With the tech sector still suffering from a gender gap, Code First Girls’ Anna Brailsford discusses the important role education plays in equality and how industry players need to step up.
Anna Brailsford is the CEO of Code First Girls, a UK-based social enterprise that trains women in IT skills and helps companies to recruit and engage women in areas of tech.
Last October, Code First Girls surpassed its 2017 campaign goal to teach more than 20,000 young women how to code in the UK and Ireland for free. According to Brailsford, the company has delivered more than £14m worth of free technology education over the past three years.
“Joining the business was a chance to make an impact in an area that is demanding change,” she told Siliconrepublic.com. “With Code First Girls, my focus is transforming tech by providing the skills, space and inspiration for women to gain the fair advantage.”
‘In the tech industry, women continue to face an uphill battle’
‑ ANNA BRAILSFORD
Brailsford has worked in the edtech space for more than 10 years. Prior to Code First Girls, she was the CEO and co-founder of Frisbee, an edtech start-up from the Founders Factory incubator. She also worked as commercial director for Lynda, the online learning platform acquired by LinkedIn in 2015.
“The UK technology industry is one of the most exciting sectors around, and there are so many opportunities available right now. But the reality of working in this industry is recognising that women remain underrepresented. In fact, women make up just 17pc of IT specialists in the UK. With established barriers for success for women working in tech, the time for talk is over,” she said.
“Deliberate steps must be taken by everyone one in the tech sector – from business leaders, partners, mentors, and by female workers themselves – to create an inclusive work environment where women have a voice to lead and make a difference.”
An ongoing uphill battle
While the gender gap has been widely discussed for many years, there is still a long way to go to close it. Last year, a CSO report looking at how Ireland is progressing towards gender equality goals showed there is nearly double the number of men to women in managerial roles.
Looking more specifically at the STEM sector, the 2020 Pfizer Health and Science Index released in November 2020 suggested that 15pc of men in Ireland work in STEM compared with 7pc of women.
And in the US, statistics suggest that women only make up 24pc of the tech industry, despite making up 47pc of the labour force.
“In the tech industry, women continue to face an uphill battle; from accessing the training required to develop in their career, to establishing oneself in a male-working environment, to managing workloads around care commitments,” said Brailsford.
“Business leaders must take action and create an inclusive and progressive work environment in which upskilling and mentorship is accessible through partnerships, enabling women to take the plunge and develop themselves.
“Once established, this community ethos will not only positively impact the business with employee retention, productivity and attracting new talent, but this will also set a new precedence for the sector as a whole.”
While the responsibility to remove systemic barriers should lie with the industry and the companies within it, Brailsford also advised women looking to progress their career to find a mentor for themselves.
“Mentors are a crucial source of knowledge and experience. With remote working, it makes it even harder to find one, so take a look into webinars, virtual events and LinkedIn to scope out inspirational mentors. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to see if they’d be interested in grabbing a virtual coffee.”
The importance of mindset
While Brailsford has had plenty of career achievements, she said she prefers to recognise growth in her mindset instead of goals achieved. “In my opinion, mindset is what shapes you and with the right one in place, the world is your oyster.”
On the other side of that coin, she said the biggest challenge she has faced in her career has been self-doubt. “This fear of failure can hinder both personal and professional development and took me quite some time to overcome. I had to accept that it’s impossible to always get it right and sometimes the difference between success and failure can be something as simple as being in the right place at the right time,” she said.
“By acknowledging and accepting this, I was able to better appreciate my efforts and in-turn recognise successes no matter how small.”
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