In mid-2014, Apple announced a Health app that would track “all of [the] metrics that you’re most interested in.”
Well, all the health metrics a bloke is interested in. When the app was released a few months later, female iPhone users noticed an important metric was missing — a period tracker.
At the time, Apple’s global gender split was 70% male, 30% female (and mostly white). That number rose to 80% male for the tech side of things. It took another 12 months before Apple added a period tracker to their Health app.
If menstruation isn’t on your radar, it’s no surprised it gets passed over on the short list of health data you can track. That’s not an excuse, but it’s an example that highlights why diversity in teams is important.
The tech industry in Australia is no different, with women making up only 28% of ICT roles in 2016.
It’s something Ally Watson is trying to change. Ally is the CEO and Co-Founder of Code Like A Girl (CLG). Co-host of The Hatch podcast, Catherine McElhone, sat down with Ally to find out how she’s trying to equal the playing field.
CATHERINE: Hi Ally, tell us a little bit about what CLG does.
ALLY: CLG is a social enterprise I started to try and tackle two problems. First, there aren’t enough women getting into technology, and second, there are too many women leaving the tech industry. So we run events, workshops and an internship which we’re launching to really address those two problems.
CATHERINE: And how did you end up as a CEO of a tech startup?
ALLY: The journey from being a developer to business owner has been a bit of a personal development. It’s like a therapy session. I’ve understood more about myself in the last two years than I have in my whole life!
To go right back, I loved art and design when I was in high school, and wanted to go to art school. But I got rejected from every art school in the country despite excellent grades, and what I thought was a good portfolio. I tried a year after that, same result, failure, so at that point I had to pivot and choose something else, and I chose computer science.
I walked into the classroom and I was one of five girls and the rest were all guys who were familiar with the curriculum. Here was me, fish out of water, Googling ‘bits’ and ‘binary’ under the table. But I managed to get through and graduate. I brought my old passion of art, design and people and merged it with my new technology skills. I realised I’ve got a place here, I’ve got a passion and can bring something new to the technology field, and that made me stick with it.
Those experiences at university, being an isolated minority, continued through my industry career. I was the only girl in the office, the only girl in the team, and I have watched girlfriends drop out of this career. I’ve seen the gaps they fall through and the problems they experience. And as someone who lived and breathed that problem I was tired of it. I thought, I need to do something about this.
CATHERINE: What are you doing with CLG to get more women into tech?
ALLY: The traditional pathways of people getting into technology are not good enough. They’re not attracting diversity, they aren’t attracting women. We can’t just cross our fingers and hope things are going to change. Or introduce coding at early ages — its too long to see results and see if it’s going to make a change. We can’t rely on the education system because clearly these women have missed it. So that’s why this year we’re launching the internship(an opportunity for females with foundational coding skills to apply for a paid internship and get industry experience).
What we can do is change the industry, and we’ve had 10 companies already sign up who are offering paid internships upskilling these women and it’s wonderful to see a real change. Not companies just corporate cheerleading for diversity; but actually doing something about the problem.
CATHERINE: Diversity is more than just having an equal gender split though, right?
ALLY: Yes, it’s more than two dimensional. It’s more than our gender, it’s more than the colour of our skin. It’s about people from different backgrounds, and so one of the big things I’m passionate about is offering our coding course at a low cost and running free events. I don’t want to have all developers come from the top percentage of families who can afford coding education, or the top percentage of schools. I want every person possible to have the opportunity to learn this, to have the opportunity to be supportive and encouraged.
CATHERINE: You’re a relatively new company — what’s your success been like so far?
ALLY: We recently got a testimonial from a little girl and everytime I hear it and say it, it breaks my heart. She came to our workshop and she’d been into coding for a while. Her mum was trying to push her but she was dropping out of the course at school because she was the only girl. She came to our workshop and went home afterwards and said, “Mum there are other girls like me.” And hearing about the little girls who are like, “I want to be like Ally when I grow up” keeps me going. I know how important the stuff we are doing is. It’s small, but it takes small tweaks to make big changes eventually. And I think that’s where magic happens — at a grassroots level.
By Catherine McElhone & Ellen Leabeater.
Special thanks to REMIX Summits for allowing us to speak with Ally Watson. You can hear more from Ally at Purpose 2018, taking place in Sydney from February 27 to 28. UTS students can use discount code ‘students’. To hear about more opportunities from the UTS Hatchery, sign up to our newsletter.