DCMS blog

Supporting female leadership in the UK tech sector

Teresa Carlson

by

Teresa Carlson

Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector and Industries at Amazon Web Services

If there was ever a period in our history to drive home the incredible capabilities of technology, it has been the last year.

Cloud computing has enabled governments, schools, universities and businesses to remain operational in the most disruptive of circumstances. 

Meanwhile, data analytics are helping medical researchers to find new treatments and vaccines faster, to bring a resolution to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following this year’s International Women’s Day, it is a timely moment to acknowledge that the opportunities presented by technology mean that it’s even more important to have women fully represented in our sector.

A digital lesson featuring female students

A recent study conducted by PWC estimated that increasing employment rates among women in the UK to above 60% would result in an 8.9% uptick in the UK’s economy. Yet as of 2019, only 16.4% of tech roles in the UK were held by women, according to the Office of National Statistics. Similarly, the New Statesman found that just 16% of directors at technology companies are women

There’s evidence that Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted women in the workforce, which risks stalling efforts to build a more diverse leadership and has a lasting impact on economic growth in the UK.

That’s why it’s more crucial now than ever before that we not only attract women to careers in STEM, but empower them to thrive – and lead – once they get here. 

Three young female students doing a science experiment

Building a pipeline

We need to build a strong pipeline of female talent. And encouraging girls and young women to pursue a career in tech is fundamental to this. 

GetIT is an initiative designed by AWS to encourage girls aged 12-13 to consider a career in tech by inviting teams from different schools to an app-building competition to solve real issues faced by their school or community. Since AWS GetIT’s launch in 2018, the program has captured imaginations and grown rapidly: by the end of 2020, over 23,000 students from 136 schools will have taken part.

Proactive industry led programmes like this have a crucial role to play in helping to address the under representation of women in the sector. 

Government has a role to play too – and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s leadership in establishing the UK’s regional Digital Skills Partnerships (DSPs), is a fantastic example of this.  The DSPs have helped bring together public, private and charity sector organisations to help increase the digital capability of individuals and organisations across England.  We’ve been delighted to work with the local DSP and our collaborating partner, Generation to bring AWS re/Start to the West Midlands region.  This is a programme focused on attracting a more diverse audience of learners, including women, to train for and pursue careers in cloud computing.

Supporting female leadership

But it’s not enough to simply have more women in the tech sector. We need more women leaders. And one of the most powerful means of supporting and developing female leadership in the sector is mentorship – as I recently discussed with Indra Nooyi, at AWS re:Invent.

Indra has had a fascinating career, working as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, before joining the board of Amazon. In her view, women especially benefit from discussing their challenges and opportunities with female leaders.

Two female digital skills students

I know that throughout my career, I have benefitted from great mentors who have seen things in me that I didn’t. Now, I’m helping others as my mentors helped me. With mentoring schemes and dedicated workplace forums and groups, we can help female leaders to discover and reach their full potential. 

Leaders like Faye Holt, one of AWS’ Principal Account Managers who led a team supporting Government customers on the front line of the COVID-19 response to develop new services to meet the needs of the citizens they serve. The rapid response of her team meant local councils were able to respond promptly and at scale, creating new services that were used by thousands of citizens in a matter of days. 

Or like Nicky Murphy, our Head of Healthcare Public Policy who worked with the NHS, enabling them to scale up provision of care to patients, providing real-time data to support NHS decision-making, and accelerated the pace of research into effective interventions for COVID-19. 

At AWS, our ultimate goal is to create a business that reflects the diversity of the customers we serve. But we know that we all have much more work to do.

It’s up to all of us in the technology sector, and government, to proactively encourage and support our female colleagues, ensuring that they have what they need to succeed.