A leading female tech entrepreneur says people scared of networking at events should just see it as “chatting”.
Sue Black OBE is the founder of the UK’s first online network for women in tech, BCSWomen and now wants to teach a million mums to code.
She took her own family out of poverty by studying technology and has now devoted her life to helping others do the same through her social enterprise #techmums, which aims to ‘empower women through technology’.
Now at a point in her career where she is teaching others, it’s easy to forget that – despite being a self-confessed geek – Black herself was once new to the industry.
She has previously described approaching two men talking at her first conference and being brushed off.
But, with hindsight, she thinks there may be another issue at play, one that affects the wider industry.
“I don’t get that so much anymore,” she tells BusinessCloud.
“I think it was partly because I was so shy that the thought of going up to anyone I didn’t know was stressful anyway, whereas now that I’m so used to it, it’s not really an issue.
“But I do think that if you are the kind of person who’s not comfortable with chatting to strangers, it can be really scary.
“The first time I did it was at a computing conference. My supervisor told me I had to network and I was really scared.
“Now I see it as just chatting to people, which I love doing.”
Black is adamant that all businesses can play a part in tackling the gender imbalance in tech.
“Look at your company website: do you have women represented in your pictures?” she asks.“Are there women in your magazines? Do you have women at higher levels in your company as role models?
“In particular, larger companies should make an effort to show that women can progress there.”
Speaking directly to the women in tech – or those that would like to be –she says that there are lots of ways to learn the skills that you need.
“Find out what’s out there in terms of digital skills and training. You can learn web design or to code online; there are loads of resources like Codeacademy and courses you can take, so get out there, think about what you like and are good at and find a course to upgrade your skills.
“Go to events and network. For any expertise or background, you’re much more employable if you’ve got some tech skills.
“There are so many opportunities for a technology career to take you anywhere.
“Tech is becoming more pervasive in everything around us; it’s taking over repetitive tasks and I see it enabling people to have more interesting lives and careers using the tech.”
For anyone struggling to see exactly where tech can take you, Black’s answer is this: everywhere.
“My aim now is to take #techmums global, and working out which tech will help us do that is constantly in my mind,” she says.
“I have no answer as yet but it’s starting to work well in the UK, going through schools and local authorities and getting out to mums across the UK and Ireland, so it’s getting bigger, but I definitely think there’s going to be some kind of tech solution involved.
“I want to get to a million mums by 2020 – that’s the challenge.”