by Nicola Carruthers
Over the years I’ve become used to being one of the only women in a room full of men and feeling like I’ve accidentally attended a boys club when in fact I’m at an industry event. In fact, based on attendee data from the recent Shopify Unite 2017 event, despite the fact that the attending Shopify employee split was roughly 60/40 (male/female), the overall attendee split was closer to 80/20 (male/female).
As a woman, the fact that I hold a leadership position in the tech industry is not something I take for granted. When I founded Underwaterpistol with Gary back in 2003, women were a rarity in tech. Whilst I am not suggesting that things haven’t changed over recent years, I often wonder how much better things would be if the gender divide was finally a thing of the past?
To understand my story a bit better I feel I should tell you a little bit about my background. As a photographic agent, I was in a female dominated industry full of strong, intelligent and powerful women who weren’t afraid to be leaders, break the mould, and smash the elusive glass ceiling. Being surrounded by creative women who were responsible for guiding and shaping the careers of artists and photographers across the globe was truly inspiring.
Eventually, I ran my own agency and was very comfortable in the world of art and commerce that I had come to know and love. You can imagine my shock when I was faced with the harsh reality that the role of women in a digital agency was almost a complete u-turn to my previous experience. All of a sudden women in leadership roles were few and far between, and it certainly wasn’t something I had ever anticipated. I tackled things the way I’ve always done - head on!
In the very early days at Underwaterpistol, we focused on a specific niche in the arts and photography sector working with creative companies, full of the strong women that I had been accustomed to. Our clients found it refreshing to have a creative woman selling commerce technology in an otherwise male dominated industry. At the time I had an overwhelming sense that I was challenging a male dominated stereotype. Fast-forward to 2017 and we are a thriving Shopify Plus agency, working with a diverse mix of clients across lots of different sectors.
I am glad to say over the last decade and a half I have seen a huge rise of women in tech - but it’s not nearly enough! You see, having worked in an industry dominated by women it set the bar pretty high. I still find it hard to believe that across the whole tech industry 25% of IT jobs are held by women, and only 5% of tech start-ups are actually owned by women. Even harder to accept is the fact that 40% of women working in start-ups believe not enough is done to address diversity within their company, compared to 82% of men who do believe that enough is being done. As shocking as some of the gender allegations have been in recent months, these statistics seem to support the fact that things still have a long way to go.
Having a strong female presence at Underwaterpistol certainly brings with it considerable benefits, and it’s something we would encourage all digital agencies to embrace. Here are some of my key points:
In the UK between 2008 and 2011, 80% of newly self-employed people were women, driven in part by their desire to have flexibility and financial independence. And women account for 17% of business owners and are setting up businesses at an unprecedented rate. Taking that into consideration, it would be pretty foolish not to have such a large chunk of our client base reflected in our team.
It’s precisely this gender diversity that brings fresh approaches and ideas to the table. Not only is it hugely valuable in a creative industry, but it leads to many business benefits. Not least by reflecting our client base, creating a mix of gender perspectives, developing a better customer experience, but ultimately making a more effective and innovative end result for our clients.
We should be celebrating the roles women have in digital agencies today and hold them up as examples of success. Only then can we truly foster an environment where they can reach and surpass their goals, continue to learn and in turn inspire other women to enter the tech industry.
I am happy to say we have a strong female presence in our team. One of our lead developers is a woman, our lead project manager is a woman and I am one of the founders, with a 50/50 split. Make no mistake, women pursuing careers in digital are more than capable of matching their male counterparts in the geek stakes. We aren’t here just to make up the numbers, in fact, we are here in spite of the fact that we are women... we are here because we are the best people for the job!