Last month, I attended an evening in the Sussex Innovation Centre in Croydon which celebrated the achievements of women in technology. As a woman in technology and a Croydonite myself, I was interested to discover not only about the progression of women in the field, but also how this related to the location as well, which is currently undergoing some major developments.
Held in No1. Croydon (or the 50p building to locals!), the event was very well organised, and invited a small gathering of South London’s largest tech start-up and entrepreneurial community to listen to the talks. With a trifecta of inspiring female figures featuring on the bill, the evening began with presentations highlighting each success, and continued in an informal Q&A session for those eager to participate further with the stories they shared, and communicate their own experiences.
Women in technology: the trailblazers
Harriet Williams, CDO at the Body Shop
The first women in technology speaker was Harriet Williams, CDO of the Body Shop. They’ve recently moved their digital hub to Croydon to act as a satellite between their London and Sussex office. Having assumed the position 18 months ago, the Body Shop has undergone a powerful digital transformation since she joined the company.
She was speaking about the evolution of the beauty sector in regards to ecommerce, with services such as home massages and blow drys being available on demand through different devices. With Instagram resulting to 90% of engagement in this industry, they’ve reached out to digital influencers so they can make sure their customer is having an participatory experience.
Amongst improvements to their transaction pages, digital store and tech products, Harriet Williams has also been spearheading omnichannel personalisation at the Body Shop. The Christmas campaign to produce their signature body butter (the highest-selling and most popular product) with a customised label has seen them develop into a radical force, and stand respected alongside the other unique offerings in the market with the strength of their heritage brand behind them.
Alison Pemberton, Director of International Digital Design at The BRIT School
The second speaker was Alison Pemberton, the Director of International Digital Design at the BRIT School. Many people were surprised to hear the BRIT School, typically associated with drama and the arts, included a course which involved such a hybrid between creative and technical skill, but Alison has been involved with developing new animation software to facilitate this.
She explained that each year since the interactive course was first initialised, the number of students interested in pursuing this type of study has steadily increased. With a heavily industry focused curriculum which involves a four-week period working at a placement, it is designed to load their portfolio full of commercial work for when they’ve completed the course and approach the job market. In fact, the interview process for a place on the course is based strongly on the quality of a child’s portfolio of work, rather than their grades, which is revolutionary in what is known to be an independent school.
Her aim was to broaden opportunities to develop both the creative and technical parts of the mind in young children, to make sure they know it isn’t a decision between pursing the arts or science, but that the two must be combined in order to fully unlock potential in this space. She spoke about the controversial ‘over-obsession’ with coding and championed for more creative graphic design to be available to children during education.
The variety of work available to these students expands beyond a traditional classroom environment, with school trips, workshops and speakers being regularly arranged, to elevate their inspiration and also form a network of connections for the future, with a promising alumni to prove it!
Sophie Deen, CEO at Bright Little Labs
The third speaker was Computer Weekly’s Rising Star Sophie Deen, CEO at Bright Little Labs, and Top100 influencer of the British digital industry. She argued that being more connected in the online world means we’re less connected with society.
A Kickstarter campaign which reached over 30 countries, Sophie’s mission was to form a more diversely acceptable role model developed in an interactive and personalised game, Detective Dot, to empower all children to embrace the STEM path, regardless of their gender, race or sexuality.
Particularly targeted at young girls and ethnic groups to challenge the stereotype of coders, the flagship story-app stars Dot, a fictional spy who works with the subscribers to resolve serious societal issues, including diversity in the media.
After exceeding their funding needs and through accelerate investment, Detective Dot has made remarkable social impact beyond the purpose of the game to inspire the next generation of coders, and promote positive awareness of individuality in the digital world.
Do you have an inspiring women in technology experience to share?
Overall, this was an inspiring event aimed at highlighting some of the most influential women in technology and their impact on the digital landscape. Are there any exciting leaders you either work with or know from connections you’ve made who you feel are making a marked impression? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you might’ve been encouraged to enter the tech industry from an early age and the institutions who have been instrumental in supporting you in carving your path.