Interview: Miranda Bishop on women in tech

There’s a major problem in the tech industry: a lack of female employees.

According to E-Skills, women made up just 16% of the UK’s technology workforce in 2013. This is between 26 – 30% in the United States, proving how much of an epidemic this really is.

Miranda Bishop, a 26-year-old digital marketer, is so enthused about this topic that while at Welsh social media conference Oi15, she raised the fact that most of the speakers – high-profile technology leaders – were men.

We ask her a few questions about this issue and what she thinks needs to be done to see change.

TD: It’s clear that a lack of women working in tech is a major problem. As a woman working in the industry, how does this make you feel?

MB: It’s disappointing more than anything. Women leave education and enter the job market on a par with men, but as soon as you get up the tiers of management they drop off. This is for a variety of reasons, personal choice included, but often company culture or work-life balance can play a major role. That’s disappointing because we should be able to fix that in the 21st century, in a highly progressive industry.

More than anything, being a female business owner in tech makes me feel like at least I can share my experience with others. When I go out networking and to business meetings I often feel like the anomaly. I’m still quite young at 26, I was 24 when I became self-employed. I’m female and I work in a digital industry. Other women I meet who are my age or younger, who are thinking about going self-employed, or even who have never thought about it before, can hopefully see that it’s possible for someone like them. I never thought of setting up my own business when I was younger, it kind of just happened. I’d like to bring entrepreneurship into more people’s frame of reference from a younger age.

TD: What’s created such a substantial gender gap, would you say?

MB: There’s no one reason that women are under-represented in technology. Obviously personal choice comes into it, women and men should always be free to choose a career in whatever their interests might be. Specific ideas of ‘what a woman does’ and ‘what a man does’ are entrenched however, from formative years. Culture, personal development, work-life balance, access to funding, human capital, and unconscious bias are just a few factors that affect women and men in business. And with a lack of good representation for women in top leadership roles, a vicious cycle occurs through a lack of role-models women can identify with. Many people will also highlight that women don’t tend to study STEM degrees also. Again this is a choice that is influenced by culture. For Social Media at least you certainly don’t need a STEM degree. My degree was in English Literature.

TD: What issues have been caused because of this?

MB: According to a report from the Centre for Corporate Women, blocked female talent is losing the UK £5b a year. Women only own around 15% of STEM ventures in Europe. Having a gender diverse leadership makes business more profitable and more likely to reduce acquisition costs. There’s still a big pay gap, again many people will say that flexible working, ability, education and career choices play a part here. Of course that’s true to some extent. But to the extent of 77c for every dollar in the U.S.?

TD: How have you been affected, personally?

MB: I’ve worked for start-ups for most of my career, all male-led without exception. Clearly that’s not the same for everyone and again, this is unconscious – people don’t gather round a table and say ‘let’s start a business! But we can’t have women leading, that would be ridiculous!’ I worked in nightlife, marketing events for a few years and you see very few women leading there. It’s often not a pleasant surrounding for women in management, you’re in a minority with few people to connect with and sexual harassment on nights out is still rife. Nightlife can still be very backwards about what they think sells, promo girls are still asked to wear very little on freezing cold nights and design is heavily influenced by a page 3 mentality. At the club I worked for we found that actually, women are the most likely to book in advance and buy up tickets, so funnily enough selling sex to them was never going to fly.

Because my business now is my own, in essence there shouldn’t be anything stopping my development. Occasionally I come up against unconscious bias again – people being surprised or confused at the career I’ve chosen, unconsciously not taking it seriously. My biggest opposition is my own vision – thinking big, thinking scaleable is hard as it’s not something I’ve done before and I don’t have many people locally to compare myself to. It all relies on my own ability. Which is pretty scary.

TD: What should the industry do to turn things around?

MB: Providing diverse role-models is really important to me. However it’s also really difficult to not hold ‘token women’ in management positions up as a beacon of gender equality in large tech companies. Sometimes this can really give women a lot further to fall, and places blame if something goes wrong. The industry needs to focus on smaller scale role-modelling, improving diversity in middle management, supporting everyone to get them to the same level, and then promoting up according to ability and skill. Above all change needs to happen at younger ages, to stop stereotypes being stamped on young children forever. Boys should be encouraged in care-giving roles just as much as girls, and girls should be encouraged into technical roles just as much as boys. Media campaigns like ‘Ban Bossy’ and ‘Like A Girl’ can really go a long way in helping this.

TD: When do you think change will come?

MB: Change won’t come unless we make it, by asking those awkward questions and challenging our own thinking. But above all people need to be open to talking about gender equality, to healthy debate and to the fact that actually everyone judge