Business Technology

Wendy Tan White: "Technology has a bit of an image problem"

7 min read

16 June 2014

Co-founder and CEO of Moonfruit Wendy Tan White talks to Real Business about the glass ceiling in the technology sector.

What do you think can be done to attract more women to tech jobs?

Technology has a bit of an image problem; it’s changing, but slowly. We need to fix the mental disconnect between enjoyment of technology and the technology industry as a career choice. I’m generalising, but based on the conversations I’ve had with women of all ages, women are turned on by what tech enables, not how it works. Technology, allows you to share, collaborate and create. 

I’d challenge that lots of the tech we use every day; Spotify, Instagram, Uber, isn’t really seen as tech by its users. We need to work harder to get rid of the stereotypes and highlight the huge variety of tech jobs there are available and the different routes into tech. Compared with the kind of technology career that was available when I was growing up, it’s almost limitless.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the tech sector?

There needs be a better understanding of the wide range of roles that are available in the technology industry. The old school often placed greater value on “hard” skills like coding, or sys admin, whilst “softer” skills, like marketing or design / UX weren’t seen as important. This has changed, Apple’s emphasis on product design is a great example of why and there is now a much better understanding of the value that the softer skills bring. We need to make women aware of all areas of work that the tech industry can offer. 

The technology industry is all about disrupting established ways of doing things, but we also need to look inwardly at disrupting how these businesses are built and set-up. The technology to make work more flexible is there, I’m just not sure it’s been utilised in a lot of businesses. Here at Moonfruit, we help employees create working patterns that fit with their lives – whether that be a later start to accommodate the school run, or flexi-home working.

Do you believe that technology is still a male dominated field?

More women are becoming interested in technology, but it’s an evolution. Women are studying STEM subjects but this trend will take some time to mature in the workplace. We’re starting to see that at Moonfruit, we have women working at all levels across all our departments now, from systems administration and testing to design and product delivery. 

One of our most recent hires is the Director of Infrastructure Operations and her name is Kate. We’re also starting to see it in our customer base, over 80% of our eCommerce customers are women, who are building and growing their own businesses on the web. And the greatest uptake of our new KickStart product has been from so-called “mumpreneurs”. As the industry matures, I expect to see this trend solidify.

What could companies be doing to help reverse the shortage of females in the profession?

Businesses could and should be working more closely with educational policy makers. The type of technology education that students get in schools isn’t always reflective of the type of skills they need in the work place. Technology is a fast-moving industry and often education can’t keep up with this. 

Rather than bemoaning school-leavers and graduates as “not work ready” businesses should look at better ways to bridge the gap with education and provide viable routes into the workplace. I am part of the Imperial College Industrial Liaison board which is working to give its students the types of skills they need in the workplace. 

When I studied at Imperial, I was one of only seven women on course of 120, now the Department of Computing is headed up by Susan Eisenbach and students are teaching programming to school-age students, both male and female. I’ve also recently become involved with Alice Bentick at CodeFirst Girls, which does exactly what it says on the tin and is teaching female students coding skills!

What is your view about the gender gap within technology?

There needs to be some work done around the language we use to describe it. Personally, I’d like to see less of a focus on the gender gap and more focus on creating better partnerships between men and women. We need to stop talking in terms of “us” and “them” and start looking at how we can build effective partnerships. If we can do that, I’d hope that the rest would almost take care of itself. 

I founded Moonfruit with two men, my best friend Eirik Pettersen and my (now) husband Joe White. We put a lot of emphasis on working in collaboration, which really helps to create a supportive environment where everybody’s skills and attributes contribute to the end goal. It’s a great confidence builder, for men and women.

How could tech companies benefit from more female staff and board members?

All boards, not just in tech, could benefit from greater diversity. Different backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences lead to a more representative board and it follows that a business becomes more open and forward-thinking because of this. Homogeneity has rarely led to innovation.

Without wishing to further conflate the stereotype, women are usually better communicators and have the ability to listen to business needs and translate them into more meaningful, tangible results. Men tend to see things as black or white. A good board needs both of these personality types.