Professionals share their expertise


A collective reflection on the positive impacts women are making in digital-led careers. Represented in this conference today are creatives, managers and executives, working with the digital in education, creative industries, business, design, STEM, skills development and the arts. Here we have upfront inputs on the present scenario from experienced leaders and professionals working across the technology sector, with a debate on how to increase the essential involvement of women in the digital future world of work.

Paola Cuneo – Programme Director, Sirius Programme, UKTI
Will Harvey – Creative Technologist, Ogilvy Labs
Audrey Mandela- Co-founder, Multimap / Chair & Acting COO, Informilo
Janet Thomas President, Women in Banking and Finance
Chaired by Ghislaine Boddington – Co-founder and Creative Director, body>data>space

Women Shift Digital Conference at Level39 on 26 November 2013

“Online education is a great a tool of empowerment for women all around the world” Paola Cuneo, Sirius Programme

Paola Cuneo, Programme Director, Sirius Programme, UKTI, opened her presentation referring to her previous experience in the corporate world in a senior position. She was feeling frustrated about this environment, she decided to embrace a career in digital strategy sector and never regretted it.

A festival organised as part of the UKTI / Sirius programme last September to encourage top level students and graduates in the world to set up new businesses in the UK, saw a 40% female participation. According to Paola, this is a very encouraging sign that the gender balance will get better in the next generation of entrepreneurs.

She stated that there is no such thing as one-size-fit-all pathway and that role models are absolutely key for women to be inspired. Women should be encouraged to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Paola finally reminded us that top senior women are not the only role models, but that we are all role models, as mothers, friends, sisters, colleagues.

“We need more women-focused venture capital firms and business angels” Audrey Mandela Multimap and Informilo

Audrey Mandela, co-founder of Multimap, chair & acting COO of Informilo. is also chair for Women in Telecoms & Technology (WiTT), an informal networking group focused on enhancing women’s careers and female entrepreneurship.

Audrey started by stating that there should be a stronger focus on women entrepreneurs and their funding capacity. Companies created by women in Silicon Valley are generally performing better but still receive much less funding than their male peers, she stated. There should be more women focused venture capital firms and business angels. Quoting her own example, Audrey explained us that after selling the company she created Multimap with her husband, an angel investment body with a focus on female entrepreneurs.

Audrey agreed with Janet Thomas on strategic networking being key for women to have access to capital. She herself is trying to mentor more and more women in the Tech sector.

On that point, Paola reminded us that the CEO of the UK Business Angels is a woman, Jenny Tooth, a great supporter of women entrepreneurs.

Audrey added that if some angels funding group are run and dedicated to women, there are still not enough investment in tech business run by women

“We cannot look at hiring the same people over and over again” Will Harvey, Ogilvy

Will Harvey, Creative Technologist at Ogilvy Labs praised multi-talent, multi-cultural and gender diversity work environments as crucial for creativity. As it is recognised that diversity boosts business, female input is absolutely key, Will stated, informing us that most of their team was female

Will presented the Ogilvy programme Rough Diamond, a collaboration between educational disrupters and innovators in educational learning who have partnered to identify, develop and nurture new creative talents. According to Will ‘we cannot look at hiring the same people over and over again’ so we need more young people from diverse background to develop the right set of skills for today and tomorrow’s world of work. The aim is to diversify their creation process and offer, to diversify Ogilvy as an agency and to reach a more diverse basis of customers.

“Why is the percentage of women running Tech SMEs is still so low in the UK and in the US compared to Asian countries?” Ghislaine Boddington body>data>space

Ghislaine reminded us that in the UK and in the US the percentage of women running SMEs was still very low compared to Asian countries. There are many more women at CEO positions in the technology industries in Asia that in Western Europe and in the US.

In London and Tech City, events are still deeply immersed with male culture a strong masculine-led ecology, this does not make networking easy for women groups.

The 2013 Web Summit held in Dublin also offered a very clear evidence of the lack of women involved the web scene internationally, with only 1 on 7 participants being women.

There are only 6 % women involved in Games development at the moment, and this unbalanced situation leads to highly misogynistic games, unattractive to women.

Some Eastern European and Baltic countries do far better than the West and especially the UK. Latvia has the highest proportion of women in programming in Europe, at 33 %, while Romania has 30.6 %, according to Eurostat. So what is that makes the situation here in the UK so unbalanced?

Why western women are not putting their necks on the line?” Janet Thomas, Women in Fimance

Janet Thomas backed these facts with her experience, when traveling in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia for business, she would meet many more female CEO than in the West.

The point was made that Asian professional women receive more homecare and domestic help, enabling them to maintain a better work/life balance. In the UK women find it hard to find this balance, it was reminded that affordable and accessible childcare is key to enable women to maintain an healthy work/life balance.

Provocatively, Janet pushed the debate forward, asking why western women are not putting their necks on the line and not “leaning in” (quoting Sheryl Sandberg) enough.

Discussion was then opened to the floor:

A participant referred to ‘Pythagoras’s Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender War’ by Margaret Wertheim as a key reading to progress in the debate and understanding why Western and Asian societies are different. In this book Margaret Wertheim shows physics has been an overwhelmingly male-dominated activity and argues that gender inequity in physics is a result of the religious origins of the enterprise, leading to male focused ecology.

Some participants referred to the Asian situation as more complex: the support received by women goes far beyond the simple domestic help. The overall gender context was described as more favourable to women, both in term of education and career progression.

The rise of education’s costs in the Western world was discussed as a potential obstacle to the development of women and excluded communities’ careers.

Participants who are homeworkers and mothers pointed out that today women can work and develop their skills and career from home, using web tools. Therefore who is refraining women from fulfilling potential if not ourselves? A huge shift is happening in online education and webinars. The learning opportunities this will create for men and women in particular are massive.

As a former chair of the Cherie Blair foundation, Paola had the privilege to engage with communities based in developing countries like Africa, where access to digital technologies is life changing for women and is not just about career. Online education is a great a tool of empowerment for women all around the world and therefore has to be accessible to all.

Audrey stated the example of Richard Branson, who met phenomenal success in business despite poor academic performance. Entrepreneurs, women and men, don’t necessary need university education to be successful but definitely need proper grants and support to develop their projects, she said.

Audrey underlined that philanthropy and individual giving is a common practice in the US that should spread across the UK and Europe. Individuals and companies should also be encouraged to sponsor the scholarship of students.

Will added that life-long learning and real-world experience while studying are both key to success.