London’s tech industry is a great economic success story but behind its success lies a problem. It’s a problem that faces the tech industry not just in London but globally – a worrying lack of diversity.
The image, often a correct one, is that the tech industry is overwhelmingly white and male. According to Tech UK, women occupy just 17% of tech jobs and fewer than one in ten of these women are in leadership positions. Women make up only 20% of tech founders and only 4% of software engineers.
But the problem isn’t just one of gender diversity – ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are also under-represented.
This issue was discussed at one of E2E’s recent breakfast meetings, kindly hosted by Lord Karan Billimoria CBE DL and attended by entrepreneurs from across Britain’s tech industry. Our guest speaker at the breakfast was Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, a global advocacy group of over 4,000 senior leaders in the tech community.
Russ is passionate about championing the growth of London’s tech industry and has provided advice to the UK Government and the Mayor of London. He is also passionate about increasing diversity in the sector. As he explained, diversity is important because a diverse workforce means more creativity and greater innovation.
There are some promising signs that the tide is turning. The UK Government recently announced £500 million of investment for technical education, including offering students opting for it a maintenance loan for the first time. Lord Sainsbury, who chaired the inquiry into technical education reform, has said that the news “should be welcomed by everyone to cares about increasing national prosperity and improving social mobility.”
Organisations such as WISE are working to promote science and technology careers to young women. Founders for Schools invites entrepreneurs into schools to promote the tech industry to a wider range of young people, and not-for-profit Colorintech exists to bring greater ethnic diversity to London’s tech industry.
The tech industry can itself be a catalyst and driver of change.
Attending the breakfast was Romanie Thomas, who founded tech start-up Juggle Jobs in 2015, aged just 27. Juggle Jobs is a platform designed to stop the notion that people have to choose between rewarding careers and great family lives – a problem that overwhelmingly affects women but is increasingly becoming a concern for many men. It does this by connecting professionals with employers committed to flexible working. An interview with Romanie is below.
The UK tech industry is a growing, dynamic, and increasingly important part of the UK economy. Increasing diversity in the tech industry will lead to more creativity and greater innovation, as Russ explained. There is a still a long way to go but this important issue has some promising advocates.
During the breakfast, Newgate Communications’ CEO Gavin Devine caught up with Romanie Thomas to find out more about Juggle Jobs, her inspiration, role models and experiences as a tech start-up in the UK:
Did you always know you were going to be an entrepreneur? Is this something you were born to do?
Yes, I think so. I was always bossy growing up so I think my mum and dad would tell you that I was always meant to run my own company. I came to it a little bit earlier than I thought I would – I was 27 when I founded Juggle Jobs but it has been a fantastic ride and it feels very natural.
Why did you choose to start Juggle Jobs in particular?
I felt socially drawn to the issue. We’re trying to solve the gender gap in business by creating a platform for high quality professionals to work flexibly, so they don’t need to choose between having an amazing home life or an amazing career, they can genuinely have both. I think it’s a very important issue to solve. It’s probably one of the most important social problems that we face today.
Who was your inspiration or mentor?
I had a number. From a distance, I was able to see people like Sheryl Sandburg, and it’s a pity that there aren’t more high quality female professionals in tech. But she was certainly an influence from afar. Closer to me, I was part of a tech entrepreneur group, a social one, where I saw people who were just shooting for the moon and I thought why not? If I don’t do this now, I never will.
Why were you part of that group if you weren’t already an entrepreneur, you must have known this was going to happen?
Yes, I think in some ways I probably engineered it a little bit! I was working for a head hunting firm and I was looking after the digital portion. So we became sponsored, and I became part of that team. In recruitment, it develops the entrepreneur type mind-set so I was already half way on that path.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
Lots! There are so many, all the time. But the big ones involve money and people as always. Hiring the wrong person is so costly, I should know that because I’m in recruitment but I still do it. Also getting on board the wrong investors who goals are not aligned to yours. I’ve learnt a lot this year.
If you were advising your younger self, what would you say?
I’d say enjoy the journey more. We have a tendency to keep looking forward and actually we really need to enjoy the moment otherwise why are we doing this?
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the fact that I’ve built an amazing team. It’s a diverse group of professionals so I’m really putting my money where my mouth is and they are fantastic at what they do. I’m really proud of bringing that group of people together.
Finally, what’s the value of a networking group like E2Exchange that brings scale-up businesses like yours together with others?
I think it’s fantastically powerful because you are surrounded by peers and role models who can challenge you. You can talk openly about issues that are topical to you and they are often instrumental in one being successful.
Thanks very much!