Martha Lane Fox was 25 when she presented her vision, as co-founder, for LastMinute.com to the only investor that had agreed to meet her and her co-founder. In her recent 2015 Richard Dimbleby Lecture she recalled how, after what was the most important pitch of her life, the investor’s only question was: what happens if you get pregnant?
Martha, who is the UK Government’s Digital Champion, believes that it is within our reach to leap frog other nations to become the most digital, most connected, most informed, economy in the planet and that if we did this it would be good for our economy, our culture, our health and our happiness overall. How to make this happen? She proposes that we need a new national institution to lead us in this effort; a different type of institution, with a strong mandate from the public, engaging with people in a radical new way. This vision is what she calls the dot.everyone.
The key drivers for this institution, in Martha’s words, should be to improve understanding of the internet at all levels by everyone, to tackle the inequalities and ethical issues that the internet can create and to increase women’s participation and place them at the heart of the digital world.
On the topic of women’s representation, Martha’s view is that things haven’t got much better since she presented her vision at the age of 25. None of the biggest internet businesses we use today are run or founded by women. In the tech sector, only 14% of the workforce are women, even lower than Parliament, with 22%.
But this wasn’t always the case, as Martha shared a glimpse into the women credited with being involved in the early days of computers, including Dame Stephanie Shirley who, in the 1960s, started a very successful, all-female software engineering company, recruiting women who other companies considered unemployable, namely mothers and housewives, to programme things like the Polaris submarine.
Today’s absence of women in technology has a profound impact on the services we all use today. Over 98% of the code that underpins the internet and mobile phone apps that everyone, from business to children, use today has been created by men. Martha wondered whether Apple would have launched their much anticipated health app without the ability to track periods if they’d had a senior woman involved in the development of the product. A simple rule by Martha: something that is used by everyone should be created by everyone.
Things are changing, but as Martha says, not fast enough. There are a number of initiatives and networks – Techmums, Women 2.0, Stemettes and GeekGirlMeetup to name but a few, that have been created in the UK and are making great strides to support women’s inclusion and increase their participation in the technology workforce. At Deloitte, we have a Women in Technology network as part of our overall women agenda in recognition of the need for a technology-focused effort in order to recruit and retain female talent in this industry as well as a Women in Leadership programme to support women as they progress into leadership roles. But it is clear that more needs to be done and Martha’s call for action provides an opportunity for a renewed focus on the equal participation of women in the technology sector.
Perhaps my favourite insight from Martha’s speech was that the best predictor of the effectiveness of a team is the presence of women. She set the listeners a challenge: to make the UK the best place to be a female technologist in the world! She believes that just putting women at the heart of the UK’s digital transformation alone might achieve the goal of making the UK the most digital nation in the world. And this can only be good news for women since it is a booming sector.
In the midst of general elections, one wonders if some of Martha’s wise, inspiring yet practical words will make their way into the political discourse in years to come. Whether they do or not, I am a more inspired female technologist as a result of Martha’s speech and I am confident we will see more of us making the headlines in the coming years by leading a more inclusive UK’s digital transformation that works for everyone.
*Saray Cruz is a Senior Consultant at Deloitte within the Technology Strategy & Architecture area of Technology Consulting. She is also the communications workstream lead for the Deloitte Women in Technology Network. Find out more about the Network here.