The new IT crowd: Five women killing it in London's tech industry

Although the statistics on women in tech are grim reading — just 17 per cent of the 2.1 million people working in technology in the UK are women, and female founders only receive 1p of every £1 of venture capital — times are changing.

From leading start-ups to getting girls into STEM, women are revolutionising tomorrow’s world. Here are five of the most influential in London’s tech scene….

“Tech is democratising the world”

Tobi Oredein, 29, based in east London, founder of lifestyle platform Black Ballad

Tobi Oredein founded website Black Ballad, a publishing platform for women of colour, in 2016
Tobi Oredein founded website Black Ballad, a publishing platform for women of colour, in 2016

Oredein was interning at a fashion magazine in 2014 when she came up with the idea of a website that would elevate the voices of black British women. “I felt like all the magazines I loved to pick up and read weren’t representing women of colour and there just weren’t enough black women in the room. “I thought, ‘I’m going to create something and see what happens.’”

A video of her stating: “White women’s media cares more about avocados than it does about black women” went viral in 2016, helping Black Ballad crowdfund £11,000 in six weeks.

It is now on an accelerator programme at King’s College London, which provides mentoring and free office space.

But it hasn’t been easy. “I call it the concrete ceiling — sexism and racism. There’s a perception that ‘tech is not for us’ and a lack of mentors. I only ever saw white women in tech and I’m often the only black woman on the panel at events. People talk to my husband and co-founder rather than to me, and he has to keep bringing me into the coversation, but it is getting better.”

Black Ballad now has articles on everything from Nigeria’s film industry to caring for natural hair when you have depression. “That’s why I love technology — I’ve been able to create a platform for women who were underserved,” says Oredein. “Tech is democratising the world.”

“It’s important for women to have cheerleaders”

Claire Valoti, 40, based in Belsize Park, international vice-president of Snap Inc

Claire Valoti, international VP of Snap Inc, Snapchat's parent company
Claire Valoti, international VP of Snap Inc, Snapchat's parent company

As Snapchat’s most senior female executive outside the US, leading the company’s international business from its London HQ, Valoti says it’s good to be home.

“I grew up at my parents’ B&B in King’s Cross and went to school locally,” she says. “London continues to be an amazing city for innovation and it attracts great talent.”

Poached from Facebook by Snap founder Evan Spiegel in 2015, she says her experience as a woman in tech has been “overwhelmingly positive”, adding: “I became involved in digital and then mobile early on, and while it was a steep learning curve I’ve never felt that any obstacle was put in my way due to the fact that I’m a woman. When I went for the interview at Snap I was heavily pregnant and the company was prepared to be flexible and to wait for me.”

She emphasises how vital it has been to have strong female mentors. “It’s important for women to have what I call their ‘cheerleaders’ around them who believe in them wholeheartedly and who they can lean on for support and advice.”

Snap now has 186 million daily active users. “I’m passionate about the culture we’ve created and the fact that we are trying to do something different,” says Valoti. “I was in a role many years ago where I didn’t like the culture of the team. It made me appreciate the importance of ensuring you love what you do.”

Her advice to women wanting to get into tech is to be yourself: “Tech companies value people bringing their whole selves to it. People connect on a human level and that’s how you succeed.”

“We’re empowering women”

Louise Troen, 31, based in Primrose Hill, vice-president of international marketing and communications at Bumble

Louise Toren, VP of international marketing and communications at Bumble
Louise Toren, VP of international marketing and communications at Bumble

From organising a secret Kelis gig in Shoreditch to emblazoning “Glass ceilings make great dancefloors” on billboards across London, Troen says that there’s never a dull moment working at Bumble. “I love that I get to help women feel strong,” she says. “And that I get to create experiences that make people’s lives a little bit more fun.”

She was working in fashion PR until a chance meeting with Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd led to her joining “The Hive”, and “everything I’ve learned from the tech world has been from Whitney. She’s trailblazed her way through the industry by not succumbing to stereotypes or distractions.”

Bumble’s on a mission to do more than facilitate dates. “So much of what we do is about empowering women. We recently launched Women in Bizz, a feature that lets women network exclusively to other women,” Troen says.

“We’re in the second round of our Female Film Force initiative, which grants five female directors, writers or producers £20,000 to make a short film. I’m about to launch a podcast, 'Bumble Presents: Unsubscribe with Jada Sezer', which aims to encourage positive thought patterns.”

She adds that bringing more women into tech will benefit everyone. “Technology needs to represent the community it’s made for, so we need an equal number of men and women of all different ethnicities and sexualities. If we have to get to the point of developing quotas then that should happen.”

“If you can see it, you can be it”

Kathryn Parsons, 36, based in Marylebone, co-founder and CEO of tech education company Decoded

When Parsons co-founded Decoded in 2011, she did so armed only with a credit card and an office on a building site. It now teaches people about coding, data, AI and machine learning in 65 cities worldwide.

In 2014 she successfully campaigned to get coding onto the school curriculum — making Britain the second country after Estonia to do so. “I didn’t know any other women in tech when I started out so it was scary but things have changed now,” she says.

“I wish more women knew that you don’t need a STEM degree to work in this industry. I got my degree in classics. For me, code is just another language.”

While STEM subjects aren’t essential, Parsons acknowledges that girls opting out of them at 16 is a key reason behind the gender imbalance. “Initiatives like Founders 4 Schools led are opening up girls’ options,” she says. “Let’s keep celebrating diverse female role models, because if you can see it you can be it.”

This year, Decoded is supporting Women Supporting Women, The Prince’s Trust initiative helping women through education, employment and entrepreneurship. “My advice to other women is you can do anything you want, and that includes in technology. What compels me is not just how powerful these new tools are, but how easy they are to learn.”

“Tech needs the perspective of women with families”

Hannah Feldman, 40, based in Finchley, founder of the app Kidadl

Hannah Feldman, founder of Kidadl (Matthew Ferguson)
Hannah Feldman, founder of Kidadl (Matthew Ferguson)

For Feldman, having small children wasn’t a barrier to launching a start-up, it was the inspiration. “My twins were two when I realised it would change my life if there was something that could help me find something to do in my area, for my budget, at the touch of a button,” she says.

With co-founder Sophie Orman she built Kidadl, which helps parents plan days out as a family, from bubble-making to whittling workshops. They’ve since teamed up with Disney and Wembley Stadium, and have 112,000 members.

Being two female co-founders made it tough at first, Feldman says. “There’s still a real old boy’s club in tech but a sisterhood is emerging. People like to back people who look like them, so we need to change the custodians of the money, make sure there’s more diversity.”

Building the app has been “the journey of a lifetime”, she says. “It takes you to the edge. But helping parents has been motivating. I know the impact of seeing the world with your kids.” She now has three children under six and wishes more women with young children weren’t put off by the notoriously long hours in the start-up scene.

“The world of tech is looking for the talent and perspective women with families have.”