25 October 2023
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When it comes to celebrating women in technology- have we been prioritising visibility over accessibility? Aurora’s Global Business Manager Rebecca Grant, Chief Operating Officer Jiwan Laly, Associate Kamile Survilaite and Partner Sally Taylor reflect on the term Women in Tech, the roots of its cause and how it could adapt for the future.
Sean Vickers (facilitator): When you think of Women in Tech and when you see groups, conferences or talks centred around this, do you feel that it’s still needed? What’s the purpose and most importantly- what’s the origin of that?
Rebecca Grant: For me, it’s a bit of a hangover from gender roles historically. The idea that men do certain roles and women stay at home and babysit. Over the last couple of decades that has changed dramatically and we are seeing a change from women staying home and looking after children to women going into work and exploring different roles for themselves. We are seeing a lot more women in technology. You do see a lot more girls studying data science and technology subjects in school than there used to be. I think slowly but surely people have challenged traditional expectations. Opportunities for girls and young women to study these specific areas have become available.
Jiwan Laly: I agree, I think things have changed a lot. Recognition that women can and do have the capability to do these things has grown. I still think that if we look at recent data though, the number of women who do - say computer engineering for example- that number is still very small.
I think that conversation around Women in Tech is a good thing but it doesn’t necessarily offer encouragement for the beginning of a career or from when you go to do your A-levels, an apprenticeship or your degree right through to your first, second or third role. There’s nothing there that says ‘Here’s how you can get supported to be a woman in tech.’ The recognition always seems to be for senior women who’ve done really well who’ve already spent five, ten or fifteen years in technology.
Sally Taylor: I tend to disagree. Looking at the school that my child is at, they have taken away very gender specific everything. There’s no gender specific sports, uniforms or classes. STEM is encouraged throughout the school. They even- in junior school- have after school STEM clubs for girls. I think more schools now are recognising that it’s just a job and if that’s your bag- knock yourself out. I don’t think it’s about holding girls back, I think it’s about whether or not girls are interested in it. I don’t think it’s because men are in it that girls aren’t interested. There’s a lot of male pilots, bankers and everything and still there are women in those industries. So, I do think it’s about whether girls are actually interested in that topic.
Kamile Survilaite: I think when you enter an industry, you have an interest in that field but you don’t know exactly what you’re going to be doing.
I think women are less encouraged to enter finance and even more so technology. I think talking about it is good because then young women will feel encouraged to go into these fields.
Jiwan Laly: Kamile- you’re working very closely with a tech company now. What’s happened since you first started with Aurora to now where you are working with a tech company and are a ‘woman in tech’ so you can start to go out there and say this is the job and this is how it works.
Kamile Survilaite: I wouldn’t say there’s a significant division in the number of jobs available for men and for women but there is a tendency- from what I see- that men go into more senior positions and women tend to go more into project management or those kinds of roles. Men tend to go towards product development or something similar. There’s division in the paths that men and women choose within the organisation, whether that’s tech or finance.
Jiwan Laly: Yeah. And I think Sally’s right, in schools now or definitely compared to when I was at school and probably when you were coming through Kamile, there’s definitely less division of what one child should be doing compared to another. So, it is probably getting better but I do still believe that it’s not a bad thing to be pushing stuff about women in technology.The focus needs to be aligned to women coming into their career rather than it being associated with women who have succeeded.
It should be the other way round. We should be saying to women who are coming in ‘Look, this is how we help you become a woman in technology and here’s the support you’ll need.’
Kamile Survilaite: Yes, one-hundred percent. Because by highlighting the story of a woman who’s had success, it makes it sound like that isn’t a standard thing.
Jiwan Laly: Yeah! It’s always a big deal and clearly what it should be saying is that women can succeed and this is how you can do it.
Rebecca Grant: There’s definitely something around access, knowledge and role models. So, now in schools and education there’s a lot of access to technology. When I was at school in the eighties and nineties, you did I.T but I mean you’d write a letter on a PC.
Jiwan Laly: I had an abacus!
Sally Taylor: There was no technology in my school!
Rebecca Grant: When IT did come in, I was quite old and I was like ‘What? I need to start using a computer and writing a Dear Sir/Madam letter and know how to sign it off’?These days there’s a lot more around technology, coding and STEM. There’s more access. There maybe is a lack of knowledge though around careers that you can go into as a woman within certain fields.
If we are saying that generally it’s a lot of men in technology- then a lot of boys will have role models in technology and will see that as a career path but if a girl doesn’t have those role models they might not even be aware of the opportunities they could possibly have. Like you say, raising awareness with younger girls about the opportunities available to them across the board makes a massive difference. Based on the conversation we are having now, it’s clearly needed.
Sean Vickers: Do you think the technology environment we see today is the byproduct of what you describe? So given that there’s a lot of men working in tech, if we fix this at a grass roots level, is there an opportunity for this to change?
Jiwan Laly: I think so. I think now technology has moved forward so much and there’s so many different variations of the levels you can work in it. You can be where we are- where you work with your users or you can be at the other end where you’re a web-services developer. So, I think you can pick much more because technology is much broader now. You can say ‘I want to be in tech, but I’m not very technical and I’d like to do this bit’. I think it’s about changing it as people are coming through it.
Sean Vickers: Do you think in twenty years time, everyone will work in tech? If you think about how business changes and technology is a forefront, is everyone going to have a role in tech? Whether that’s indirectly or directly.
Rebecca Grant: I think everyone will be working with technology. Whether they are working in technology- well, I suppose that depends on the definition of in technology. I don’t think you can avoid the fact that we live in an age where technology is everywhere. I’d be surprised if there are many people now who aren’t working with technology in some way.
Jiwan Laly: My question to you Kamile is what have you seen that you would say ‘do something different’ to? Because we’ve all been in this such a long time that we can easily talk about how different things were for us but now- if you look back over the last five years what would you say could have been different?
Kamile Survilaite: I think when you start to think about a job in technology, it’s such a broad concept and that in itself is a little bit scary. What does it really mean? What does my job look like if I go into a technology company? So, I think it’s just about breaking that down to begin with. Conversations need to be more specific. It would make it easier to digest and then that would encourage more junior people to go into that because now they’ll feel they understand it better.
Jiwan Laly: That makes sense. Even when I first started there was so much terminology and it made you feel like you didn’t even know what that means. And so, it got to the point where it felt like there were too many things and you didn’t know what they mean and then you don’t want to get involved at all.
Kamile Survilaite: Yeah and those things might be quite simple!
Jiwan Laly: Yeah and they often are. Once you start getting into something, it becomes more simple.
Rebecca Grant: Like Kamile said, it really does depend on your definition of working in technology. If you look at us, we consult, we work with financial services and we do technology implementations but we don’t work for the vendors building the technology. Some of us can configure the technology but when does it become working in tech? Because we aren’t a provider or a vendor but we consult.
I think a broader understanding of what technology is and the options available within the arena is useful for people.
Jiwan Laly: Yeah and I think it’s about switching conversations around women in tech to bringing women into tech. That needs to be the mantra we move towards.
Kamile Survilaite: What do you think about organisations setting internal goals for hiring? So, having X amount of women working within a company. Do you think that’s something that should be pushed or do you think that makes it feel a little less natural?
Jiwan Laly: I think initially it makes it less natural but in order to bring about change, you have to do something different. That can feel a bit painful at the beginning but to make change happen you do almost have to artificially say ‘the next hire is going to be a woman or a woman of colour’. That can be unfortunate because when you are making pre-decided choices like that, it might not mean you are always bringing the best skill set in but because of how skewed things are, you don’t want to keep bringing in the same demographic either. I think it’s about finding balance. Rebecca- what do you think?
Rebecca Grant: I think the same.Diversity in general is something you have to force a bit to make sure you are getting the right workforce and that you are giving opportunities to people.
Like you said Jiwan, it can feel a bit forced at first but it is important to have those drivers and be thinking about who you are employing, why you are doing so and what you want for your organization's culture.
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