On Friday 23 January 2015, I attended a free networking and development day for women in technology, organised by the BBC at its studios in Salford.
A range of topics were covered, but the two main areas of interest for me were the research and development of future technologies and the discussions around the issues that women in the technology industry face.
We began the day with an outline of the BBC’s outlook on future media in the North. I was particularly keen to hear about the developments of the multiscreen, interactive experience that TV watching is morphing into. During the BBC Blue Room North tour we continued this theme by exploring virtual reality consoles (Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard), and voice control technology.
Talking with the consumer technologists about how these tools could become part of our everyday lives was fascinating and I’m excited by the opportunities that they will open up. I was also extremely pleased to hear the speaker, Christine Bellamy, highlight the importance of working in collaboration with small businesses across the country.
I’m keen for MultiPie, our app development company, to stay ahead in the field and be involved in innovative projects, so finding that a large organisation like the BBC is keen to work collaboratively, and has an ear for smaller enterprises, is very encouraging.
BBC Blue Room North (left) and female techs listening to a talk at BBC Future Media
Discussions into the particular issues women face in the industry were kicked off by a think tank that explored our views and experiences as tech professionals. We agreed that the industry is a vibrant and highly stimulating area to work in, full of opportunities and diversity. However, we also highlighted that stereotyping and bias are barriers to women entering the field.
The intimidating prospect of being the only woman in the room can be off-putting enough, without considering the inbuilt stereotypes that come with the territory. An expectation of under-performing and failure in comparison to their male counterparts was cited as a real fear for many women, as well as the prospect of being viewed as bossy if they take on leadership roles, or over-emotional if they display passion for their work.
Later we looked at ways to mitigate these problems and encourage greater equality across the industry. A key thing that came up during this discussion was the need to change perceptions from a young age. Providing young girls with strong female role models was identified as a pressing need, as well as challenging people to consciously change the way they discuss technology and science.
We have to change ingrained language that unwittingly tells girls these subjects are not for them. Kate Russell’s talk in the afternoon elaborated on these issues and her experiences of fighting stereotypes on her journey into tech journalism. Entitled Girls Don’t Game?, it is available on YouTube and TEDx.
Overall the outcome of the day was very positive. I have been inspired by the insights into virtual reality technologies and how they can be applied commercially. And the discussions around gender equality in the industry have given me a greater understanding of other women’s experiences and their views on the subject.
I was surprised by just how many women attended, and at the diversity of backgrounds and specialisms. I met with women whose expertise included data analysis, project management, PhD study into computer security and graduate broadcast engineering.
Toby Mildon, the diversity and inclusion project lead, closed by remarking that he hopes events in the future will not need to be gender, or minority, specific to attract the best talent. A sentiment which was shared throughout the room.
About the author
Annie Haley has always had a creative mind, enjoying studying art and textiles from an early age. Annie graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 2008 with a BA in Theatre Design. She initially had a love-hate relationship with technology, but after creating the user interface for her first app Spectrum Puzzles, she discovered a passion for digital design. She and partner Steve now run their own app development agency, MultiPie Ltd. Annie’s main role is designing the branding and user interface for the apps that they build, but she also has a hand in running most areas of the business.