Feature: The role of women in the Welsh tech industry

If there’s one challenge that the worldwide tech industry has been facing for years, it’s the lack of female employees – particularly in leadership positions.

A report published in 2014 by Gartner found that the number of women working in top IT roles has remained roughly the same for over a decade.

Although this struggle still remains prevalent, companies are beginning to take action. GE, for example, has just announced plans to hire 20,000 women by 2020.

Here in Wales, women innovators and entrepreneurs are playing a pivotal role in putting Wales at the forefront of technological development in the world.

The Welsh Government recently recognised this fact when it announced plans to boost the number of women working in the Welsh technology industry.

A focus on quality education

Lyanna Tsakiris is one of the women putting Wales’s digital sector on the map.  She runs digital agency Station Rd. Marketing and ReProgram, an organisation that represents Welsh female digital innovators.

More needs to be done to get girls and young women interested in developing tech-based careers, she tells Tech Dragons. Lyanna says everyone needs to work together to make this happen.

“Women have been underrepresented in STEM for far too long and I think the onus on Welsh Government to improve gender balance is exactly what is needed.  Change needs to come at an early age and we should all be encouraging young girls and women to get involved as soon as possible,” she says.

“If you arm people with knowledge and understanding – not just young girls – then they can make informed choices.  Many young people don’t fully understand what it means to be a scientist or to work in technology.

“In Wales, we have some fantastic science and technology companies, and brilliant educational facilities. I think that closer links need to be established and nurtured with the business community and educational providers.”

Things are improving 

Eiry Rees Thomas is another leading woman in the sector. She’s developed a range of digital apps targeted at youngsters to promote literacy and the Welsh language.

She says that there’s been a gender imbalance in the industry for decades, but there are more opportunities than before. “The topic of ‘Women in Technology’ has been a focus for discussion over the past few years, concentrating greatly on the poor percentage of women entering technology as a profession,” says Eiry.

“Historically, technology education and its antecedents have been strongly gender-stereotyped, leading to a position of male dominance in the field and a disparity that is daunting, not just for individuals and groups but for the industry as a whole.

“My leap as a mature female into the field of educational technology in 2010 called for the learning and adoption of knowledge and skills that seemed insurmountable, but that were helped in the main by invaluable male mentors and collaborators.”

Co-working is helping 

Tramshed Tech, a co-working space for digital businesses and entrepreneurs based in the centre of Cardiff, is an example of an ogranisation constantly encouraging women to play an active role in the evolution of Welsh tech.

Elizabeth Arnold, commercial and events manager at Tramshed Tech, says women are increasingly attending events and setting up businesses at the centre. “Working in a co-working environment, I see that that technology is becoming more and more prominent.

“At Tramshed Tech, we encourage women to come to our collaborative space as well as offering training and support for women who are looking to take their first step into Tech.

“We are also finding more and more women attending the tech focused events such as Cardiff Start, Cardiff SEO Meeting and Tech Dragon Meet Ups, which is really encouraging and exciting to see as it just goes to show how supportive the Welsh Tech communities are, gender is not an barrier to us.”

All genders are needed

Louise Harris, CEO of edtech firm the Big Learning Company, says that there’s a growing demand for skilled tech professionals and that both genders are needed.

“Technology is rapidly becoming a requirement for all sectors and in some instances is totally changing the core of traditional industries. In order for our economy to grow rapidly in Wales, mirroring the pace of change in tech, then we  desperately need more top talent,” she tells us.

“We need engineers, programmers, creatives and leaders, who are experts in technology, and this means we need both men and women to develop. We need people with the right skills to carry us forward in the third millennium and the only way to succeed in this bold approach in Wales is if women are not left behind.”

Like Lyanna and many other people in the industry, Louise says that the education needs to be the biggest focus here. This is something her company considers on a daily basis.

“This change starts at school where we encourage girls and boys to use technology and be makers, creators, coders and collaborators. Girls need to be made to feel part of this exciting advancement and be encouraged to solve real world problems using the technology in their hands,” she continues.

“Not everyone needs to become a programmer but we do need our young people in Wales to be digitally competent and confident. Women need to be leading in this field alongside men and now, otherwise girls won’t see the technology industry or working in tech as a place for them – and we need them to.”