Past a certain point, the digital sector struggles to keep women interested.
In August last year, WISE published new figures showing that women make up 14.4 per cent of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) occupations. That is 1.6 per cent up on the previous year’s figures, but the number of female managers has dropped by 0.6 per cent: 572 fewer than 2014. Why are women leaving these senior roles?
At the start of my career as a UX consultant I was the only woman on my team. This didn’t worry me, but as I started attending networking events I began to notice it was mainly men turning up. I thought to myself, where are all the women?
Not long after, Georgie Bottomley joined the team and we attended events together. After a few glasses of wine, the lack of women came up in conversation, as did the structure of web events. We thought it would be great to be able to sit next to someone and have a conversation, instead of having to put your hand up and voice your ideas in front of a big crowd. We wanted something informal and relaxed after a long day at work, and so Ladies that UX was born.
Time for change
We put a call out for the women in the industry to join us for a bite to eat. Tickets started to sell and we got so excited! We realised there were other women out there, and by having a women-only group we were attracting their interest. After advertising our events on Twitter word started to spread, and women got in touch and asked if they could start their own groups.
We’ve grown quickly: in just over two years we’ve reached over 40 cities worldwide (Tokyo being our 40th). Each city runs slightly differently, depending on what the attendees want from the meetup. The main theme is always the same: a supportive community that promotes women.
We need more women in leading roles to inspire, to challenge and to change the way women are portrayed in the workplace and the media. Women tend not to shout about their work as much as they should. The speaker circuit has become stale, showing the same old, predominantly male, speakers. Many are paid a small fortune to speak about theories and idealistic digital lives.
Georgie and I were approached frequently and asked, “Do you know of any women in the industry willing to talk? We can’t find any!” To prove them wrong, we created Talk UX, a conference with 21 female speakers, 13 of which had never spoken before. The aim was to encourage women in the industry to get out there and shout about their work. There are so many amazing women out there doing amazing things.
We wanted real people to speak about real projects; things they had been working on the week before, and could answer questions on. We didn’t want to hear from someone that was so far removed from the groundwork that they could never explain why a button was on the right, not the left.
I think paying attention to the small details and thinking about the way we worded our speaker requests definitely helped. We sold the conference on having a friendly and relaxed environment, and created a space that women would feel empowered. We also promoted the event through our networks, inviting women that had been attending our events since they graduated from university.
Women in tech groups are still vital. By providing a friendly environment, we’re allowing women to meet, share ideas and discuss their careers; something that they may not have had the chance to do before. With groups like Ladies that UX I know we’re getting one step closer to that elusive 50 per cent industry split. Want to get involved? Visit our website and get in touch.
Lizzie is a UX designer at BBC Sport. Along with Georgie Bottomley, she co-founded Ladies that UX, a collaborative community that promotes
women in the web industry
This article originally appeared in issue 274 (December 2015) of net magazine