at IT start-up Mendeley.
She was the company's first female employee. Today, she is one of seven women in a team of thirty-five. And she gets on well with her male colleagues.
“They treat me as a normal person on the team and there's no problem…they're really good team mates, and we have really good technical conversations,” García de Zúñiga Canivell says.
Mendeley CEO, Victor Henning, would like to recruit more women.
He sees no difference between the skills male and female employees bring to the table. But he believes that women have the ability to transform a male environment, dominated by “geeks talking in code,” into a much more pleasant and social office atmosphere. The only problem is finding the women, he says.
“We're just not getting enough applications. Applications are overwhelmingly male in tech,” he notes.
The demand for good developers is massive, regardless of gender, according to Wendy Devolder, CEO of Skills Matter. Her company is flooded with requests to help find skilled people. So women have nothing to lose and just need to put themselves out there, she says.
“I think the less point we make about women versus men the better because then we don't start putting ourselves into a little box and decide in advance without trying that we can't do the other thing," Devolder adds.
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