The Voices of Women Transforming Tech
By QuantumBlack colleagues
Helen Mullings, Global Chief HR Officer, QuantumBlack
Last year, QuantumBlack pledged to address the gender imbalance in our industry and in our own organisation. As we noted then, just 15% of UK STEM employees are women — this is a problem, and it’s not improving.
The impact of this disparity on industry culture, skill availability and gender pay-gap is significant. Perhaps more disturbingly, algorithms which will determine our futures are being written by a predominantly male workforce, potentially creating a structural bias for many years to come.
QuantumBlack launched our efforts to tackle this imbalance last November, with our first event designed to inspire and connect women tech professionals. Since then we have scaled our approach across a number of areas and, inspired by the theme of International Women’s Day 2019, we brought these activities together under one campaign — #QBalance.
We have delivered a range of activities at an organisational level, as well as championing the work of individual employees. One of our own fantastic Data Scientists, Margaux Penwarden, developed and delivered a machine learning workshop for female and non-binary researchers and PhD students, in conjunction with ‘Researc/hers Code’. We plan to roll-out this workshop tailored to female and minority groups across the UK.
QuantumBlack has also recently hosted our second major event ‘Women Transforming Tech’ where we invited around 80 outstanding female professionals to discuss technical topics that inspire them and connect with each other.
We are committed to helping address the imbalance across the broader industry, and so alongside our own initiatives we have announced support for a number of established organisations currently undertaking their own great work.
Earlier this year we partnered with ‘Code First: Girls’ to offer coding classes at our London offices, for women looking to retrain and enter the tech industry — our male and female staff were excited to turn tutor and pass their coding skills to others. And with research demonstrating that on average women are more prone to lose interest in STEM subjects during the teenage years, we also decided to partner with ‘Stemettes’ to host our first Hackathon for female school students.
We celebrated International Women’s Day throughout March, linking with networks such as ‘Women in Big Data’ to host Meetups alongside other tech firms. We will continue to update on future collaborative events and activity.
In the meantime, my newer colleagues — two of ten amazing women QuantumBlack has hired in recent months — wanted to take the opportunity to offer their thoughts on the uplifting ‘Women Transforming Tech’ event and provide their early impressions of life at QuantumBlack.
Merel Theisen, Software Engineer, QuantumBlack
It is difficult to select one highlight from QuantumBlack’s most recent Women Transforming Technology event. I connected with many interesting people on the day, and despite a range of backgrounds — many of them were undertaking fascinating research, while others were considering transitioning into the tech industry — all had equally inspiring stories.
QuantumBlack’s own Martha Imprialou delivered a talk on building trustworthy Machine Learning systems. Fair AI is a particularly hot topic at the moment. This sparked a tremendously interesting discussion around how we can prevent incorporating today’s biases into the models of tomorrow, and how algorithms may help us recognise our own individual bias.
Another highlight of mine was Professor Sue Black’s talk explaining how she got into computer science. Sue’s story resonated with me on a personal level, highlighting that there’s not one set avenue to enter the tech industry but a multitude of different options — and following these routes requires a high level of determination.
Moreover, I was inspired by Sue’s commitment to support and encourage other women familiarise themselves with technology and receive the recognition they deserve. Her talk perfectly illustrated the need for supportive female industry networks, and I left the event proud to be part of one.
Since joining QuantumBlack eight weeks ago, I’ve been impressed by the company’s approach to diversity. Across my career I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked for organisations that recognise the importance of inclusivity, but there remains a significant difference between feeling respected when carrying out your day-to-day job and being fully supported by a network of people who help you to grow.
When it comes to actual numbers of women working at QuantumBlack, the business does not differ largely from my previous employers. However, there is a marked contrast in approach. QuantumBlack takes great steps to actively nurture and facilitate an inclusive environment for everyone, and there are a host of examples alongside the Women Transforming Tech event. While it usually requires a couple of weeks for me to settle into a fresh workplace, with QuantumBlack it felt like I had returned home.
Nisara Sriwattanaworachai, Data Scientist, QuantumBlack
The most inspiring part of Women Transforming Technology was mixing with such a range of driven, passionate women. From the first moment of the morning’s breakfast session, I was surrounded by women engaged in conversation on latest industry trends, predictions on how technology will progress and proposals to address the sector’s gender imbalance — and felt that I had immediately found my clique.
Attendees came from different places, with different backgrounds, but one shared trait was their passion for tech and analytics. This was brought to the fore during the afternoon’s data science breakout session, where my new colleagues and I discussed learnings from our own client projects. The most interesting part for me was the variety of questions this session sparked, and the discussion that followed. Throughout we shared not only our professional experiences but also our personal stories, giving the session the feel of an evening with friends instead of a networking event.
The gender imbalance found in the science and tech industry was naturally one of the day’s most prevalent topics of discussion. Hearing not just how it had affected the lives of the attendees but their own thoughts on causes and how to address the imbalance was truly fascinating.
I also had the opportunity to see firsthand QuantumBlack’s commitment to diversity and balance, which extends far beyond a well-worded mission statement. From my first week of employment, I knew that I’d entered an inclusive and supportive environment. Events such as ‘Women Transforming Tech’ are fantastic initiatives, and I look forward to taking part in many more.
As we take strides to close the gender gap at QuantumBlack and throughout the tech industry, we must recognise that there is always more work to be done. Women in tech continue to be less likely than men to hold high-level, high-paying jobs, and tend to move into management at a slower pace. There is clearly more that the industry and individual organisations must do more to address this, but we should also consider how we are nurturing future female tech leaders while still in school. Are we ensuring all pupils, regardless of gender, view STEM as a realistic study and career avenue?
This challenge will not be solved overnight, but action does need to be taken now. As an industry we must do all we can to nurture our future female tech leaders, encourage our future women workforce and provide a platform for their voices to be heard.