Tech Fest Panel Talk Women and Machines

7 September 2017
A panel of thought leaders today gathered at JLR Tech Fest to discuss gender inequality in the technology industry and how redressing the balance could add up to 13trillion to global GDP by 2025.

A panel of thought leaders today gathered at JLR Tech Fest to discuss gender inequality in the technology industry and how redressing the balance could add up to 13trillion to global GDP by 2025.

Shelley Zalis CEO of The Female Quotient and Founder of Girls’ Lounge revealed the shocking fact before citing copious studies that show “diversity is good for business” and that at the current rate, gender equality would be reached in 118 years time.

“Gender equality is not a female issue; it’s a social economic issue” she continued, before highlighting the recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index, which places the United States at 45 on the list and the United Kingdom at number 20, behind the likes of many other Eurozone countries as well as the Philippines (7) and Rwanda (5) to name a few (the top spots on the list were dominated by Nordic countries, with Sweden, Norway and Finland all being beaten narrowly for first place by Iceland).

The floor was then opened up to other delegates to discuss why, in the 21 Century, were we still having conversations about women in STEM subjects?

“One of the reasons is that we’ve taken key design and technology subjects out of the curriculum, which I think is a catastrophe”, said British politician The Rt Hon. Lord David Blunkett.

“Engineering follows the standard ‘design, build, test’ model,” said Imogen Pierce, Aerodynamics Engineer and Programme Attribute Leader at Jaguar Land Rover. “You get things wrong, then you try again. Boys toys are geared that way, whereas girls are encouraged to be ‘get things right’ individuals. We need to encourage girls to make mistakes, enjoy making mistakes and learn where they went wrong”.

With unanimous agreement from the panel, talks moved on to discuss the future of women in STEM subjects: “How are we creating a paradigm shift from unconscious bias to unconscious diversity? What do you think is working today?”, Shelley asked.

Benita Mehra, President of the Women’s Engineering Society, thought it was a combination of things: “we’re talking about working flexibility; about job sharing – for men and women. People assume that people need working flexibility because they’re looking after the kids, but it can be a whole range of things, like looking after an elderly relative for example.”

Michelle Kennedy, CEO and co-founder of Peanut, agreed that flexibility was key, and raised the importance of equal parental leave: “the real shift is about having conversations about why it’s beneficial to have flexible working and shared parental leave? Nordic countries are leading the way here.”

In the same vein, David suggested that flexible entry routes into STEM subjects would help to tip the balance, referencing the popular Law conversion course would-be lawyers can take to change direction with their career. “I’d like to see more investment in conversions from what they’re doing now to what they might be good at”, he said. “Why can't we put resource into bursaries allowing people to change careers and professions mid-careers?”.

Benita reinforced David’s point, saying that for many, it was simply not practical for them to remain in their professions long term. “40% of women leave the industry after their degrees. Companies need to allow people to have breaks based on their lifestyle, and people should have the ability to shift into another field.”

As the talk drew to a close, delegates were asked if they believed there was a difference between male and female engineers.

“No”, Imogen said. “People generally (not just men or women) have different ways of dealing with problems, and when you have male dominated environments you end up with certain ways of thinking. Men and women are not different, but we need diversity of thought to get the best out of any project.”

Tech Fest Panel Talk Women and Machines