I never questioned the lack of women in technical roles during my six years as a Microsoft employee. I joined a team in 2009 where 42% were women in a range of engineering and technical project management roles. Three years later and a move to Xbox, women made up 62% of the team. Microsoft not only helped shape my digital career but there were plenty of aspiring women to learn from - so I was quite surprised to find the story is quite different in other industries.
Working for The Bookseller since last July has provided me with an insight into the general lack of technical and digital roles in an industry which is competing against other forms of entertainment where the audience is often eager to be engaged. There has also been an ongoing debate into how recruiting an increasingly tech-literate workforce changes the mix of employees: has tech helped to accentuate the gender gap at the top of publishing?
The lack of women employed in technical roles was an issue that the BBC addressed, Friday 23rd January with a conference entitled, Women in Technology. The BBC invited professionals and recent graduates to Salford's Media City to explore two key topics: the issues facing women in technology and how the BBC is using technology in the media.
The day began with a think-tank hosted by BBC Business presenter Steph McGovern who invited attendees to discuss key issues for women in tech. As a group we explored barriers schoolgirls face in pursuing technical careers. The consensus was based on stereotypes: it's uncool, not creative, only for boys but also, that there was a lack of awareness of the type of roles available and what they entail.
However, our shared experience contradicted those opinions. Tech roles are highly creative, collaborative and rewarding. Technical people are problem solvers who have the ability to turn ideas into reality. As education bodies scramble to add tech skills to school syllabuses, the women at the event represent a sector where, as Christine Bellamy, head of business operations, stated: "66% of businesses are struggling to fill tech roles". Doors are opening to us in traditionally competitive industries, like publishing, because skills are in short supply.
The BBC is working to rectify the lack of awareness with commitment to community work. "We need to widen the funnel at the bottom, bringing more women in" said Bellamy, who encouraged everyone in the room to be ambassadors for the sector.
Technology at the BBC
The BBC is passionate about pushing boundaries. The organisation believes it is in everyone's interest to encourage more students to think about tech-related subjects. Diversity is a key word for publishers and opening up technical and digital roles will only help with this. In building a diverse workforce with a diverse mindset you're allowing ideas that may already be on the table to be hacked, tested and actually launched. This is reflected in the BBC's digital output which; with over 500 tech roles currently within the company, is vast and varied as was demonstrated during the conference in mini masterclasses.
"The BBC have stopped just looking at TV but have embraced everything digital." Christine Bellamy.
The BBC Blue Room team showcased a wide range of new and existing devices that audiences are consuming and creating content with…from my personal favourite, Xbox One, to Samsung's Oculus, a mobile virtual reality set. Some of these devices may be fully embraced today but the BBC is keenly aware of understanding what could be adopted by millions of us tomorrow. Smart Wallpaper is an example of this. Will the traditional TV set disappear enabling us to stream content, social media, email accounts straight to our walls? We probably won't want our emails popping up whilst watching EastEnders, but imagine using it to watch Glastonbury. You could virtually walk around the festival via an app like Google Street View, zoom into the stage you want to watch, and, if you love what you hear, look through the band’s catalogue and buy in one seamless experience. Will publishers be ready to embrace the opportunities if the BBC start covering book festivals in the same way?
Social media was also a hot topic. A demo of the BBCs internal social aggregation tool, built for Radio channels, enables producers to work in real time with audience interaction pushing comments worth a mention, from a range of platforms, to the attention of radio presenters. The tool is also used to gain consumer insight. Pulling key words used in social media into reports, producers are provided with reports on positive and negative feedback as well as emotion patterns. This enables broadcasts to be adapted in real time and shapes future content strategies.
Testing is part of each day at the BBC and we can follow developments on their Taster site full of innovative ideas that we can test-drive and feedback on. This is a great resource for anyone working in publishing, as it doesn't take long before you can find some ideas that could be used in publishing. Imagine this Taster exploring Turner's art work adapted for a bookshop tour or a peek behind the scenes at a publishing house. Give control and let the user decide what they want to see, and in return you gain key consumer insight.
The BBC is now committed to engaging audiences in new and exciting ways. As a result, they are focused on a workforce capable of realising a vision of the future. Perhaps we could all learn from their lead?