I’m Tom and I’m a partner at 23 Code Street and (unofficially) Anisah’s PA (!)
So I’ve been asked, “what’s a man like you doing helping a company with a mission to teach women digital skills?”. And, of course, our other mission, that for every woman we train here we train a woman in India.
So, let me try and, errrr, mansplain (?).
A year ago, Anisah messaged me and told me about the idea for 23 Code Street — I was all in.
I knew Anisah from working with her for over two years and I knew that whatever she wanted to do, she was going to smash it out of the park (bang it in the back of the net, slam dunk it or some other sporting analogy that I definitely don’t understand).
And I knew from her background and upbringing that she had some pretty strong and well-formed views on education, diversity and workplace culture.
So she didn’t need to convince me this was a good idea. This is a real need and it solves a problem I have experienced a lot working in ‘digital’ and ‘tech’ for the last 15 years:
There just aren’t enough women with digital skills
And as a result, a lot of companies are monocultures, full of brogrammers drinking beer and eating pizza. But this is also the cause of the problem.
Although this isn’t entirely the fault of those companies — recruiting people with good digital skills is hard at the best of times, and often out of ten applicants, you may only get one woman apply.
Some of the blame for this lies fair and square with successive governments and an education system which has chosen to all but ignore teaching kids about digital stuff. Schools still teach kids how to use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and switch on a desktop computer — when this stuff is already second nature to them. But programming, or UX design or digital marketing isn’t taught — but it should be, the same way Math and English are taught to everyone. And kids should be told that these careers exist, and how they can get into them.
So starting 23 Code Street to train more women in digital skills makes total sense.
But there’s more to this than training and digital skills.
It’s the culture, stupid.
I’ve realised after being part of 23 Code Street for over a year, that it’s not as simple as just ‘solving a digital skills gap for women’.
It’s also about…
To truly get women more involved in digital and technology areas, there needs to be a huge shift in culture and mindset across the industry.
It needs places where women can get involved and learn without feeling belittled or marginalised. Where they feel actively encouraged and supported.
And it needs role models and great teachers who are women to lead this.
But it also needs everyone else to be involved. It needs a cultural change from the top.
And that (unfortunately!) means white, middle aged, middle-class men like me need to realise the importance of redressing the diversity balance across the board.
We need to create change — in the way we train and hire people. We need to create better businesses with better cultures through more diverse workforces.
We need to unlock the power of creativity that lies dormant currently — to empower people to ‘think different’, to have different voices involved in the conversation.
We need people who are starting companies to do so with a ‘diversity first’ model — and not see this as ‘too hard for now’ or ‘we’ll definitely do it later’.
We need investors and advisers who see the hidden, undervalued talent in this. And insist that companies they work with and invest in will adopt this attitude. And we need more women to be investors and advisers too.
We need people in positions of authority to realise this is their responsibility to start the cultural change.
It needs awareness — of why this matters and why it’s important.
All of this needs to happen now.
So — what’s a man like me doing with a women’s coding school?
I’m involved because everyone needs to be on this journey.
We all need to influence those who don’t think it’s important or that it doesn’t effect them.
We need to stop shrugging our shoulders and saying ‘yeah, that’s just the way it is’ or ‘well, girls don’t do STEM subjects’.
This is not a one-sided thing for one demographic’s benefit. This is for the benefit of everyone.
And everyone needs to be involved.