Tech remains a world dominated by men: 65% of all tech departments are still run by men, and, according to a recent survey by the-pool.com, 40% of women in the industry feel they are still asked to perform menial tasks, that are not in their job description, like making coffee, taking notes, and booking meeting rooms.
Girl Geeks Academy has had a particularly positive response. Amelia, age 13, has seen her confidence grow under this mentoring. She says, “It has helped me to realise how much I can do and achieve. That success isn’t just meant for the boys anymore!”. Parents are also celebrating its impact. Louise Daly, mum of student Isabelle, tweeted: “Super proud mum tonight heading to @lpoolgirlgeeks for my daughters end of course celebration”.
Can you tell us a bit about your own background?
I came into tech through the graphic design route and – when I realised I wasn’t as good at design as some of the other people on my course – applied my knowledge to marketing. Doing my degree, I realised marketing was becoming increasingly digital, and studied for a digital marketing masters in Birmingham. Working at a local app company allowed me to see the tech side, where I mostly worked on concepts and ideas, pitching at brands like Boots and Boohoo. I was getting in front of big clients, watching what the developers and designers do, and seeing how the managing director built and managed his business.
Where did the idea for Liverpool Girl Geeks come from?
Liverpool Girl Geeks began, appropriately enough, as a blog. After doing my masters, I was the only woman working at the app agency I was at. It’s an industry were there aren’t very many women. Then the Studio School, a digital and tech school, opened up, and about 90% of the students were male. I knew I had to build a community.
How did the business start to evolve?
My colleague, Rebecca Jones, was marketing manager at the Studio, and together we founded Liverpool Girl Geeks. We started interviewing women – who were coders, designers, entrepreneurs – and put it out on the blog, as well as Twitter, to build a community.
We offered courses in coding for women, and digital design – things like 3D printing and laser cutting. We hosted a full day event about wearable technology in the Studio School, and for International Women’s Day at DoES. From there, we started to pick up and gain support.
Then, in February 2016, I left my job. I realised I was never going to get anywhere if I didn’t do this full time. I worked with TechNorth to deliver a six week coding project for beginners and, as a digital marketer, I picked up freelance work. We began building a blogging team, who are mainly volunteers who want to write for us; they’re people who care about the gender imbalance or feminism within coding and the wider industry.
According to your website, by 2040, only 1% of the tech sector will be female. Why do you think that there is a lack of women in the industry and what could be done to close this gap?
Around Christmas last year, I started doing some research about teenagers. It seems like somewhere around age eleven girls seem to drop in confidence, and it becomes like a competition between boys and girls at school. It starts to affect what options girls choose to study at fourteen. I think we need to engage eleven year olds and make sure they feel confident enough to study technology at GCSE.
As a result, Sky sponsored our six week bootcamp in the summer. It covered all areas of tech, like coding sessions and 3D printing, and took girls, aged 12-14, around the offices in Baltic, just so they could see what our office looked like. During our confidence building workshop one girl cried – it was heart-breaking. Our coder, Dolly, was mentor for this.
Can you tell us a little bit about Liverpool Girl Geek’s Academy?
We looked into what companies would sponsor, and this turned out to be the Academy, an eight week program, sponsored by Co-op Digital, where the girls could build their own websites and focus on coding. We broadened the age to 11-16. Although we only used our website, social media, and word-of-mouth to promote it, girls came from all over.
We pick girls from different areas, from whatever background they come from – they don’t need previous experience. In our academy, a lot of the girls were home-schooled. We offer a showcase, hosted at FACT, which also has a 3D printer and equipment there. It shows that you can be an artist and still be in the tech field too – often women don’t think that our industry is creative and that’s why they’re not interested in it. We can give them experience in different areas, it doesn’t have to be a development role; they can be a marketer.
What sort of advice would you give to young girls who are interested in coding or a career in technology?
Follow your passion, whether you’re into space, Harry Potter, dancing, or hockey. You can have a career that is your passion too. If you’re a swimmer, then why can’t you go into wearable technology? That’s what Amanda, one of our female digital role models from Amaze, teaches them.
It’s about role models and friendships, about feeling supported and mentored.
We encourage these girls to build their own websites via WordPress, which have hosting for a year, with our winner getting a one-to-one session with Mike Little, the founder of WordPress.
What other courses does Liverpool Girl Geeks offer, and is there anything aimed towards adult women?
We offer monthly courses which, for £20, help people to get their head around code and teach the basics of the language. It’s a really good starter for anyone who wants to learn code. At the end of the course, there is a practical involving Java script. This is aimed at ages 18 and over, but the majority of the students are around 20-25. They tend to be last year university students or start-ups, first time game entrepreneurs; there are lots of marketers and designers.
We do get women who are much older, because they want to learn new skills and to understand what their younger employees are doing.
Women in tech are become much more high profile. Model Karlie Kloss and Lily Cole are just two getting involved; Kloss runs coding summer camps while Cole developed the skills-sharing platform Impossible.com. What are some of your main aims, or what do you want Liverpool Girl Geeks to accomplish in the long term?
We want women to understand the jargon, so when someone speaks to them they understand. New female entrepreneurs are going to all-male companies to get their websites built. Men won’t think women know what they are talking about, and women are getting ripped off because they don’t understand the language. They deserve to understand what is happening.
We host monthly meet ups in the city centre, and we will have speakers in the next year on virtual reality and CV writing. They would be two hours long, completely informal, and aimed at women aged 20-40. But we do try to get men there – we want to be diverse and we have male supporters. Guys who go to the Studio School come, younger guys, under 18, who are starting their own businesses and recognising this issue. The younger that we get that clicked into their heads, they’ll realise that they are the driver of it.
I also want to do more research for Girl Geeks, to find ways of getting more girls into it. I want to be better at running the business, to find the teachers, the design, and to develop the courses.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
We want to help the girls get placements after they’ve finished boot camp. Studio School have given us a venue for Tech for Teens, funded by the National Lottery, which offers one workshop a month for teenage girls, aged 11-18, as well as support and mentoring while they are there.
Our newest project is a company membership, as an income generator for Liverpool Girl Geeks for 2017. Proud and Premium relies on sponsorship and showcase companies that are passionate about diversity. It has some entry level criteria – we’re looking for companies that do care, that have policies in place and want to develop them. Mando and Amaze have already signed up; Interconnect IT are Premium members.
We’re planning on expanding our range for women, too.
The aim isn’t to make a massively profitable business – the business focuses on an issue that, hopefully, won’t be one in the future. Our aim is to spread our successful projects nationally, to help more girls and to do this a re-brand might be on the cards… Watch this space!