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Women should embrace inner hunters to lead tech industry, says Martha Lane Fox

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Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Creeger was among other keynote speakers at the London event’s Business Day. He said that Richard Branson has been his inspiration to create an innovative environment where failure isn’t necessarily a failure.

“How can we create confidence in trying things that don’t work? We have 39 planes – that’s 39 test labs in my mind. That’s a great opportunity to try stuff and see what works,” he said.

When he joined the company three years ago, Creeger had a goal of launching one new innovation a month, but realised that innovation isn’t just as simple as sitting in a dark room to brainstorm.

“Innovation needs structures and a purpose. What are we trying to do? Great innovation starts with a question that inspires people,” he revealed.

Lastminute.com co-founder Martha Lane Fox, who has championed the UK’s digital economy since the sale of her business ten years ago, was also among speakers and discussed a number of topics.

She noted that when the business launched back in 1998, it was a time when tech was still relatively unproven. However, she said her business partner Brent Hoberman was very much mindful of always putting the customers first.

“Our share price went up and down, but we had an incredible experience at the start of the dotcom boom. There was no Google, Twitter or Facebook. But in just ten years, companies from a small bit of the world have taken over internet,” she said, referencing the dominance of America’s Silicon Valley, where small startups have risen into huge giants.

“I believe too many voices are US voices. We [as Brits] should be thinking about what all of us would like. Look at digital skills – 12m adults cannot do six basic functions online,” she said.

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But Lane Fox noted that the digital UK’s “complex mixed economy has done some things incredibly well”. From the rise of startups in places like Silicon Roundabout, Sheffield and even Dorset, to being one of the world’s ecommerce leaders, to the government reinventing itself with a strong online presence – and it’s these developments, that she said she’s “energised” by.

The words echo those from Eileen Burbidge, who said that the UK has all of the ingredients to lead a digital revolution, while deeming it foolhardy to ask whether the country can create another Facebook or Twitter.

Lane Fox said that Britain could make a “big jump into the future if we had a joined up vision for what the UK could achieve. We need to be much bolder and go much faster with a deep level for ambition,” she said.

Part of this is what Lane Fox is trying to achieve with her doteveryone scheme, which is designed to deliver technological understanding and projects – Women in Technology is at the top of the pile, followed by Leadership in the Network Age and Services in the Network Age.

“Take in the absence of women from this new world. I thought as a 25-year-old that this [the internet] would be an incredible democratising force for good. It takes my breath away daily,” she said.

“But I am disturbed when looking at the number of women engaging in this empowering, rich sector. Four per cent are engineers and ten per cent have tech companies.”

As to why this matters, Lane Fox said that, in her mind “it’s much less economically viable to discount half of the working population and discount a workforce that could help lead and fill those jobs [companies are struggling to fill]”.

She added that when doing research, it was found that the hunters in nomadic tribes, which were thought to be males, were revealed as women.

“There was so much less gender bias and women were equipped with bows and arrows,” she said, adding, “[today] we should be equipping women with tools [of a digital nature].

“The UK is really remarkable and incredible things are happening. What are we going to be in 2030 and 2040? The internet isn’t going away – let’s reorganise ourselves around it.”

Concerned with issues surrounding gender diversity in business? Don’t miss the Real Business First Women programme:

Drawing on years of the First Women movement and the phenomenal network of pioneering women the Awards has created, this programme features The First Women Awards and The First Women Summit  designed to educate, mentor and inspire women in all levels of business.

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