I'm really pleased to have been announced as a category finalist in the Business Woman of the Future category at the 2013 Women of the Future Awards, in association with Shell. My specific area of "business" is technology and it's an area where the lack of women is even more pressing than in business in general.
You will find a lot of articles that talk about the issues for women in technology. You'll also find a lot of suggestions for things we can do better - whether it's "leaning in" at the individual level, as very sensibly suggested by Sheryl Sandberg, or giving more young girls computers and training at a very early age.
But there's another angle that I think is missing. As a female working in tech I find that day in day out I come across a large number of advantages for women over working in other areas, which makes the gap between how many women work in tech and how many women ought to be working in tech even more extreme.
To redress this balance, here are my top five reasons why tech is a great industry for women to work in.
About twenty years ago it was a sad and lonely life for women working in tech. As a result, they created support organisations so they could meet up and remind themselves that they weren't alone. Women starting in tech nowadays have lots to choose from, from formal mentoring schemes such as MentorSET, to informal dinner meetups with the like of Girl Geek Dinners.
Women are just starting to burst through to the top of tech organisations. Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandburg has increased her visibility with her book "Lean In" and her (fairly) recent TED talk, while Marissa Mayer of Yahoo seems unable to keep out of the news, both good and bad. Either way, she's showing that the top jobs in tech are not just for the boys.
Technology is a new sector, and attracts young people with correspondingly modern attitudes. Dress codes are open, workspaces are cool and management styles are output rather than hours focussed. In some other industries being "macho" is still considered a bonus, but not in tech. As one of my (male) coder friends said "I see it as all of us on the same side against the alpha males."
The top top benefit of working in technology is the flexibility that most tech workplaces offer. If you need time to look after your children then working part-time, condensed weeks or from home are all really common options. What's more, the men do it too, so you won't get singled out as a "problem case".
There's also flexibility to be had in job roles, which are often more female friendly than people expect. As internet connectivity expands to cover fridges, garages, tables and glasses, so functionality becomes more complex and comprehensive. Paradoxically, as more can be delivered, we demand slicker, simpler and easier to use interfaces. Many key roles in technology - designer, product owner, user-interface expert, user-engagement expert, start-up founder and advocate - do not require you to be able to understand code and do require heavy doses of people skills.
Money and career
Finally, there's that old chestnut. How much money do you take home at the end of the week? Technology is a booming sector, which means that entry level jobs are well paid and career options (and hence how much you might get paid in the future) are even better. This combined with the working flexibility means that you can have a part-time job in tech and still take home more than you would do full time elsewhere.
This article was first published on The Huffington Post.
In June I was lucky enough to be invited to the first Teen Tech Awards, at the prestigious Royal Academy. The TeenTech Awards are for UK students from 11-16 (Years 7 to 11) working in teams of up to three to look at problems large and small to see if they can find a better way of doing things. There is a prize of £1000 to the winning school in each category and the overall winners get to meet the Teen Tech Awards patron HRH Duke of York - so the awards are a big deal!
Before the awards winners were announced, guests could walk round an exhibition space where each finalist team had a stand to explain the nature of their project. Entries in the health category included amazing ideas for helping people with diabetes, with innovations including watches, pens and even patches to administer insulin. There were many impressive app designs, with one thirteen year old having coded a complete iPad application for their awards entry.
But the awards entry that really stood out for me was Thinkspace. As I walked around the event I was immediately engaged at the Thinkspace stand by young Oliver Bredemeyer who gave me a pitch that would have been a credit to an experienced sales professional. Backing this up was an impressive list of supporters that the team had already garnered, including Stephen Fry, Steve Wozniak and Richard Branson. I was given a professional looking business card, and that evening sent an invitation on LinkedIn!
A "Thinkspace" is a space in schools around the world where students can come and learn how to develop apps. Thinkspace aim to create a new culture around app development and want to give students as many chances as possible to develop the skills that they will need in the technology industry. Things have been moving fast since June: the construction of the first two Thinkspaces (in Plymouth and Northern Ireland) is now complete, and the team has launched a new site at www.thinkspace.co.uk.
If you work with a school or young people and know someone who would like to enter the awards in 2014, details of how to enter are online at http://www.teentechevent.com/awards/.
In response to http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/ukip/10244637/Ukip-treasurer-Women-are-not-competitive-enough-for-the-board-room.html.
When I entered the Ladies' World Backgammon Championship in 2010 there were two notable differences between that and the main open tournament (which I had also entered, but I had been knocked out in the third round). First, not as many players entered and secondly, the average standard was much lower. To answer Stephen Wheeler's accusations by pointing to successful women in backgammon (or in chess, bridge and poker) is disingenuous - these women exist but they are still few and far between.
This is also true in the boardroom, and throughout the industry in my own sector, technology. There are excellent women, but women on average are performing at a lower standard. The difference in the boardroom is that having women on the board is now widely recognised to have many many benefits for a business, from cultural improvements to better staff retention, and some studies show a diverse board leading to increases in a much more concrete area - profits. Apart from a more enjoyable experience for participants, I can't see any compelling need for the government to work to increase the number of female poker players.
Discussing differences between men and women is an area fraught with danger. I frequently come nearly to fisticuffs with my own family when debating "nature vs nurture". Luckily we do not need to solve this question in order to ascertain whether more women could be qualified to sit on boards in the future. We simply need to look at how the landscape has already changed. Just 100 years ago (a short time frame compared to that of human civilization), a discussion around having any women in the boardroom would have been unthinkable. Yet women were already working in roles previously barred to them such as teaching, secretarial work and nursing. And we all know what happened a mere 5 years later...
I have no doubt that, gradually, the landscape will change further with more and more women entering the top roles. If we want this change to happen sooner and we want to realise the benefits of a properly diverse and inclusive board structure, we need to do things differently to how they are being done already. Quotas, affirmative action and "success lists" like the Management Today 35 under 35 are a sign of the future and we support them because we hope they will bring the future to pass more quickly.
The Cruellest Game contains an important admonition. It's one we should all know already, yet countless heroines of crime novels forget. Ladies if your husband works away from home a lot, never trust him. Call that emergency number he left you, cross check it with the company headquarters and never, ever let him manage your finances.
Hilary Bonner's tenth novel continues her previous form in bestsellers No Reason to Die and When The Dead Cry Out. The book opens and continues with beautiful descriptions of Dartmoor and life in the West of England, no doubt reflecting the author's personal experiences (Bonner was born in Bideford on the North Devon coast). Lovely local characters such as the practical vicar's wife and strikingly smart lawyers add some comfort to an otherwise desperate scenario.
The story is fast paced - within ten pages we are confronted with the first death, the suicide (or is it?) of the protagonist Marion's son. The plot is then revealed via the uncovering of various layers of deception by Marion's husband, allegedly away at work on a deep sea oil rig for large parts of the year. Has he changed his name? Where does he get his money? And why does he react so badly to Marion's best friend entering their house - what does he have to hide?
The Cruellest Game is a great read for lovers of crime fiction and thrillers, and finishes of course, with the compulsory twist at the end of the tale...
My name is Zoe and I am a typical technologist. I played with coding on a ZX Spectrum as a small child, I read about Schrodingers cat as a teenager and I pursued mathematics, chosen by a whisper above the more practical engineering, as my degree subject. I joined Softwire, a bespoke software development agency, straight from university and worked as a programmer. I also LOVE Star Trek.
Technology jobs are ideal for people like me, but that is not the subject of this post. The subject of this post is that technology jobs are also ideal for people who are not at all like me.
Technology is a relatively new sector. Companies that we consider “tech companies” are at most half a decade old. This has a massive impact on the culture of these organisations. The stereotype of a sandal wearing, pizza eating geek may not be accurate, but the concept underlying that stereotype – that technology workplaces are modern, non-conformist and diverse – is absolutely spot on.
Technology is also expanding as a sector. Not only are new tech start-ups mushrooming into existence at a rate of over one a day, all organisations in all sectors are finding that tech must play a part in their strategy if they are to survive. Finance is almost completely digitised, fashion is being led by technology and education, medicine and retail are being transformed. Technology jobs pay well now, and are going to pay even better in the future.
Nor are the only jobs for arithmophilic, geeky, four-eyes like me. (Although, to be clear, you guys know you have a job here already, right?) As internet connectivity expands to cover fridges, garages, tables and glasses, so functionality becomes more complex and comprehensive. Paradoxically, as more can be delivered, we demand slicker, simpler and easier to use interfaces. Many key roles in technology – designer, product owner, user-interface expert, user-engagement expert, start-up founder and advocate – do not require you to be able to understand code and do require heavy doses of people skills.
In today’s world, smart people no longer work just for a pay-check. Those who are most successful talk constantly of passion, engagement and fulfilment. Technology companies, particularly fast-growing ones, have a plethora of roles available that will allow you to discover your place in the world. And that place will be around brilliant people, challenging work and maybe, just occasionally, a little bit of chat about Star Trek.
This post first appeared on the Talented Heads website.
"Why failure is not always good" might sound like a strange title if you are used to conventional thinking. What? Don't you mean "why failure is always not good"?
If you work in the startup world, or more happy-clappy business environments, you will be used to discussing failure as a positive. How can you fail fast? How can you learn by embracing failure? There are countless quotes online about failure and TED has a whole topic category for talks on failure.
We are exhorted to try and to not fear failure. We are told that we will either succeed, or learn trying. The unfortunate fact is that we do not always learn trying. Here are three cases of failure where you will not learn a thing.
1. Repeat failure
Smug business leaders love to talk about not repeating the same mistakes. In this idealised world, an employee cocks something up and the rest of the business magically grows so that it never happens again. Back in the real world, we are all human. How often have you had something fail, only then to remember the parallel situation that you could have learnt from last month? And yes, this situation has happened to me more than once :)
2. Lack of effort
At the winners' event for the Sunday Times Best Companies' to Work For, a CEO caused some sharp intakes of breath when he said that he could forgive any mistake but woe betide the employee who didn't try. This is a sentiment that is coming to be recognised more and more in the business world. In the scenario where someone hasn't pushed themselves, failure becomes meaningless.
3. Plain bad luck
Business outcomes rarely rely on something as simple as the toss of a coin, but many are subject to events that you cannot affect and can be considered random from your point of view. If you start a business that would have been successful just before a macro-economic downturn that kills it, what do you learn? Diddly-squat.
The good news
Whether you have failured in a hearty constructive way, or in a disappointing repeat scenario, the good news is that your next steps are exactly the same. Positive psychologists will have no doubt why talk of failure as a positive is growing - human beings are much more susceptible to negative outcomes than by the opposite. So however we try to dress up failure we will always experience a sinking heart and a desire to clamber back under the bedcovers, no matter how much spin we put onto the upsides.
What's important is what comes next. The most important characteristic of a leader is resilience. Those who succeed in life are those who can pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start all over again, no matter what the trauma.
So perhaps I was wrong about the lack of learning - failure will always give you a chance to practice the most important business skill... getting back on the horse.
This week a colleague sent me a link to POP App, a new tool for making paper prototypes interactive using your iPhone.
POP allows you to take photos of your paper prototype using the app and then highlight link spots so that users can move between pages.
It's super easy to use, and once you have completed your prototype you can share it with other POP users or with anyone over the internet.
Here's my first project - a cave adventure.
The third book of Taleb's Incerto trilogy was published in November 2012 and is now available in paperback. His first two books, Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan, sold so well that he was paid an advance of $4m for the final instalment.
Antifragile is an interesting read both intellectually and personally. Taleb famously gives little away to journalists but in this book his personality shines out through his writing. So emotionally charged is the book, I thought it would be appropriate to review it by reference to the subjects contained that come in for the most vitriol from Taleb.
Readers familiar with Taleb's other writings will already know how he feels about bankers. Taleb's definition of antifragility (systems that get stronger under volatility, as opposed to fragile ones that break) stems from his work in banking. One criticism that is already gaining much ground elsewhere is the absence of "skin in the game" for traders gambling with their clients' money. But Taleb's dislike of bankers is not just an academic one. Personal insults abound, including a "suit" held to task for getting a porter to carry his bags to the gym.
Fragility is often seen at a relatively simple level, a glass being the obvious example, whereas antifragility is a property of complex systems - the human body, human populations or markets. Politicians come under fire on (at least!) two counts. First, they cause chaos by interfering with systems that they do not understand. In particular, interventions by politicians tend to favour eradication of error, which increases fragility and risk of collapse. Secondly, and more strongly, politicians frequently gain personal advantage at the cost of others by talking a good game that they do not practice in their own lives.
I don't think I need to explain why Taleb hates economists or give examples from the book. Instead I just want to mention Taleb's rather touching fondness for Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Despite Taleb naming the Stiglitz syndrome (predicting the future inconsistently and only taking credit for the ones that turn out to be correct) after him, Stiglitz does not come in for the same strength of insults dished out to other "fragilistas" and I am amused by my impression Taleb secretly quite likes him.
4. Alternative Medicine
Taleb has a disdain for all modern medicine, and a whole section of the book explains the wrongheadedness of risking a serious issue by using insufficiently tested medicine for a non-life-threatening condition. The terrible example of treating morning sickness with thalidomide makes this point well. But don't confuse Taleb's skepticism with a belief in alternative therapies - he "went postal" on receiving a letter of support from one such practitioner saying she understood how he felt.
5. Orange Juice
Taleb's hatred for orange juice is an example of a wider disdain for the modern diet. He reveals his personal food rules, and very fascinating they are: no liquids that have not existed for at least one thousand years (i.e. wine, water and coffee only), no fruit not present in the ancient Mediterranean (no pineapples, pawpaws or other exotica) and observance of Greek Orthodox fasts for health rather than religious reasons. He considers oranges to be the equivalent of candy, as the modern variety have been intentionally bred for their sweetness.
I found Antifragile to be thought provoking and very entertaining. It is full of contradictions and inconsistencies, but the sincere passion behind the main themes gives the book its charm. The most delicious irony is that according to Taleb's own criteria - a book is more likely to contain accurate useful ideas the longer it has been in existence - the reader made their first mistake in choosing to pick the book up.
Last week I was lucky enough to be able to attend the fabulous Cybher blogger event at the sumptuous 8 Northumberland Avenue. I was part of a panel entitled "Social Women and Business", discussing social media and digital marketing across a variety of businesses.
As part of the panel, host Eva Keogan and Caroline Criado-Perez of The Women's Room launched a campaign to get women back onto our banknotes. Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, has announced Winston Churchill will replace social reformer Elizabeth Fry as the face of £5 notes. This means that, other than the Queen, there will be no women featuring on our English bank notes.
As well as a petition and a GoFundMe site to launch a legal challenge, Eva and Caroline asked bloggers to write a post on which female they would add to a banknote.
It's been incredible fun looking for women that fit the bill. In fact, it's become a great reason to go back through history looking for the bright spots of women's achievement rather than lamenting the lack of it.
My proposed banknote figurehead is exactly such a bright spot. Born in 1780, long before any form of emancipation, Mary Somerville scraped together an education by taking lessons with her uncle and tagging along to her brother's tutorials. Her parents forbid her from continuing her studies after her sister's death, so she continued in secret.
She helped to popularise science by translating Laplace for a general audience, and predicted the existence of Neptune, which was later found in 1846. In 1835, along with Caroline Herschel, she became one of the first women members of the Royal Astronomical Society and in 1869 she was awarded the Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.
What a brilliant scientist. I think she would make a great addition to our banknotes.
I love networking. I really love it. It's one of my favourite parts of my job. But it hasn't always been. I started at Softwire as a coder, and worked for 10 years on the technical side of the company. If you had told me then that I would love networking I would have been astonished.
So in case you missed the thinly veiled message there, I am telling you that you too can love networking. The reason for this is that networking is essentially about making friends and being nice to people. So you don't need to be a power hungry empire builder, smooth talking salesperson, or exuberant "people person" to enjoy it.
Here are my five top tips for how to get the most out of any networking event.
1. Don't sell
I've found that most people who hate networking do so because they think it is all about selling. They think the aim is to sidle up to people and talk about your product/service/self until they give in and write a cheque. Not only is this bad selling, it is definitely terrible networking. Networking is about connecting with people. People don't like people who are out for themselves, or are trying to pressure them into something. So don't do it.
2. Have tactics to get into a conversation...
When I started networking there were two parts that I found particularly hard, and that I still find difficult. Luckily both are susceptible to tactics and the more you try this the better you will get. The first is how to start a conversation. It is rare that you will enter a networking event and find friendly welcoming people waiting with open arms for you. Instead you will find that everyone there is either 1. deep in conversation with someone that looks as close as a childhood friend, 2. holding court with a group of spellbound listeners or 3. engrossed in their smartphone. In order to have a conversation you are going to have to disturb someone. As you steel yourself to do so, remember that this is perfectly normal! It is how all the existing conversations started. Prepare by having a list of questions to start a conversation with. Questions are your best weapon for networking - everyone loves to talk about themselves. If you can get in and ask something simple like "how are you finding the event?", you will find yourself networking like a pro in no time.
3. ...and out again
The next most difficult part of networking comes after this. You have steeled yourself to get chatting only to find that you are stuck in a boring, fruitless or awkward conversation, perhaps even one where the other person, not having read this article, is trying to sell you something. If you remain all evening in one conversation that is neither useful nor enjoyable, you might as well not have bothered going. You need a list of excuses prepared in advance to allow you to end such conversations. Find a need for another coffee, claim to be off to use the facilities or fake a prior engagement (people do agree to meet up at networking events). The best technique is honesty - "I need to get networking and meet some more people"!
4. Be nice
Networking at its best is a room full of people being completely selfless. It is the real world equivalent of that nauseating parable of people feeding each other with two foot long chopsticks. A great tip for taking away networking nerves is to focus on the person you are talking to. How could you help them? Can you introduce them to someone within your organisation that they need to meet? Do you have a friend who is in their area? Can you help with any of their projects? By worrying about them, rather than you, you will soon find that you've made a friend and are starting to enjoy yourself.
5. Find ways to enjoy yourself
"It's not what you know, it's who you know" - whether you think this maxim a damning indictment of the modern world, or a great explanation of how to get ahead, it speaks volumes for how important networking is as a skill. To get ahead you will need to master it. So take every shortcut you can. Enjoy the free coffee, or beer, or pastries. Talk about your hobbies as well as your work. Make a beeline for people who look friendly and enjoyable to talk to. The happier you are at the event, the more successful you will find it.
Zoe is giving a Dummies Guide to Networking for Startups talk at Digital Shoreditch (Shoreditch Town Hall) on 23 May.
Managing Director of Softwire, technology and backgammon presenter. Plus a little bit of new music radio.