Sonja Barlow: While diversity is at last on the radar, barriers for women in Tech still need to be broken

It seems like an obvious statistic to state but women make up 50% of the UK population. It’s true. For every man, there is a woman. Some 32 million of us in fact. Actually, if we were being arbitrary about it, the last UK census shows that women even slightly outnumber men in the UK by 51% to 49%.* We’ll leave such close-fought percentage debates for other topics (Brexit anyone?) but when the general demographics between men and women are so close why are so few women in tech? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?

It is estimated that women an bring an additional £3.2 billion into the UK IT sector but currently represent only 15% of role within it with less than 3% being women of colour. ( (

For an industry that is supposedly at the forefront of the future with a foreword thinking mindset and outlook such statistics make for grim reading. That is not to mention that the average female in tech is paid less than 8% than her male counterpart and is still to reach the same momentum of professional status. That last figure is clearly better than in many, many other industries around the UK but that is beside the point. Until equality truly means parity whatever wins and successes the technology sector brings will always be met with a ‘yes, but…’ and will continue to be judged through a tarnished lens.(

Damning statistics aside and let’s be clear, this isn’t a feminist thought piece, something clearly needs to change in order to get the tech industry to where it should be in terms of diversity.

To that end, Like Minded Females was set up to act as a cross-industry diversity initiative with a particular focus in the creative, business and tech fields to act as a platform to help breach this imbalance.

We recently set to find out just why there are so many barriers for females in tech and took to the streets of London to investigate. We asked a range of people, men and women, from a variety of backgrounds a series of questions and the results and associated comments were quite surprising.

First, we asked people what percentage of the tech industry were occupied by females.
The answers ranged from 8 – 40%, with a lovely Italian mother, shocked by the true stat shouted, “we must fight”. This was a moment of true reflection, as her daughter was next to her and though the shot didn’t show, the father was also there (an engineer before retirement) who was stunned that in the “Silicon Valley of Europe” we are still at 15%.

Next, we asked, what do you think are the barriers for females entering tech?
Among the responses were “Unsexy, Patriarchy, Customs, Diversity, Education, Inequality, Sexism.” – which in many ways shows the atmosphere we are working with.

Lastly we asked, what do you think are the barriers for females progressing in tech?
“Investment, History, Education and Passivity,” were some of our favourite comments.
These questions were shared with regular women to better understand the point of view of ordinary people who may want to enter the tech industry. You can see from the video yourself how wide off the mark people were.

If we then ask what now? What we can well be doing to change these stats?
As much as we can blame the culture before us or large businesses and how they operate we must remind ourselves that these are occupied by the common wo(man) and change starts from our individual actions.

In the past two decades, researchers have identified various reasons as to why women are limited in the technology industry and find it difficult to progress. The three main reasons are summarised into: a lack of role models, the prevailing masculine culture and lack of confidence.

However, there are some easy wins which we can doing to solve each problem
1. Lack of role models –
– Showcase diverse female role models within our business on internal and external platforms
– Become conscious about who you are confirming to represent the “diversity” in tech panels and workshops, making sure that at least one woman is always present
– Internal buddy and mentoring matching, especially for new joiners

2. The masculine culture –
· Speak out against unconscious bias
· Create a culture where quality of life is the focus, rather than status and money
· Characterise a shared problem and collaborate as a diverse group to get a solution

3. Lack of confidence –
– Invest time into workshops around confidence, imposter syndrome and personalities
– Personality tests and education around various personality strong sets vs others
– “Lean in” internal circles

As a Pakistani women in Technology, I represent less than 3% of women in technology and less than 1% of women now in Academia. (

These stats are damning and make it near impossible for young brown girls to enter higher education or technology given that role models and culture are such as important entry point.

Since leaving university in 2015 I have always known that I had to accomplish something related to social good, however the “thing” always was under a large question mark. After founding Like Minded Females in 2018 I realised the barriers which truly exist for females across all industry, especially technology. And so, have worked actively to ensure that we are changing the culture for females who are wanting to progress within each and any industry.

I have worked in a few technology based companies since graduating, and currently am a Delivery Manager for Mudano, a data and machine learning company.

Mudano are very cautious and conscious about their diversity quota, their internal biases and always willing to learn. Since joining in February 2019, I have found all senior management (though, men) very willing to change the culture and bring women to the forefront of internal culture and decision making.
Now here’s (finally) a positive stat. Female and diverse teams can increase profits by 17% YOY and productivity by 23%. So you’d be kind of crazy not to seek out more diversity in your organisation. (

In my time at Mudano I have seen the company start initiatives such as Mudano Women and Mudano Prism as well as encouraging their colleagues to solve problems in a collaborative brainstorming manner. Such thinking is needed across the board in technology if women are to fully realise our potential within the industry.

As I embark upon a PhD at the University of Bath I look forward to delving deeper into the subject of diversity in technology and actually find some answers!

As a British Pakistani woman, I am tired of hearing that the change needs to come, with little noticeable action and data points actually supporting the movement. So, with the blessing of my network, my company and my mental health -I hope that the answers that I find will finally lead to lasting change in the industry.

Sonya Barlow is a Rising Star in technology, as well the Founder of Like Minded Females (LMF), a social enterprise to empower females and drive cultural change. She currently works for data consultancy, Mudano as a Delivery Manager. Some of her awards include The Rising Star 2017 and UK tech business women of the year 2018 finalist PWC. Her Instagram is @sonyabarlowuk and Linkedin