When Martha Lane Fox had just finished the most important pitch of her life- presenting the vision for Lastminute.com with co-founder Brent Hoberman- the first and only question from he first and only investor who had agreed to meet them was: “What happens if you get pregnant?”
Yes, it’s inappropriate. But more than that, it’s downright depressing. Because, back in 1998, in the face of the internet revolution – something that could, and would change every aspect of our lives – this guy wasn’t focusing on all these inspiring possibilities; instead he was thinking about maternity cover, days off looking after poorly children and ducking out of meetings early to go on the school run.
In our office in Knutsford, there are six women, who between us have 10 children, seven whom are girls, and another on the way J. And I ask myself: 15, 20 years down the line, will they still be getting asked this at interview? By then surely Britain will be a place where any woman pitching for investment in a new digital business, will know that the investor understands the value of the internet. But will they primarily still be seen first and foremost as a woman, and, heaven forbid, a woman of childbearing age?
The ironic thing, of course, is that it is technology itself that gives us the flexibility to work when and where we want to. Smart phones, laptops and iPads all enable us to fit work in around our families.
In her Dimbleby speech, Lane Fox focused on areas of opportunity that the UK should be grabbing with both hands, and the one that got us talking was how do we get more women – like our daughters – involved in technology? None of the biggest internet businesses were founded by, or are run by, a woman. And while there are a handful of senior women in technology – Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! – they’re mostly based in the U.S., not here in the UK, with our client Vin Murria at Advanced Computer Software Group one of the few exceptions.
Of the technology sector as a whole, just 14% are women. And in the highly paid technical roles – the software engineers, architects and system operators – that percentage sinks even lower. Lane Fox suggests about 98% of the code that the internet and web technologies rely on was, and continues to be, programmed by men.
There are some exciting projects happening in the UK such as Techmums, and Stemettes but there need to be more of them, with bigger impact. And they need to start in our schools like Robogals, a student-run organisation that aims to increase female participation in engineering, science and technology. Because something that pervades every sector of our society should be built by everyone – and that obviously includes women.
Here at Firework we’re totally behind Lane Fox’s goal to put women at the heart of the technology sector. Not only because it could make the UK the most digitally successful country on the planet, but more than that.. for our daughters’ sake.
Director of Firework PR
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