4 days Blog

What can we learn from women in football, to support women in tech?

By Cat Allport, Marketing Director, ROQ (Championing Women in Tech!)

Did you hear the Lionesses roar in London at the weekend?  I did – it was loud and clear!

They did it! They have achieved awesome success and there’s more to come. I’m not even much of a football fan, but I got so wrapped up in the enthusiasm, I was happily shouting my support at the TV – emotional stuff!  Great teamwork, incredible women to be thoroughly proud of.

It really got me thinking.  We’ve been doing a lot of work lately on the UK’s digital skills gap and how more women need to be encouraged into technology.  Although I don’t have a particularly techie role compared to some – marketing sees me more on the data and digital media side of things – I do, of course, work in a tech environment and have done several times before joining ROQ (as the old saying goes, it’s not my first rodeo!).  I was all primed to write a blog about women working in tech environments, but whilst watching the UEFA Women’s EUROs, I heard a quote that I’d only heard a few weeks before on our Webinar, ‘Mind the UK’s Digital Skills Gap’.

If you can’t see it…

Talking about career aspirations for young girls, a former colleague of mine, Emma Robertson – a very talented technology projects and portfolio senior leader with 25+ years’ experience in delivering change and technology globally, said “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it” in a recent ROQ webinar.  And there I was hearing the same thing again.

Sunday’s match against Germany saw a crowd of 87,192 attending Wembley – reportedly the highest attendance for any Euros final ever. This massive crowd was accompanied by a further audience of 17 million watching on TV.  The popularity of the sport really is growing!  Clubs all over the country are reporting a huge increase in enquiries from eager parents wanting to sign their girls up, and from women wanting a piece of the action.  It looks like girls and women alike are being inspired to get involved…

They’ve seen it, and now they want to be it!

Greater visibility of the women’s game

But how has this massive following happened? It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the UK now and viewing figures have actually doubled since 2017. It’s definitely got something to do with the massive broadcast deal that was announced by the FA before the start of the 2021/22 season.  The three-year deal with Sky Sports and the BBC for broadcasting rights to the Women’s Super League (WSL) was the biggest broadcast deal of any professional women’s football league in the world.  The investment is huge and it’s not the only thing.

Women in Tech learning from Women in Football

More investment than ever

On the 13th June, the Premier League announced increased financial support for FA Women’s National League clubs to help the development of the women’s game and to improve facilities at the grounds clubs play at.  It’s big money.  £3m for a new strategy for The Football Association Women’s National League, and £1.5m being made available by the Premier League to clubs at the same level for stadium improvements to make grounds more inclusive and to enhance the playing and spectating experience in women’s football.  That comes hot on the heels of an announcement in May, of the Premier League providing £1.75m p.a. for the next 3 years for the FA’s new network of Girl’s Emerging Talent Centres, to help the growth of the current women’s football talent programme in England.

Increased awareness

Women’s sport awareness has been slowly on the rise for a few years now, with perceptions shifting, largely as a result of the awareness initiatives being put in place by the FA, their national partners, national inclusion advisory groups and specialist community groups, for example:

  • FA Girls’ Football School Partnerships network, supported by Barclays
  • FA’s Positive Change Strategy
  • England Women’s Gameplan for Growth – the ‘Blueprint for Success’
  • Volkswagen’s #NotWomensFootball campaign
  • Women in Football network in partnership with Barclays – #GetOnside campaign
  • Nike’s ‘Never Settle, Never Done’ campaign
  • Just Eat’s ‘101 Initiative’

If football can do it, so can we

As I sat in another meeting the other day – as the only woman in a room full of men (again), I was wondering why I found myself in the same situation yet again.  ROQ is very keen (and vocal) about inclusivity.  Talented people are talented people – cis, bi, a, trans or third gender.  We’re more values than pronouns.  It has to be more about the number of women choosing to get into tech careers – be they roles or with organisations, so that indicates a much bigger problem than making your own company attractive to a broader talent pool.

Yes, organisations can (and should) make every effort to attract and retain female talent, by:

  • Encouraging a welcoming, inclusive culture across the entire organisation
  • Using gender-inclusive language
  • Taking on feedback from colleagues and implementing change where it’s needed
  • Encouraging more women into leadership positions from within for managerial diversity
  • Adopting flexible working practices
  • Tackle unconscious bias through education
  • Make sure the gender pay gap is well and truly closed

The list goes on… But the tech industry needs to do more, together

So what can we learn from Women’s Football?

The blueprint could/should be the same – shouldn’t it?

Greater visibility

Okay, broadcasting rights may be a little out of the question, but if we consider that in March 2021, Data analysed by industry body Tech Nation for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) based on figures provided by the Office for National statistics (ONS) and Companies House, showed that 19,465 new businesses were registered in the tech sector between 2020. Additionally, 26% of the (nearly three million people) in the UK tech industry are women.  That’s enough voices to be heard.  Of course, apparently, around 77% of people have anxiety about public speaking – but that’s still 690k women who could big up the tech career path for women.  Perhaps that’s down to us, to take control and be ambassadors for tech?

Women’s Football Education has Martha Thomas, Girls United FA has Caroline Weir, EA Sports has Georgia Stanway, but the UK workforce has a whopping list of over 1,500 women who have been nominated for the 2022 Women in Tech Excellence Awards!

More investment

Grants and funding is available for new tech initiatives if you look for it and more are being added all of the time, but of course these take time to find and longer to get involved with.  A little scouring saw us find Innovate UK, Golden Seeds, Female Founders Fund, Allbright Collective Pitch Days and a few more.  But in terms of the day-to-day, I’ve seen more about organisations and networks investing their time into supporting other women in tech than pure investment.

Both are great.  But I can’t help wondering if the ‘big guns’ need to take a stronger lead? In April 2019, the UK government announced a £2.4m investment aimed at encouraging more girls into computing.  15,000 students (aged five and 16), across 550 schools in England have been involved in trials that are due to complete this year, after which interventions will be measured and studied in order to understand how to support more girls to study computer science.  We await the results.  Furthermore, the UK government’s STEM Returners initiative to help women return to the STEM workforce announced on International Women’s Day is due to run until 2024.  

Of course, these are only a few things, but they don’t really give the shorter-term results that are desperately needed.  Self-funding, or finding the right network to help you seem to be the way women are expected to go.  However, that requires the woman to be proactive.  It certainly doesn’t attract more women into the tech industry, and just like in women’s football, women need to be a.) interested, and b.) willing to fight for it.

More awareness

There are some great organisations and initiatives out there. WomenTech Network, We Are Tech Women, The WIT Network, Girls Who Code, Stemettes etc. Some NFP, some networking groups, some commercial organisations who offer training.  Some very large organisations with Women in Tech schemes are now inviting external participants which is great to see.  There are campaigns out there but the voices shouting need to be louder.  A quick Google search on ‘how do we encourage more women into technology?’ returned 222,000,000 in 0.49 seconds.  Quietly, everyone knows it’s a problem. So let’s make it a little noisier – Think of the Wembley crowd.  That’s what we need.

Oh – and remember what I said about football clubs getting more enquiries for girls to start playing?  We need to do that.  Start early! We need female role models to get into schools, colleges, and universities to talk about careers in technology.  Explain the job satisfaction, the prospects, and the financial reward. We need girls… in fact, all kids (the future techies) to want to do coding camps and computer clubs. They need to understand that the thing they love – their phones, social media, consoles of choice – have to be designed and built.  That could be their dream job in the future!

It’s just my humble opinion

For now, I’m choosing not to tackle (pardon the pun) the negative comments that I’ve seen online as I’ve been researching this.  Small pockets of disruption that you’ll find if you look at social media comments, like: “Prove to me that women footballers get paid less”, “Please don’t try to tell me women’s football is up to the standard that men play” etc.  And I’m certainly not getting involved in the Lineker Tweet ‘should he, shouldn’t he?’ debate.  I still have my head in my hands that there’s the need for the #NotHerProblem campaign – it’s 2022 for crying out loud!

I’m just going to delight in a win for a great England team who have proven their skills against their competition, brought a huge amount of joy and emotion to a massive and diverse audience, shown that teamwork DOES make the dream work, and raised awareness that if you set your mind to something, you can truly achieve – no matter who you are or where you come from.

Well done Lionesses!  You brought it home!

p.s. If you’d like to get involved in our next Digital Skills Gap webinar, ‘You’ve Got Male’, where we’ll be talking about attracting and retaining women in tech – register your interest at: https://bit.ly/3vDen2O

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