For years London has dominated every industry. Yet, interest is bubbling around the North West as it takes on London in the digital and tech industry. Recent announcements including:

  • BBC creating 200 new jobs in Media City UK
  • Andy Burnham’s plans for new initiatives including a £2m digital skills fund
  • And the £1bn plan to double the size of Media City UK

These have all created buzz for the region and its tech industry. The North West sounds like the place to be for tech; but is it the place to be for women in tech?
Last week the UTC@MediaCityUK hosted a round table event. To talk about women working in tech across the North West. The first thing noted (apart from the ample supply of pastries) was the awesomeness of these women.
The women, who participated in the discussion, are all major campaigners for diversity. Some also work for some of the biggest tech companies in the North, or are female founders.

With everybody working across the North West it is clear that these women are proud of the cities they work in. Manchester has always had a history of being an advocate for tech advancement.

“Manchester was the pin point for the Industrial Revolution”

Kirsty Styles from Tech North announced across the table. Backed by DreamR’s Lynne Makinson-Walsh who added:

“If we’re talking about women of the North, this is the place of Emmeline Pankhurst!”.

This pride for Pankhurst keeps cropping up at events for women.

Jo Morfee from Liverpool Girl Geeks teaches women “How to be a bad-ass!” training them resilience and negotiation. Is this why Pankhurst’s name is coming up more and more, that women now need to be more resilient than ever? Or is it because women in tech are still outnumbered? Is it because successful men in tech like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg grab more media attention and have become the pinups of tech?
Do women in tech feel like they need to be part of a revolution and this is why a revolutionary from nearly a century ago is so current?
In Manchester we are seeing the rise of companies that back women, and have women in key leadership roles. Patricia Keating, UK Fast believes that this is

“the key to the success of Manchester. All the SME’s that are growing really successfully like DreamR, Webantic, etc. that have really powerful passionate people. They were started by men, but men who are advocates for women.”

Does this lack of visible female figures in tech then feed down to less women considering a career in tech? “SheSays” Singapore’s regular event series reported that 74% of girls express an interest in STEM and Computer Science. Only 18% of undergraduates take computer science degrees. And, only 26% of computing jobs are held by women.
Here at the UTC@MediaCityUK, our head of Computer Science is a woman, Becci Peters. Yet, our own in-house statistics suggest that Becci is an exception to the trend. Out of our current Year 12s (16-17 year olds) only 1 student out of a class of 20 is a female.
So how should we be encouraging young women to be engaging with tech?
Tegan Jones who is part of Northern Voices suggested that

“Young people can’t see that end result. They need to see people working in tech to inspire them.”

Anna Holland-Smith a software developer for the BBC agreed. Suggesting

“Early industry exposure and early introduction to female role models is key. Coming to the BBC, meeting the people, seeing and getting hands on experience illustrates that their A Level in Computer Science can translate to this career. It is all about seeing the end product.”

So is this what we should be investing our money and time in as a college? Do we need to spend less time in the classroom teaching our students how to do things? Instead show them what they could be doing and who they could be working with?

Maya Dibley from The Landing, brought up that

“Boys are encouraged to break the rules and be naughty from a young age. However girls are taught to do well, and need to stay within the lines and tick the boxes.”

But, by having diversity in companies it is proven that better decisions are made. Better products are built, and companies are more sustainable.

So is this a case for not separating women and men in tech? Developing our relationships of women and men working together in tech? And instead tackling another huge problem; that is class divisions in tech.
Having the UTC@MediaCityUK we are between two very juxtaposing locations. Media City UK is a multi-million-pound establishment, with some of the richest companies having bases here. Yet we also are on the edges of one of the most deprived areas within the UK.
The UTC@MediaCityUK has the unique chance to teach and develop young people in fields like tech.

“There’s lots going on in Manchester, there’s lots of money coming in and opportunity. But there is a time bomb and I’m worried that they won’t be as interested in 2 years’ time unless we can live up to the hype.” Maya Dibley.

However; as Kirsty Devlin Webantic pointed out

“Manchester has the history and culture; but compared to cities like Berlin, we don’t tell anyone.”

So is it a case for encouraging our students to realise that they are in one of the most exciting places at one of the most exciting times?

Rebecca Taylor from CLOS Consultancy praised Manchester for having “fantastic community support”. In our own UTC@MediaCityUK community we hope that we can support our students to take advantage of where they are. Encourage them to take the chance whether they are male or female. But always support one another.

The UTC@MediaCityUK will be hosting the “Together in Tech” event at the beginning of November.