Chelsea Slater is co-founder of Innovate Her, a company which Bruntwood partners with to encourage young girls into tech. As part of National Coding Week, we speak to Chelsea about where it all began.
How did you come about co-founding InnovateHer?
It all happened 6 years ago for me when I was working in a tech company that had very little diversity in terms of gender, I was basically the only woman there for a number of years! I love tech, so getting other women like me to think of tech as a career option was something that I felt passionate about, so I started a community called Liverpool Girl Geeks to do just that.
InnovateHer was born off the back of the work we were doing at Liverpool Girl Geeks, which attracted attention from national organisations such as the Co-op who are Manchester based and our longest serving partner. I met my Co-founder Jo through a meet up I’d put on, we instantly hit it off and I persuaded her to leave her job so that we could build this business together and that’s exactly what we did.
InnovateHer now employs 6 people and is growing in other cities. We have a clear mission to “get girls ready for the tech industry and the tech industry ready for girls” and we’ve worked with over 300 girls to date.
What does your role involve?
My role has changed recently and is much more focused on building the vision for the company, which is what I love to do! Day to day you’ll find me designing proposals, pitching for new members, planning new city launches or doing finances (yes I do have to do some boring stuff!). Generally I make sure that we’re hitting our targets and creating as much impact as we envisaged at the start of the year, whilst Jo makes sure that everything we do is done to the highest quality!
Why do you think it's so important to be engaging females in the tech from a young age?
We’re faced with stereotypes as soon as we enter this world, wearing pink to signify we’re a girl and giving Lego gifts to little boys because we think that that’s what you’re supposed to do. When you go to school, you’re faced with more stereotyping, teachers tell their male students to have careers in science and technology, whereas females get told to go into more caring roles such as nursing or child care. I’m generalising here but this still happens, in fact 29% of male teachers said that they would not recommend a STEM subject to a girl, which is shocking.
We work with girls as they are about to choose their options for GCSE. We do this because currently the take up of the Computer Science GCSE is really low, in the North West only 40% of schools offer the subject and of that only 9% of students take it. You can only imagine how low the number of girls is within that percentage (around 2%). By working with girls of this age, we’re not only showcasing opportunities that are out there, but we are also building their confidence, showing them that they too can have careers within the industry.
How have you seen the tech sector change in the North West over the past few years?
There’s definitely been a shift in attitude since we first launched the Liverpool Girl Geeks brand. The feminist movement has excelled over the past couple of years globallly, so more people are aware of the women’s movement and how important it is for businesses and communities everywhere. The Government has put in gender pay gap reporting as a policy which is a great start, but we still have a long way to go in terms of diversity numbers, parental leave and leadership within the industry, which all contribute to the lack of women within the sector.
What impact do you feel InnovateHer is having on the tech sector in North West?
I am so proud of what we have achieved to date. We have existed for a year and a half and have already worked with 300 girls. Girls have taken computer science GCSE’s after they have been on our programme, they have been given internships in technology and have told us that they plan to go to University to study tech related subjects. This fills me with joy on a daily basis.
We’ve also had huge success through our membership scheme and now we’re 20 companies strong! Companies have grown their diversity numbers, have taken part in workshops around the D&I agenda and have also built internal women’s networks. This part of our work is really important to me, if we’re telling girls to have careers within the industry then we need to make sure that the industry is inclusive and welcoming. I hope that in a few years' time we’ll see some of the girls we have taught work with some of the companies that have supported us.
We’re about to launch our first Social Impact report too - so make sure you check it out ;)
What can tech businesses gain from bringing in more females?
Diversity matters because different perspectives, experiences and backgrounds create wonderful products and services that cater for everyone. There are so many examples of when tech has gone wrong due to the lack of diversity when creating it. Take voice recognition software, when it was first launched it only recognised male voices, because the team who created it was all male. Or facial recognition software, that didn’t recognise black faces because there wasn’t a diverse enough data set.
Furthermore, the U.K faces a crisis; we have a huge digital skills gap! By inspiring and giving confidence to women so that they feel like they have an opportunity to have a career within the industry, we open up the gates to more talent, which will fuel our economy and create better opportunities for everyone.
If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
Let your voice be heard! I’ve always had imposter syndrome which has stopped me from sharing my opinions! I used to be terrified of putting my hand up in class, presenting in front of big groups or getting behind the camera to share my views, but as soon as I started (a couple of years ago) I realised that people listened and what I shared mattered. Every time I see a young girl struggling with her confidence, I share my story about not being able to speak out and how when I did everything changed. It’s really important to challenge yourself and help other women to speak out too.
Find out more about Innovate Her via their website - https://www.innovateher.co.uk/