Recently I was delighted to give a presentation at a Leeds Women in Health Tech breakfast event hosted by Health and Wellbeing Board chair, Councillor Rebecca Charlwood and Director of City Development, Martin Farrington. This forms part of a regular breakfast series in which senior council leaders and councillors bring together experts on a topic of importance to the city.
I started by noting that, with a background in humanities and social sciences, I am an accidental woman in technology. My working life started in homeless charities followed by a qualification in social work. Hardly an obvious route to health technology. It was through my PhD research on the theme of mental health and online social networks that my interest in digital technology began to develop. Whilst we need more women with technology skills, the field of digital also needs people with a more diverse skill set than simply coding. This post from Rachel Coldicutt at Dot Everyone neatly makes the case for arts and social scientists in tech:
“The arts and social sciences must become essential voices both in the technology industry and in the predictions that guide investment and entrepreneurship. Knowing what to do with tech must become at least as valuable a skill as knowing how to make it”
It is for this reason that I am not apologetic about my non-tech background – I see it as an asset rather than a liability. In my talk, I recalled how in the early days of mHabitat I was asked to speak at an almost exclusively male event which, as someone new to the tech scene, took me by surprise. I blogged about it here. So how much has changed? I still routinely see all male panels at health tech events and an undergraduate maths student and enthusiastic coder recently described to me how she is routinely excluded by her male counterparts on her course. Perhaps not as much has changed as we might hope.
So why is diversity in health tech important? Gender and race bias have been shown to predominate in data driven algorithms – here is just one recent article on the topic from MIT – there is a case that diverse teams have more chance of spotting and correcting bias in data driven digital products and services. Secondly we know that diverse leadership at the top of organisations results in better performance. Lastly, we have a skills gap in tech and we need women as well as men to join the sector and, once they are in it, to stay in it. There is both a societal and a business case for more women in tech.
I’d love it if Leeds could lead the way in developing a more diverse workforce. We’ll be a better city for it. There are great activities happening in Leeds promoting girls and women in tech. Here are just a few I am aware of:
- One Health Tech – a meetup which campaigns for the need and importance of better inclusion of all backgrounds, skill sets and disciplines in health tech
- Stemettes – an award-winning social enterprise working across the UK & Ireland and beyond to inspire and support young women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths careers (known collectively as STEM). They recently held a fantastic health tech hack day in Leeds (see featured image)
- Tech mums – a five week course that teaches everything from basic IT skills, to online safety, programming and app design (which is coming to Leeds
- Leeds Digital Festival – which has a wide variety of events, including those aimed at women and promoting women in the tech industry
- She does digital – is a collective of people in Leeds who work in the digital industry with a mission to encourage more women to pursue careers in the sector
- Lean In – a circle in Leeds aiming to help women achieve their ambitions
Any more? Let me know and I’ll add them to the list.