What went down at the We Are Tech Women conference?

Jun 22 · 5 min read

At the beginning of May, 9 women from across Gousto’s Technology function attended the We are Tech Women’s tech conference. The event began in 2015 with three key objectives; to afford women either in technology or looking to transition into it, the opportunity to learn, to network and to discover new perspectives. With over 100 speakers available on demand and 5,000 delegates, Rianne, Frances and Harshna take a moment to share their key takeaways from the first WATW virtual conference!

Covid: We are now living at work
Unsurprisingly, Covid was a key theme discussed across the events. The last year has resulted in the boundaries between work and home becoming wholly blurred, and I resonated with a phrase that I heard in a talk given by Gerty Bester (SAGE, product management director); “we are now living at work.”

Hearing Gerty and other inspiring female leaders talk so honestly about the last year’s challenges reminded me that the only benefit of this cataclysmic event is that we are not alone in our lived experience. There is, therefore, a lot of practical advice that employers and employees can leverage to make the day-to-day less difficult. There are three actions that I took away from the talks: communication, collaboration, and compassion.

Open communication has become more necessary than ever yet, in many ways, much harder. Instead of ad-hoc interactions with our managers or colleagues, we have had to rely on transactional communication in which we have to meet required outcomes in a defined time frame. Instead, the speakers that I heard reiterated the importance of communicating when you are struggling and regular check-ins, perhaps in the format of more social stand-ups on a regular cadence. Second, is the importance of collaboration and there were many references to the varied tools available to achieve this in a virtual world. The reason for this is simple: we risk losing innovation. The best way to achieve collaboration is to stay agile and not to become comfortable with any tool. Instead, adjust the format of any recurring meetings you have and stay close to how effective this format is for everyone involved. Finally, compassion is increasingly important. By reflecting on our own emotions and empathising with those around us we become better at appreciating the experiences of others and consequently become a tune to any behavioural or outward-facing actions that we may witness. Many speakers highlighted that businesses can do a lot to support their team by, for example, giving them access to apps such as Headspace and Calm.

The speakers gave me a fresh reminder that there are plenty of lessons learnt during the last year that we need to continue beyond the pandemic.

Everyone doodles their conference speakers right?

Women in tech
One of the key themes during the conference was the under-representation of women in tech and STEM in general. There were many great examples of ways that we can go about improving this.

Girls in STEM
There is a distinct lack of young girls focussing on tech in their education and choosing to pursue it as a career path; this contributes to our current predicament in which only 17% of the tech workforce in the UK is female and this percentage becomes even lower once you start considering women in tech management. Fortunately there are countless organisations and charities out there that are doing the hard work to try and improve these numbers. In the “How to accelerate your career” talk, we were told that you have to give children someone that looks like them in order for them to believe that they can have the same career; ‘We are all role models, but what are we role modelling?’ The panel of women from Royal Bank of Canada were a great example of giving back; Caren Morrison runs a camp for girls in which she combines teaching ice hockey with coding lessons.

Rashada Harry from AWS, spoke about the ‘Your Future, Your Ambition’ events that she is a part of. Every year they bring together over 1000 young people in order to introduce them to career paths in STEM subjects. In addition, she is also the founding member of UK Black Tech which aims to create the most diverse tech sector in the world. Her number one piece of advice would be to “Use your voice”. Use your voice, network, meet people, learn things and then share that knowledge with someone else.

The UK offers bootcamps that help career changers get into tech (some offer a discount for women such as Makers), charities that are supporting women and other minorities code for free (codebar) and those supporting specific sectors of underrepresented women in tech (Coding Black Females).

Let’s talk allies or ‘manbassadors’ if you will (a term I picked up during the panel ‘How can we remove the barriers for women in tech’). These terms cropped up frequently over the 3 days of talks. It’s well understood that women can keep fighting to level the workplace, however the fastest way to do this is to have male counterparts that support the fight. We need to have allies who are willing to have the conversations about unconscious bias and diversity. By building this allyship, male leaders will be able to, for example, join initiatives led by women or ensure that women’s perspectives are accounted for by including women at senior decision-making tables.

The impressive line-up of speakers at the conference ranged from the most senior ranking female in the RAF — Air Marshal Sue Gray, to Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE — the founder of STEMettes, not to mention our own Lavi Franzetti, Gousto’s Acquisition and Retention Director. All of these women attribute some of their success to having mentors supporting them in their journeys. It was definitely driven home how important this is. Given that a lot of organisations are lacking a wealth of female leadership, where do you find a mentor? Although it’s great to have a female mentor to help you navigate the challenges of being a woman in tech, it was stressed that you should also look to the supportive men in your organisation or elsewhere. Otherwise, don’t be shy in reaching out to people you’ve never met but you admire, and asking them to mentor you. As Air Marshall Sue Gray says “If you don’t ask, you won’t know if someone is willing to mentor you”.

The conference was a great reminder of the range of opportunities that exist. If you are interested in joining the team at Gousto you can find out more on our Twitter page here or reach out to any of us!