Sheffield Women in Tech growing in confidence and numbers

Speaker Shehla Ali takes a selfie at Sheffield Women in Tech
Speaker Shehla Ali takes a selfie at Sheffield Women in Tech

Women in tech are heavily outnumbered - they are fewer than 20 per cent of workers - so some support is very welcome.

That’s why ‘Sheffield Women in Tech’ was established and why more than 40 people, including some men, packed a room in the Cooper Buildings on Arundel Street.

Frankie Baldwin, digital designer at Aviva.

Frankie Baldwin, digital designer at Aviva.

They came to make friends and hear talks on life in the sector and ‘share, encourage and celebrate’ women in tech.

The hoped-for benefits were high level: encouraging more female recruits to ease a labour shortage in a burgeoning industry, and personal: sharing work tips or gaining the confidence to go for promotion.

Co-founder Tejay White, of education technology company Tribal, said collaboration was key.

“Sheffield could be a vibrant, large, digital hub much like Leeds and Manchester if we all get together and push in the same direction. Sheffield has a creative and workshops mentality that harks back to the manufacturing age.

Jennifer Myerscough, left, and Sarah Christopher.

Jennifer Myerscough, left, and Sarah Christopher.

“We want women to gain confidence to put themselves forward for leadership roles and push themselves a bit harder.”

ShfWIT was one of a growing number of tech meet-ups linked to membership organisation Sheffield Digital, which had given everyone in tech “a home,” she added.

Co-founder Emma Marshall, of Sheffield software firm 3Squared, said ShfWIT was for women at all levels.

“If we ignore women as an industry we are never going to have enough people. Most people when they interview recruit in their own image and in tech that's mostly men. I have put my managers through unconscious bias training and I’m sharing that information with the group.”

ShfWIT co-founders Sarah Lowi-Jones, Emma Marshall and Tejay White.

ShfWIT co-founders Sarah Lowi-Jones, Emma Marshall and Tejay White.

Co-founder Sarah Lowi-Jones, economic policy officer at Sheffield City Council, said the authority had started to recognise the sector’s importance to the broader economy. It had sponsored two ShfWIT events and the website.

Jennifer Myerscough, a digital product manager with the prison and probation service, said she was the sole woman in a team of 10.

She added: “I’m really keen to see the Sheffield Digital community grow, especially women.”

Frankie Baldwin, digital designer at Aviva on Ecclesall Road, said the group had helped her gain confidence and people took her more seriously at work.

She had benefited from a supportive female manager, Nina, who had seen her potential, she added.

Sarah Christopher, technology services buyer at the Department for Education, said she’d moved to Sheffield a year ago and wanted to find out “what other women were doing and how they were working.”

Speaker Shehla Ali traced her career from journalism graduate, to Google Garage team leader, to freelance digital marketer and recreational drone flyer.

She said: “Never give up, ask for help if you need it, join communities and network and use social media to reach out to companies.”

Speaker Tanya Fish, who works at Sheffield hobbyist electronics company Pimoroni, said she had started giving five minute talks to boost her confidence. It had led to being invited to tech conferences in the US, Germany and China this year alone, judging competitions and running the kids track at Sheffield hacker event SteelCon with volunteers. She said: “It all happened because I learned to say ‘yes’. But you also need to know when to say ‘no’. Gaining confidence equals self care."

It was the third ShfWIT event, the next one is in January.