After reading the latest article on diversity and ageism in technology by Jessica Bateman in the Guardian I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the importance of older women in the technology sector.
I’m 31. Older than the average age of staff in some tech companies. Younger than a generation of women who are considered to be ‘middle-aged’ and over the age of 40. Some people call me a Millennial as I was born between the vague time frame of the 1980s to the 1990s.
A key reason I dislike the term Millennial is because it has created a perception that this generation group is going to be just fine. Sweeping statements about Millennials include that: they are resilient; they embrace change and they are thriving in workplaces which encourage youth and flexible working. Those outside of the Millennial age bracket are reminded that Millennials are difficult to understand. We are such an enigma that people are writing books about us to help businesses and older generations understand how to ‘deal’ with our complicated needs.
In reality, we face similar challenges to generations before us. We have debt, we have bills and we have salaries which probably don’t stretch quite far enough. We, like everyone, are operating in a world which is moving at a very fast pace and we feel we must keep up. We strive to ‘do what we love, love what we do’ because we will work far beyond the average age of retirement for our parents’ generation.
I am a 31 year old woman at the start of a journey in partnership with Annie Legge to set up The Dot Project, a business within the technology sector. I’d like to make it clear that I, and the technology sector, really need older and more experienced women in technology. Here’s why:
Underlying confidence issues are exacerbated when you start out on a new business venture. One minute energy levels are high and optimism soaring. The next minute a few set backs can start to feel overwhelming. That’s why working with my business partner Annie Legge who is more experienced and (only slightly!) older is so important for me.
In a partnership, I have someone to collaborate with and build a shared vision. Crucially I’m working closely with someone who has a different perspective. If confidence is dipping I might come out of a situation focusing on the negatives. Yet from Annie’s perspective she might feel things went quite positively. This type of support and working relationship keeps you focused and moving forwards with positive momentum.
A number of those interviewed in the article highlight that to progress as a woman in the technology sector it is important to continuously build and improve your skills. Actually I think this is relevant for anyone working in the sector given the pace at which technology changes. Reading this advice is reassuring as I have not made enough time for personal development over the past 6 months. Now I feel encouraged to prioritise personal development and building my capacity and skills.
In the article Dr. Sue Black says:
I haven’t experienced much ageism personally – I actually think it’s become easier for me as I’ve got older, as people have started taking me more seriously in a professional environment.
This resonates with me. I have been stopped mid-sentence with prospective clients and asked ‘I’m sorry, but how old actually are you?’. Sometimes it feels that organisations are keen to embrace younger talent but also find this quite daunting. Perhaps it feels like a compromise between years of experience and years of age. Personally I feel I look neither young or old and my CV speaks of experience which is hard to put an age to. Knowing that, for Dr Sue Black and Nikki Cochane, age doesn’t seem to have been an issue is reassuring. It makes me excited for where my older self might end up!
I work well when I have mentors, both younger and older, who I can aspire to. For me gender is less important. My biggest influence and inspiration is my grandad who, at 89, is one of the most innovative and interesting people I know. Saying that, having older women to aspire to is definitely important. Professionally I learn a lot from listening to, watching and engaging with women who I aspire to be like in 10 – 15 years time. Working with Debbie Forster, for example, has taught me the importance of self-reflection as a means of building confidence.
From a personal perspective working with older women in technology is important too. Women tend to be more open about the professional and personal responsibilities that they are juggling and this creates a support network. Instead of feeling weak for only just managing to keep my head above water at times, I actually feel stronger as I know other women experience this feeling too and get through it. I find it’s often these tougher times that build resilience and creative problem solving in the long run.
So I look forward to hearing more from different perspectives on the topic of diversity and technology. I hope we can expand how we talk about diversity in technology and crucially look at the reasons why enabling diversity is important. This means talking openly and honestly about gender, age, race, disability and socio-economic background to work proactively towards improving diversity. I believe this is a critical factor to inspire those working in technology now as well as future generations. It will also contribute to ensuring the technology industry in the UK remains relevant and thrives.
Bath: The Dot Project is running an event on the 19th October at the Bath Digital Festival in October which will seek to mobilise businesses and individuals in the city of Bath to commit to diversity goals. The event will be led by Debbie Forster who co-founded the Tech Talent Charter, an industry collective to deliver a more diverse workforce in the world of tech.
London: La Fosse Associates are running a breakfast event, Establishing & Maintaining Diversity in Tech, at 8.30am – 10.30am at Runway East Shoreditch. The event will be facilitated by DevelopHer, a NFP community and will focus on the challenges we face when establishing and maintaining diversity within technology and diversity teams.