‘Balancing Tech: Women at the forefront of the gender revolution’

Shwetal Shah
13 min readMar 28, 2017

Abstract- This project features seven case studies of women from different backgrounds and upbringing and their journey into the male dominated world of tech. Explaining how their efforts and companies’ efforts are helping achieve a better gender balance, which has been lost in the last two decades.

Women who were very influential by giving framework of programming languages and winning Nobel prizes in scientific research but who also helped save men in the battlefield due to their technical prowess however somewhere along the line their contributions were forgotten.

These women remind us what has been forgotten and how if you wanted you too could run a £7 million pound budget set by the Mayor working your way up, or work in the gaming industry after being home-schooled for 13 years in different parts of the world.

Here is a 2 minute trailer of the film

Balancing Gender on the STEM Weighing Scale

I was chosen as the UN Empower Women 2016 Champ, working on a project towards women’s economic development.

I decided to make a documentary of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). I was overwhelmed by the number of women who wanted to be interviewed for this project; my aim was to show these women as role models to inspire girls around the world to have a dream of the hard hat and lab coat that would create breakthrough in research and technology.

Gender Equality has been agreed as one of the 17 UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, but we still have this issue in 2017.

But let’s not forget one of Einstein’s Laws of Motion- To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

So how do we react to that? Of course by education, not just Postgraduate education (Masters and PHD’s) but generally educating and providing more knowledge as to what gender equality entails, for starters:

Yes they are all women in prestige institutions, who have all chosen to be part of the documentary I am working on which will be screened at IBM’s London Offices in May, 2017.

I chose 12 women to be part of the project due to time and geographical constraints.

The feature length documentary

Interviewing women across Facebook, IBM, Thoughtworks, Mayor of London’s offices, Mozilla and a games consultant, Digital Mums, Crowdfund 360, a University of Greenwich Professor to name a few, below are some insights into their journey and how they are creating a positive difference to help support others.

Along the way I learnt a lot about how their ordinary background, has led them to extraordinary journeys, focusing on gender equality and how the public, private and educational sector are responsible to bring about this balance. When a woman is empowered she empowers the whole community. The nuggets of wisdom shared by these women can inspire people all over the world not only to achieve what they want. It is worth noting that they all work in the male dominated field of technology and have their own techniques of bringing about equality for themselves and other women.

Catherine Knivett working her way up to leading a £7 million budget as part of the Mayor of London’s Digital Skills program.

Catherine from the Mayor of London’s office had an interesting and a very unexpected story to share which made her very relatable. She dropped out of university (due to a personal loss of a friend), though later on went to finish her degree. She has worked her way up to the current position she holds in the Mayor of London’s office, starting out in admin during Boris Johnson’s term. However now she is solely responsible for a £7 million budget set out by the mayor for a digital skills program for the youth in London. Additionally she mentors a few young people and her team look after various programs in order to achieve the target, they have various knowledge sharing meetings with Governments from across the world, with her last meeting being with the Japanese Government who is looking to learn from London about youth skills development. Working her way up the ladder, she has a lot of experience to share and is an example of how modern society should treat and develop the other half of the world’s population that has the potential to empower an entire community with them. While Catherine who is from Surrey and leading a world changing public budget, Ola from a small village in Poland has worked her way up in the healthcare division of IBM which again is led by a prominent woman CEO Gini Rometti.

From Poland to Big Ben- Ola’s story is nothing short of an adventure.

Aleksandra Surowiec (Ola as she prefers) came from a non-English speaking background, born and brought up in a tiny village in Poland. She was looking for a new adventure when she finished her high school, being an independent rebel that she is, she decided to come to the U.K. Her parents reluctantly let her go for a holiday thinking she would come back soon but 10 years on she still resides in the U.K and calls it her home. She went to a school in Glasgow before enrolling for anatomy studies at University of Glasgow and then pursuing a masters degree in Biomedical Engineering from University of Strathclyde. This university is also my alma mater and where I first met Ola and have gone on to do some great events together like TEDx, Startup Weekend and now this documentary, Ola is nothing but always supportive. She then applied for a job at IBM and got selected for the graduate scheme. After impressing her bosses she was invited to take on the bigger sales territory in London (around the same time I moved to London to work in tech). She spoke of her scientific background giving her analytical thinking skills that were needed to work in the technical sales role she currently has. She also mentioned how sometimes some of the clients being from the older generation and white males gave more importance to her male colleagues in critical meetings and that sometimes being a woman can be a disadvantage in the workplace. When asked about some tools IBM undertakes to make the workplace more gender balanced and equal, their mentoring program was created to achieve that goal and she has had amazing women mentors who have helped her along her career journey. The advice she would like to give young girls around the world would be to follow their dreams and just go after their vision and the rest will fall in place.

Laura Jenkins credits her arts background for her lateral thinking working in the world of tech

While Ola has a technical double science degree, Laura on the other hand comes from an arts background, starting her career at Google organizing their events, now she heads up Thoughtworks events (which is a software consultancy in London). She leads several events that showcase the amazing work women do and especially supports an organization called Code First Girls which run out of Thoughtworks and has grown exponentially in the last 2 years. Creating a supportive and warm environment for all sorts of events that are inclusive and bring the community together which are free to host at Thoughtworks goes on to show how women leading at the forefront uplift the community together.

Jes Bailey started her own crowdfunding business with a focus on helping social enterprises using tech.

Jes who is a young entrepreneur, upon completing a masters degree in Political Communications from Amsterdam has worked and lived in many different parts of the world and has had some interesting facts to share when it came to gender equality, having been born and brought up in England, working in Turkey, pursuing a masters in Netherlands, working in Bangladesh to now establishing herself in London she has experienced Eastern and Western philosophies and the role of gender equality with it. Having helped 27 charities raise more than £100,000 at her previous job providing crowdfunding training at Global Giving , she decided to take the plunge and venture into her own business continuing her passion for helping social enterprises. She now trains many other enterprises- two of her recent clients being backed by Richard Branson. She gave an interesting example of how women tend not to negotiate and thus settle for lesser pay than they are worth, one morning on her way to work with a new client she was reading an article on this and decided to actually ask the price of what she was worth, when she went to the meeting she was as you would imagine given rates below her expectations, she decided to use some tactics and negotiated the rates she wanted and to her amazement she was actually paid what she asked for. Her advice to anyone out there especially women is to not be scared of asking for what you want, society brings up men and women in very different ways and it’s about time women took the matters in their own hands as the stakes will always be high if you negotiate to get a better deal.

Dorine who was home schooled until 13 in Asia feels that a lot of men along the way helped her reach where she is right now.

Dorine who is French had an interesting upbringing, she was home schooled up until she turned 13 and lived in various parts of India before moving to the UK. She then went on to work in the male dominated IT industry after finishing her degree and playing online MMORPG’s building communities there, and now also helps with Mozilla’s Mozfest in London running their youth zone and getting the younger generation involved in tech. She attributed plenty of support from the men around her career path to reach where is she today, and thinks that girls and boys should be taught together as opposed to gender segregation, as we need more opportunities to learn how to work with each other as equals. She also did mention that if you work in a heavily male dominated field sometimes it’s harder to change the mindset of the old boys club and that gender equality may be hard to achieve in those circumstances, but through her efforts at Mozfest she tries and gets as many young girls exposed to and involved in technology as boys already are.

Nela Brown, again like all the women mentioned above has a very interesting upbringing coming from Croatia, where a lot more women were involved in science and tech.

Her passion for music started when, at the age of 7, she first heard another girl playing the piano and managed to convince her parents to enrol her into a music school (in addition to her regular education), so she can study music alongside science. After high school, she decided to study engineering but continued with her musical path learning to play saxophone and joining a rock band to play bass guitar. When she came to the UK she continued playing with different bands, studying jazz (at Goldsmiths, University of London) and Sonic Arts (at Middlesex University).

Even though she was the only female student (out of 25) in her class at Middlesex, she didn’t realise she was a woman in a male dominated industry, until much later on in her career. She mentioned that finding a job before she completed her degree in Sonic Arts was a real challenge. She was told her English wasn’t good enough for an office job, and was even advised to delete all the Croatian education from her CV, to prevent it from going straight to the bin. When she completed her degree in Sonic Arts, the situation became even more challenging, as she was now seen as being ‘too creative’ and was told ‘her talents would be wasted’ in an office job. So she decided to ‘go freelance’. Over the years she composed music and designed sound for award-winning national and international projects. As she was showing her portfolio of sound work to company directors from all over the world, not once did any of them comment on her English accent or told her to delete stuff from her CV. Instead, they praised her work and her dedication to her profession.

After a few years of freelancing, Nela started bringing coding, physical computing and electronics into her practice, which led to her being awarded an EPSRC studentship to pursue a PhD in Computer Science at QMUL. A year into her PhD, she started hearing stories about ‘glass ceilings’ and barriers other women faced in IT and decided to do get a few things ‘off the ground’ to address this.

She first initiated G.Hack project with the aim to create a supportive environment in which female researchers at the QMUL’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science could share skills and ‘tinker’ with technology. She then joined Flossie (a network for women using open source as coders, artists and social innovators) and helped organise 2 Flossie conferences at QMUL. She further kick-started WISE@QMUL society (after a year of inactivity) and joined BCSWomen committee as a student rep (leading 2 sub-groups involved with developing mentoring activities and redesigning the BCSWomen website). In 2013 she was awarded a Highly Commended WISE Leader Award by HRH The Princess Royal for her involvement with all these projects, and in 2014 she started Female Laptop Orchestra project with the aim to connect women around the globe through telematic music performances. At the moment she is working at the University of Greenwich, teaching live coding for music and transmedia storytelling and says she has a lot of new project ideas she is yet to realise. We will just have to wait and see what she comes up with next!

Female Laptop Orchestra: https://femalelaptoporchestra.wordpress.com/

G.Hack: http://ghack.eecs.qmul.ac.uk/

WISE@QMUL: https://wiseqml.wordpress.com/

BCSWomen: http://bcswomen.bcs.org/

During the wars it was women who took on these technical roles while men went to the battlefield helping them win their battles, but after the men came back the women were left to fight their own battles of being side-lined from the jobs they initiated in the first place, like Ada Lovelace without whom the world of code wouldn’t exist.

Deepali went to a male dominated world class institute and now works in a male dominated organization but sees that as a positive hope for the future.

Deepali Adlakha also went to a heavily male dominated institute in India, graduating from IIT Bombay she was one of the few women in her class, but didn’t feel like a minority, she now works at Facebook, at the time of the interview she was just packing up from the London offices in preparation for her move to the headquarters in San Francisco. Even though Facebook hadn’t struck the right balance in terms of the gender balance she sees the internal programs undertaken as a hope of the future where there will be more women involved in this field, from their internal mentoring and promotion to heavy recruitment makes her feel that she is a talented individual first as opposed to a woman and that flexible working hours and support go a long way in achieving the right gender balance, where men and women support the learning environment and help bring each other up.

What am I doing to bring about more gender equality?

Work in IT, promote Science and working on projects creating new role models

I loved science back in high school it came easily to me compared to History (maybe I hated remembering dates), due to various reasons I wasn’t encouraged to pursue science for further education. However things changed when I moved to the U.K, starting at University, when I became friends with a lot of people I met at the freshers week from the engineering department through to joining TEDx society which again had a lot of students from the engineering department, I started helping one of my friend’s with his electric bike idea, I came across a hackathon organized by Glasgow council and since then started doing more research on hackathons, coming across 3 Day Startup an American Organization helping students build enterprises in 3 days. I organized one for a university in London. I luckily landed a job in IT in London at Onepoint Consulting, with a very supportive network and a great boss who is also like a mentor to me. I have had many personal development opportunities that I attribute to my many accomplishments in London.

I decided to start explore-science, an organization promoting women scientists talking about their research to the general public and starting science workshops for kids 13–14 year olds at an after school club in North London. I was recently named ’25 under 25 changing the world of tech and entrepreneurship — ones to watch’ by code first girls and I decided to make this documentary to showcase women super stars making strides and helping achieve a gender balance in the world of STEM. I continue to work on building communities in other areas.



Shwetal Shah

Tech Partnerships-MediaCom. Forbes Under 30. Financial Times 100 in Tech. UN Women Champion. European Commission Young Leader. Exceptional Talent Visa Recipient