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Women in tech

Why do women actively self-select out of tech sectors? Newnham College and the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School tackled the issue at a day-long seminar in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline and Microsoft.

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“Women are grossly under-presented in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) sector and tech roles,” explains Professor Sucheta Nadkarni, a Fellow of Newnham College and Director of the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Professor Sucheta Nadkarni
Professor Sucheta Nadkarni

“Whereas most of the discussion has been focused on a paucity of women in STEM education, one key aspect that has not received as much attention, is that women may self-select themselves out of such roles. Even women with engineering, science and other backgrounds may seek non-tech jobs and sectors. Similarly, women with non-tech backgrounds may choose not to enter the tech sector. The recent Silicon Valley stories of the treatment of women in the tech sector is further exacerbating this issue.”

Newnham College and Cambridge Judge, in conjunction with Microsoft and GlaxoSmithKline, are pro-actively addressing the issue with a Women in Tech workshop that was held at Newnham College on 25 October 2018. The event aimed to encourage more females to enter the tech sector and tech roles, through close collaborations with companies that are leaders in their fields.

The workshop brought together 70 women from across the University of Cambridge to work together in groups to solve big strategic issues facing tech organisations. After the workshop, mentoring from executives will promote reflection, learning and further development.

Executives from GSK and Microsoft led “challenge” sessions involving real-world issues affecting their companies, addressing the leadership principles designed to meet those challenges. The GSK challenge focused on science, technology and culture, while the Microsoft challenge looked at embracing digital success.

Victoria Higgins, Senior Director & Business Lead for the GSK/Cambridge Strategic Alliance, said: “We were extremely excited to take part in the Judge/Newnham College Women in Tech Challenge, the goals of which strongly align with GSK’s own commitment to invest in developing, promoting and retaining women at every level of the organisation – globally. The October event provided a fantastic opportunity for GSK to work side by side a cohort of inspirational women on two GSK case studies resulting in a number of very thoughtful insights and recommendations that we intend to further explore.”

Gary Williams, EMEA Solution Sales Manager at Microsoft, said: “I was privileged to join this talented group and having the opportunity to work with them for this workshop. I loved hearing the insights and learning from the fresh perspectives to some challenges that face our business every day. The energy and passion in the room was infectious.” Thomas Spangberg, EMEA Sales Manager at Microsoft, added: “I was really impressed by the high quality of the work and the strong passion from everyone in the room.”

Professor Dame Carol Black, Principal of Newnham College, was delighted to support the workshop, saying: 

Despite the outstanding potential of women studying STEM subjects at University, women remain underrepresented in the STEM industries. Events such as this are one of the many ways that Newnham, as a women’s College, can enable our students to fulfil their potential and overturn barriers to participation. We are delighted to collaborate with Cambridge Judge on this annual initiative.

Professor Sucheta Nadkarni added:

This workshop allows participants to understand real cases and issues facing tech companies and to hear first-hand from executives involved in making these decisions on the challenges and opportunities. The UN has stressed that handling the issue of gender parity requires close collaboration between the corporations and educational institutions and this is an exemplar initiative.