The five women set to shake up tech in 2016
In the UK, there is a massive shortage of workers in technology, with more than 600,000 vacancies in the industry that need to be filled. And yet, at the same time, the technology industry is incredibly poor at tapping into an incredible pool of talent: women. Whether you look at leadership roles, startups attracting investment or simply in gainful employment, women in tech are something of a rarity.
According to research by Deloitte, in 2015 fewer than 25% of jobs in IT were held by women and this gender imbalance is costing the industry dear – Deloitte quotes figure of around $4bn lost annually, to be precise.
But the good news is there are women out there, seeking answers and, in particular, finding ways to attract the next generation of women to IT, leading startups, winning investment and pushing tech innovations to their limits. We’d like to introduce you to five of them, who in their own way look set to shape the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) agenda in 2016.
1. The prodigy turned educator: Anne-Marie Imafidon
Anne-Marie Imafidon was 10 years old when she passed her GCSEs in maths and ICT. At 11, she became the youngest girl to get her computing A-level. At university, she was one of three girls in a class of 70 studying maths and computer science. When she moved to a role in the City, the same low numbers of women in IT applied.
“Currently, only 14% of people that work in STEM are women, I wanted to do something to change that, to move the percentage closer to a tipping point of 30%,” Imafidon says. So, as well as holding down her day job, she launched Stemettes to put girls aged from five to 21 in contact with women working in tech, to give them access to workshops and hackathons, and all sorts of things to keep their interests in these subjects alive.
Three years in, 6,000 girls have taken part in a Stemette programme and Anne-Marie has recently given up her job in the City to devote herself to Stemettes full time.
Why Anne Marie Imafidon is one to watch in 2016
There’s a firm focus on addressing the gender imbalance in tech, and encouraging girls to choose STEM subjects is key to making this change happen. Imafidon’s Stemette graduates will soon have access to OtotheB, an app to keep them networked and informed of future events. “I think you’ll see more companies starting grassroots initiatives to get more women into tech fields and you’ll see more female tech founders hitting the mainstream in the non-tech press – publications such as Stylist and Glamour are already cottoning on,” she adds. “As for me, I’ll be doing more tech evangelising, maybe raising money for investment and never wearing heels again, that’s the one good thing about working for myself, I can wear trainers every day.”
2. The gamer for good: Jude Ower MBE
“In 2010, Zynga, founders of Farmville, turned an in-game purchase into a fundraiser for the Haiti Earthquake Appeal and raised $1.5 million in just five days. The fundraiser saw Zynga engage with their player base on a whole new level, converting non-spenders and increasing play time and lifetime value. I saw this as a massive opportunity to create a platform that was a win-win,” explains Jude Ower, founder of Playmob, a platform that connects games to social causes. “Charities need businesses to support the good work they do, but business can only do this if they are in a position to do so. Combining the power of social good and social gaming was a no-brainer idea that had to happen,” she says.
Why Jude Ower is one to watch in 2016
Delivering social good, as well as a service, is fast becoming a must-have rather than a nice-to-have, not just for companies and brands but for games themselves. Playmob is working hard to meet that need: “We’re working more strategically with games studios as they view charity work as not separate to the business but integral to engage with millennial audiences. We’re also making our platform more sophisticated in terms of emotional intelligence and better use of data, to find the ideal match for games and charities and brands,” Ower says.
3. The designer of wearable tech: Anouk Wipprecht
When Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas needed a pair of knock-out shoes for her performance at the Super Bowl, she asked fashion tech designer Anouk Wipprecht for help. Her fibre-optic high-heeled boots not only caused a stir, they put Anouk’s designs firmly on the fashion map. “I started combining microcontrollers with fashion design and textiles in 2006. As technology grew closer to the body, I saw that this could open up possibilities of electronic fashion,” she explains.
Alongside creating her own designs, Wipprecht works with companies such as Intel, Audi and Autodesk. “We mainly work on creating wearables (wristbands and activity trackers) or conceptual garments that are tech-infused like mine, but I think the real catch is a focus on smart textiles. As chips and sensors are getting smaller, they are easier to integrate into the physical weave of a garment. I think that will be the start of some exciting times, when the fabric you wear becomes a second skin,” she says.
Whilst there are a lot of fashion tech concepts, Wipprecht doesn’t expect them to become mainstream until two to five years time. “There are still problems to solve: washability (we need to be able to wash our electronics), energising (we need to keep our garments charged) and maintenance – since who will repair your garment when it breaks? But conversation with the technology industry is there, and companies such as Intel are really pushing it,” she adds.
Why Anouk Wipprecht is one to watch in 2016
Wipprecht is experimenting with a couple of partners to get a first generation of designs to market. “From a fashion tech perspective, there will be cool new sensors added at the second half of 2016 that will change the way we measure wireless biosignals. And getting more of our grip on our emotional data will advance wearable electronics,” she adds.