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Cambridge Women in Technology – Where it all began

Attending a DevOps conference back in 2016 I was both amused and taken aback at the length of the queue for the men’s toilet and bewildered at the distinct lack of people in the women’s. As I sauntered, head high past the men’s queue, I composed a tweet it read: “You can guarantee there is never a queue for the women’s toilet at these conferences! #software #conference #database.”

At first it made me chuckle, I mean, how often do you see a huge line for the men’s and not a soul to be seen in the women’s? I didn’t send the Tweet in the end; the reality was upsetting – where were all the women?

At that moment it became an obsession, it got me thinking about the careers my kids were going to pursue, about the lack of women in tech generally, and the opportunities available to young girls in STEM subjects.

Since my whole career has been in tech, I never really paid much attention to the fact that I was always the only woman in my team. I always worked hard, aimed to impress and progressed in my role as a result. As I grew within the company and my priorities changed, it began to dawn on me that while new positions and desired skill-sets varied, one thing remained constant – everyone that joined seemed to be males. From work experience people and new candidates, to guest speakers and attendees at events and trade shows it was a male-dominant industry.

I started looking in to the statistics, it was neither unsurprising or pleasant:

  • Only 17% of employees in the UK tech sector are women

  • Women make up just 11% of professional engineers

  • The tenure of women in tech roles is 7 years

  • Only 1 in 6 school leavers taking an ICT degree were female

At the time, I had just read ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandburg and among other things, her explanation of the importance of community and local circles really resonated with me. She described circles as: “A place where women can be unapologetically ambitious. Where we can give voice to our dreams and find the encouragement to start chasing them. They’re a place for sharing ideas, gaining skills, seeking advice, and showing solidarity. Most of all, they’re a place where we help each other become our very best selves. Whatever your goal – whether you’re working toward a promotion or building your confidence, re-entering the workforce or starting a business – your Circle will help you get there.’

I was inspired.

Suffering from the dreaded 3am insomnia, having just attended to my poorly son, I reflected on the book and decided to act to the problem I’d witnessed first-hand. I would start my very own circle – surely there were other women in Cambridge that felt the way I did? Surely, they too wanted to address the gender gap in technology? Surely..

So that was it, I logged on and signed up.

Initially I wondered if I could gather together a handful of people to provide mentoring, create after school clubs or get involved in things like Raspberry Pi competitions. My mind was running wild with possibilities, I was excited, I was motivated, I was inspired to make a difference.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to our first Meetup, I never expected 40 like-minded women to be sat in a room discussing their stories, their experiences, eager for change. I must admit, I felt nervous, and a serious case of impostor syndrome was starting to set in…we’ll get to that later.

So, now you know how Cambridge WIT began. Watch this space to hear the rest of the story and how we have progressed above and beyond the Lean In platform together as a community.