Liverpool Girl Geeks

Added: 17th September 2018 by RBS

Do you feel like there is a gender gap within the digital and tech industry? If yes, then this article is for you.

We sat down with Chelsea Slater, who is the co-founder and managing director of Liverpool Girl Geeks.

Liverpool Girl Geeks is on a mission to decrease the gender gap and they do this through inspirational workshops, large and small scale events, mentoring, content sharing and insights. We asked Chelsea to share her experiences of the gender gap in her career so far, as well as a few other questions to really get to know her, and what she is about!

1. You started off in marketing, and now you’re in technology – tell us a bit about your journey.

When I was in college I did a BTEC in multi-media and absolutely loved it. It was creative and meant that I got to do a mixture of graphic design, photography and filmmaking. I knew early on that I was never going to become an amazing graphic designer, but I considered using this skill somewhere else and chose to go down the marketing route, specifically in digital. So, I went to university and pursued digital marketing as a career choice, eventually doing a master’s degree in the subject part time and got a job at a local app agency.

2. Are you from Liverpool originally? I can see that you attended university in the city, and stayed on afterward, giving a lot back to the area’s community and industry - is that due to your connection with the city, or is the technology industry starting to boom there? Is it being seen as a technology hub for the north?

Liverpool is a fantastic city, and although I’m originally from Wales, I consider myself as an honorary Scouser now, for sure! This city is thriving and has a close-knit tech community, there’s a number of tech meetups in the city, and we have a fantastic creative quarter — The Baltic where we got our first office a year ago. We love working here and feel that we get a lot of support from organisations and individuals that really care about the work we do.

3. Where did your interest in technology stem from?

During my time at my first tech agency, I worked with global brands on their innovative app ideas and grew to love it. I worked closely with the design and development teams and saw how passionate and how dedicated they were to their work. I’ve always been quite forward-thinking, so knowing that I was contributing to the future of not only technology but of business really excited me.

4. You are involved in, and co-founded, numerous companies such as InnovateHer and Liverpool Girl Geeks (this link opens in a new window). How many projects are you involved in, and are they all aimed at supporting women in technology, and bridging the gap in the industry?

We have one mission across both brands: inspire more women to have careers in tech. Through Liverpool Girl Geeks we do this mostly with women from the ages of 18+, we develop their skills through various workshops, such as coding, UX, SEO and social media. We also run monthly meetups and bring in an expert panel to inspire people to either retain or enter the industry. We also work with local companies on diversity, meaning that we showcase businesses that genuinely care about having a diverse and inclusive workforce. We help these companies attract talent, so we’re actually not only contributing to the gender imbalance but the huge digital skills gap out there!

Through InnovateHer, which launched early this year, we work with girls aged between 11 and 17. This is an 8-week schools programme, where we teach girls skills such as games design, UX, wearable tech, web development and more! Alongside this, we build their confidence, introduce them to role models and take them to inspiring digital spaces. It’s a fantastic project, and we have ambitious plans to take this nationwide over the next couple of years.

5. How did you being the co-founder and director of InnovateHer come about? Where did your career start and how long has it taken you to get to the point where you’ve been able to give back to the community?

Sometimes I think, “How have I ended up here, owning two businesses that have such a strong social mission”, but I know that really it’s because of all the hard work myself and my business partner have put in. We’re really passionate about our mission, and that shines through in all of our work here at LGG and InnovateHer (this link opens in a new window).

When I started LGG back in 2013, I didn’t think it would be a business, to be honest; it was a blog and Twitter account used for inspiration. Then, the Liverpool community got behind us, and we got our first sponsorship to put on free coding courses, so I thought that if I left my job to focus on this full time, it would have far more impact. I did just that, and later on in the year, my new business partner did the same. We have four members of staff now and are doing some work, having worked with over 500 adults through our workshops and over 200 teens.

6. We’ve seen you also attend events as part of Liverpool Girl Geeks. What are the most common questions that get asked at the sessions? Do you find a lot of people have the same questions or concerns?

A lot of people ask, “But what about the men” in which we respond that the tech sector IS being built by men currently and over 85% of jobs are filled by men in the sector. There is a gender imbalance, which is affecting innovation, design thinking, the skills gap and equal opportunities. We hope that one day our courses can be for everyone, and that the problem will be solved, but we’re nowhere near that yet.

Our young people ask us how they can get a career in tech, and we tell them that there are many ways and not one option. It’s important to us to not funnel our young people down one route, so we showcase apprenticeships, work experience and university degrees that we think are teaching skills the industry needs.

7. As someone who is looking to bridge the gap of women in technology, do you find you get a lot of proactive support from males in the industry? Is that getting easier or is it still a challenge/barrier you face?

We have a fantastic amount of male supporters here in Liverpool and across the North West! We find that it’s even more powerful when men, especially senior leaders and business owners, show their support as this is encouraging other male-owned companies to follow suit.

8. Is it ever too late to get involved in technology? A career move can be daunting, but the soft skills learned in other areas (project management, for example) could really benefit the technology world.

Absolutely, these soft skills are essential and can be transferred into tech from any industry. We have a great example of this. One of our 6-week coding graduates has recently got her first web developer job after spending years in admin within the retail sector. The course transformed her life! We speak to both men and women from all ages that have changed a career later on in life. If you want to do it, connect with organisations like us and we’ll help.

Also, if you’re a mum, there’s a fantastic organisation in Manchester called ‘Tech Returners’ (this link opens in a new window) who get women back into work via tech after having children.

9. Do you have any advice for young girls who want a career in technology when they’re older? How to they make themselves stand out in a male-dominated industry — do they have to do anything differently, or should they just work hard and show how they are just as capable of a successful career?

My advice for young girls is that you should never think that an opportunity won’t be available to you because of your gender. If you want a career in this world, then you can, and you can thrive and really make a difference.

In terms of making that first step, speak to us at InnovateHer (this link opens in a new window), check out our blogs (we interview many role models from different areas within tech), go to networking events around your local area, engage with your local makerspaces, volunteer at local charities, apply for work experience and maybe even pursue some online courses — check out FutureLearn (this link opens in a new window), Udemy (this link opens in a new window) and Codecademy (this link opens in a new window) to start with.

10. I read the following statistic on the Liverpool Girl Geeks site ‘by 2040 it is estimated that only 1% of the tech sector will be female if there are no interventions’, which is a scary thought. Are there any wider initiatives being pushed to try and help improve this, or is it currently down to people like yourself to support the sector?

There are some fantastic initiatives out there that are working towards improving diversity in tech. ‘The Stemettes’ (this link opens in a new window) are a great organisation focusing on getting more girls into science, technology and engineering nationally. More widely code clubs are popping up in lots of communities around the country as well as Coder Dojo’s (this link opens in a new window) and FabLabs (this link opens in a new window).

There is lots of work to be done, so organisations and the government really need to support the work going on, so it’s more impactful.

11. Where do you hope to see the industry by 2020, 2030 and 2040, and do you currently see it moving in this direction? If not, which direction is it moving in and why do you think this is so?

To be honest, I hope to not have these businesses by 2040 because there won’t be a gender issue, but that’s very unlikely to happen as it stands. We need more support from the government if the issue was to go away and the education system needs an overhaul. There are some good initiatives as I’ve stated previously, the Department for Education is also introducing technical levels for colleges which is also interesting, but there are still many barriers for women that need to be addressed.

12. Have you ever experienced any negative reactions or vibes to your involvement in the industry, or do you find people are very open to what you are trying to achieve? If you have experienced any negative situations, how have you tackled this as it seems that it hasn’t knocked your enthusiasm on any level? How do you stay positive in such a challenging sector?

Like any business, we receive knockbacks all the time; whether that’s from a bid we spent weeks writing or someone trolling us on Twitter. The thing that drives us is the women who we help and see succeed. When you meet these women the majority have little confidence, but after a couple of sessions, you see this increase dramatically. Some of our teen graduates are now seeking employment within the sector, they’re winning hackathons and applying for apprenticeships, this is what I hoped to see after I left my job two years ago to do it, and this is what helps when we’re up against a challenge.