“I am one of the co-founders of She Does Digital and Creative Director at digital agency Epiphany. She Does Digital started back in 2016. I had worked for the large majority of my digital design career in male-dominated teams. It had never been a huge problem but as I was working my way up to recruiting for designers, I was never getting many female applications through.
After reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and hosting a Lean in circle, we were inspired to do a bit of digging in the industry to see if we were alone in this. To our surprise, it was a national problem and digital skills and diversity in short supply. To date, it’s reported that only 19% of women work in digital (Tech nation report 2018) which is something we want to work towards changing.
Epiphany at the time was on the board of the Leeds Digital Festival. The line up included no events tackling the issue, so we thought we’d set up ‘She Does Digital’ and host a speed networking event to test the water. The event sold out and was a huge success with people who attended keen to keep the conversation going. From there the network was born and we are who we are today.
We are now a small steering group team that meets regularly but we rely on our network of volunteers to help us with our work. Because we do this in our spare time, we do what we can. We have found our role is usually about connecting the dots between educational institutions with businesses and digital professionals.”
She Does Digital – Our Roots
“She does digital is a group of digital professionals who are working to encourage more women into the industry in Leeds. We have a small steering group who run She Does Digital in their spare time and a network of digital professional volunteers who we call on to help us with our cause.
Our mission is to encourage more women into the industry. We do this by raising awareness of everyday digital role models, promoting the different roles within the industry and highlighting the digital skills gap and demand for talent. We aim to break down the barriers and make the industry more accessible.
Our advice for women wanting to break into the industry is to go for it! If you aren’t sure what you want to do, it’s a safe bet that there is a role for you in the digital industry. The digital industry is one of the fastest-growing and exciting industries to be in. It’s an industry where you are constantly learning, iterating and developing. There is so much opportunity and a variety of roles for you in digital. You don’t need to be massively technical and you can learn quickly on the job.
It’s hard to say at what point women develop self-limiting beliefs about getting into STEM careers or education. We did an event with Year 9 girls a few years ago, and some of the feedback was that they didn’t believe they could get into code or that it was for ‘boys’. I think they just didn’t realise or understand the depth and breadth of the digital industry and couldn’t relate digital roles with everyday products and services they used.
I think because the industry is quite young, it can come across as being quite scary, elitist and complicated. But I think the main issue is understanding. I still meet people who are in the industry today who are put off by development because they don’t understand it.
I also think people think of the digital industry being massively technical and about coding and that puts people off when in reality, it’s part of it but there are so many jobs surrounding and supporting it which you don’t need huge amounts of technical or coding knowledge.
Yes, I completely agree that there is a lack of women role models and mentors in the industry! This is one of the key strands to our initiative and something we wanted to tackle.
We have a campaign called ‘Where did you start?’ where we showcase everyday role models working in the digital industry in Leeds. It’s often from these stories that we find speakers for our events as everyone has a story to tell and usually most have very unconventional routes into the industry.
I think it’s really important to showcase role models from all walks of life and different levels of their careers. The common thing is to only talk about those far-reaching success stories, but our approach is different, it’s about showcasing people at the start of their careers, who are in the industry day in and day out, the people that others can relate to.
In terms of mentoring, we can help schools, colleges, and universities with their mentorship schemes. We have our network of digital professionals who are willing to become mentors and we have helped with a few in the past.
Mentoring is valuable. I have been amazed at how much knowledge, skills, and advice you can give prospective students. Mentorship is a great way of having a sounding board and insight into the industry and prospective career choices.”
The importance of self-care
“I think because the industry is so fast-paced, you can sometimes feel like you are constantly chasing your tail. It can be quite stressful trying to keep up with everything that’s going on all the time. In terms of coping mechanisms, I try and take my mind off things by doing something completely unrelated… Going back to the basics (or analog!) of doing practical things like drawing, reading or painting helps to distract and refocus the brain! I also play netball every week… Running around like a headless chicken once a week does help!
It’s hard to find time to look after yourself. I think being a Mum and Creative Director takes up a lot of my energy… But I do a few things for me, playing netball, seeing friends and fitting in the occasional massage or bath helps!
I have a 22-month-old son who helps me completely shut the real world out. I am fortunate this way. Before I had children I found it difficult to not work every hour of the day and wasn’t very disciplined at leaving work at work. Having my son has forced me to be a bit more planned and limited to what I can do in the time I am at work.
I have to say, playing with him and going places with him is so much fun, doing all the stuff you loved to do as a kid all over again is so much fun!
I think people are a lot more open about mental health in general and it is spoken about a lot more in the workplace which is good… but I do think workplaces have a long way to go to improve. I say this because I think as a manager I need more training, guidance, and support in dealing with mental health issues myself.”
Being a woman in business
“I think I am lucky in some of the places I’ve worked in that I’ve never been made to feel like I’ve had to prove myself more than my male counterparts. I think I’ve worked hard, and that has always been recognised.
I do feel like women face a lot of tough choices when it comes to their careers. We are faced with tough decisions around when and how to start a family, the logistics of it all and the impact it will have on our careers. I was working all hours of the day before I had my son without a second thought. Since returning to work back in March last year I’ve definitely found it challenging balancing work and my family. These days, I do feel like I have to somehow prove or justify myself sometimes now I’m only in the office four days a week and work strict hours due to nursery pickups. I know I shouldn’t feel that way and it may all be in my head, but it’s a struggle trying to balance everyone’s needs and the demands of being a mother and a manager both at home and in the workplace.
I think 2020 will only see more conversation and awareness about the issues surrounding the talent gap. Since we started back in 2016, we have seen more and more awareness and exciting initiatives popping up everywhere. I would love to see new stats say there has been an increase in women in digital (currently 19% in 2018 according to the Tech Nation Report), but we will see!
I am most excited about what we can do at grassroots levels with schools, colleges, and universities as this is where we can make a difference. Saying that we did a career changers event back in August and this too is a pretty exciting topic/trend. People upskilling or changing careers coming into the industry. It’s an industry that can utilise people with transferable skills… My husband is doing just this!
I think these days there are a lot of events that welcome and encourage women, there are also a lot of women in digital events which address and target women specifically, so these are always good to go to! There are so many amazing networks and initiatives set up like She Does Digital, so I think to look up what is going on in your town or city.
I hope that more digital businesses will take on more work placements/year in industry or work experience students to help raise awareness of the range and breadth of digital roles. I think the big gap is connecting businesses with education. We need more digital businesses and professionals to go into schools, colleges, and universities to raise awareness of the industry, digital skills, and role models.
I hope the industry will continue to take people from other industries who want to retrain as well as accept students to skill up.
I hope that the industry will become more accessible and appeal to more women. I think we need to figure out a way of breaking down the barriers and address why women don’t feel like they can do more technical digital roles.
Part of me feels like it’s all down to confidence and awareness. So I hope we can all do more to build up awareness of role models and awareness of roles and skills required to fill these roles.”