Last week, I attended a brilliant event held at UKFast addressing the issue of gender bias in the technology industry, called “In Our Own Words: The Changing Perception of Women in Tech”. I came away from the event feeling inspired and motivated by all the powerful women that had spoken throughout the morning.
Amongst the remarkable women in attendance at the event were a few that really stood out to me. Addressing mental health in the workplace is something I feel very passionate about and I know it is a subject that has a lot of stigma attached to it. I was really impressed with Naomi Timperley (Honorary Industry Fellow at the University of Salford Business School, Co-Founder of Tech North Advocates and Chair of investment platform Capital Pilot) who was very open in her raw account of the breakdown she experienced a few years ago. Having these influential, empowering women talk about sensitive issues like this is exactly what we need to help reduce the stigma. It shows other women that you can be successful and respected, regardless of whether you have suffered with your mental health.
Among the other women that really impressed me were Laura Bartlett, Lisa and Helen Tse and Gail Jones. Laura is the Editor in Chief of House of Coco; at 23 she launched her first company with zero investment and has since gone on to achieve worldwide recognition, and she really livened up the event with her charisma and confidence. Sisters Lisa and Helen are both MBE holders and run the Sweet Mandarin restaurant in Manchester, as well as selling their sauces worldwide, and have just sold the rights to a play about their family history. They had loads of great anecdotes about meeting various dignitaries, the Queen and cooking for the Prime Minister! Gail co-founded UKFast back in 1999 and was doing her first ever interview for us at the event, and showed notable bravery for taking part in the interview when it was something that put her totally out of her comfort-zone.
One discussion that I found particularly interesting was when Richard Gregory, Chair of Tech North Advisory Board and co-founder of SAScon, was explaining a public speaking project he was working on called Northern Voices. A group of 28 women won places on this six-month-long project, and now take part in various public speaking opportunities throughout the north of England.
Of all the challenges you would expect to come up against when putting yourself out there in this way, trolls don’t immediately come to mind. Once the women were speaking at more and more events and had created a name for themselves, they started receiving more anonymous messages. Really hurtful and unnecessary messages are now a common occurrence when you have a wide social media presence, but why? How are we supposed to encourage more women to stand out and be ambassadors for their fields when there is such an intense negative response?
There was plenty of food for thought to take away from the event, and well done to UKFast for putting it together with so many amazing people on the panels – both men and women. I will definitely be signing up for future events. Thank you!
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