I’m currently based in Manchester which is an incredible tech industry hub. While there’s lots going on in Manchester for me to sink my teeth into, another feature of Manchester is its amazing transport links to other northern cities.
Liverpool and Leeds are very interesting places for women and girls in digital or tech. I’m trying to go to more community and networking events in the north of the UK. When I was invited to go to the Liverpool Girl Geeks meetup, I couldn’t turn it down.
I’ve written a blog post for this group before and they’re a lovely bunch of people. It’s great because Liverpool Girl Geeks is a community organisation that gives shape and form to aspiring and current women in tech and digital, in Liverpool and beyond.
Image: Liverpool Girl Geeks banner
What was the event like?
The meetup was held at Love Thy Neighbour, an independent cafe and bar on Bold Street, and was kindly supported by The Sensible Code Company. We were hosted in a cosy basement room filled with lots of cute decorations and soft lighting.
Image: table at Liverpool Girl Geeks meetup
We enjoyed fresh smoothies and chatted to one another for the first part of the meetup. Then, everyone settled down and we launched into a panel talk consisting of four impressive women.
Here’s the list:
Michelle Ford – Operations Director, Uniform
Aine McGuire – Co-Founder, The Sensible Code Company
Deanne Walsh – HR Manager, Mando Group
Dr Kate Black – Academic at University of Liverpool
The panel was moderated by Jo Morfee from Liverpool Girl Geeks. Jo has a background in marketing and building online communities. She left her job last year to become involved in Liverpool Girl Geeks full-time. She’s obviously doing a good job as they just moved into their official new offices recently.
Michelle Ford, Operations Director
Michelle has spent her career in the creative industry for nearly two decades and has experience working with clients like Manchester United, Carlsberg, The FA and Unilever.
Beginning in a small studio in Manchester as an account handler, she joined Uniform in 2008 as Creative Services Manager. Michelle worked her way up and she was the first woman to be appointed to the Uniform Board of Directors. She’s was on a board of 5 men and herself, but her company now has a workforce made up of 25% women.
Although her workplace was always welcoming, Michelle changed the mild bro culture at her workplace to become more inclusive of women, and introduced flexible working hours for men and women.
Michelle says, “Technology is a new industry. That means the men are often younger and more progressive rather than your typical old school types. The culture is easier to change.”
Dr Kate Black, Academic
Dr Kate Black gained her PhD in Material Science at the University of Liverpool in 2008, then became Research Associate in the Centre for Advance Photonic and Electronics at the University of Cambridge. She worked on the development of novel materials for supercapacitors. Then, in 2013, Kate became a lecturer in the Centre for Materials and Structures at the University of Liverpool.
Kate’s research interests are focused on the development of novel functional materials, using inkjet printing, for the manufacture of electronic and optoelectronic devices. Kate is also the founder and chair of LivWISE (Liverpool Women in Science and Engineering), a society for female scientists and engineers.
Kate says, “If I’d been told what engineering was at a young age, I’d have picked that for my degree instead of chemistry.”
Amazingly, Kate was the first woman in her university’s engineering department. When she first arrived, her department asked her how they could recruit more women into engineering. She told them they could start by getting rid of the missile head and car from their foyer.
Aine McGuire, Co-founder
Aine McGuire is a co-founder of the Liverpool technology start-up, The Sensible Code Company. It uses the combined power of artificial intelligence and human intelligence to make data processes more efficient. She also set up Pygmalion, which was the first Microsoft Certified Technical Centre in the UK at the time.
Aine’s been a saleswoman all her life and always worked in technology, beginning as a technical salesperson. She was hired as one of four women and counts herself fortunate to have had a great mentor.
When talking about how we can give women more confidence to start companies, Aine says, “The younger generation is more confident. We need to show girls that it’s not that scary. Encourage them to step outside their comfort zone.”
She went on to say, “I have self-doubt, but I’ve taught myself how to say ‘yes’ before I have time to think about it.”
Deaane Walsh, HR Manager
Deeanne Walsh is HR Manager at Mando Group. Deeanne worked in almost every area of business you can imagine, but she eventually discovered her love of Human Resources.
Whilst her background has largely been in pharmaceutical companies, the last 5 years has been spent in digital, media and events. She is passionate about bringing more young people into digital.
Deanne talks about making your branding more appealing to women. Don’t simply have pictures of men on your company website, as this suggests your workplace won’t be inclusive.
Image: Me at Liverpool Girl Geeks meetup
Bringing more women into tech
They discussed the barriers that exist for girls who are interested in entering the digital and tech industries right now. They suggested what we could do to improve the numbers of women.
The change starts at a young age. Kate says, “We have to change the way we frame things in schools.”
The discussions naturally focused on education and how there is a lack of interest from girls wanting to go into science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Part of the issue is an image problem. Children think engineers only build bridges.
Sadly, children’s toys are often gendered according to stereotypes with construction and science toys often aimed at boys.
“We’ve got STEM ambassadors in schools,” says Michelle. “It’s our responsibility to go in and inspire kids at a really young age.”
Barriers for women in tech
There is 22% female take-up of tech jobs in the north, and the numbers have been in decline. Companies wonder what we can do to keep more women in the tech sector.
“For women are already working in tech,” Kate says, “We need to show that we’re proactively doing something to support them.”
Jo says, “You should show women their career development path at your company if you want to recruit more women.”
Kate says, “The sad thing is, women can often pull up the ladder if they’ve been successful, and refuse to help other women. They think, I’ve done it, so why can’t you?” The key is women staying open and offering their help to other women.
Sometimes, work environments can be hostile to women. Men don’t realise how their behaviour can be sexist or excluding.
“You should call people out on it when they use derogatory language towards women in the workplace,” says Kate. “If they call you ‘love’, tell them it’s not professional.”
One of the overarching themes discussed was that men should champion women and we need to find ways to help them feel involved.
And then there’s making the working day more suitable for the lives of women.
Kate says, “We need to make the workplace more flexible. Creativity is all part of science and engineering. Your brain doesn’t just switch off at 5 o’clock.”
If we don’t have diverse teams, it costs us money. We can’t produce diverse solutions. The first time voice recognition software heard a female voice, it fell over because it hadn’t been tested on a diverse range of people.
If you have 30% of women in leadership, you can improve profitability by 15%.
There are still major issues to be solved but exciting dialogue is happening. Events like #BeTheBoss stir up passion, inspire people, and provide a tangible community for current and aspiring women in tech.
Image: attendees at Liverpool Girl Geeks meetup during the panel
Liverpool Girl Geeks are an amazing group on a mission to solve gender inequality in technology. They do this by creating positive interventions such as events, courses and workshops to inspire women and girls of all ages. They also celebrate and showcase role models within the tech sector.
You can watch the full video of the evening on their Facebook page.
If you enjoyed this article, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can work together.
Main image: panel (left-right) Aine Mcguire, Deeanne Walsh, Michelle Ford, Dr Kate Black, Jo Morfee