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What to take away from WIB NI's #WomenInTechBelfast conference

  • Yesterday Women in Business NI hosted a ‘Women in Tech’ event at Titanic Belfast, bringing together inspiring and inspirational females from across the country to share their career experiences and network with like-minded ladies.

    The conference was hosted by the hilarious musical comedy genius, Emer Maguire; a sassy Strabane lady that also has a passion for STEM (her song about her sister being a computer guru is a must-listen!)

    The first speaker of the day was Jennifer Neff, co-founder and co-CEO of Elemental, a software company that promotes “social prescribing and the power of change”. 

    Social prescribing – according to the firm’s website – is a “growing movement that connects people with a range of non-clinical programmes, services and events in their local community.”

    Elemental’s digital platform “allows you to make, manage and report on referrals to local social prescribing hubs with ease and confidence.” The way Jennifer aptly described it yesterday though, was a “ for healthcare” (as the company was founded long before the modern art of digital dating that is Tinder!)

    Jennifer explained the initial inspiration for Elemental; a want for community development. “Someone in one part of the country could probably live seven years less than someone else just because of the area they live in, and that’s not right,” she affirmed.

    Some of the Elemental team

    RELATED: Derry Elemental co-founder makes Most Influential Women in Tech list for three years running

    With a tech skills shortage in Northern Ireland, and a clear underrepresentation of females in the sector – is it this message that we need to convey to the younger generation to engage them more in tech careers? Do females respond more to this desire to change the world and make a positive difference through technology? According to research by the Australian carer organisation, Carers NSW, “women are statistically far more likely than men to have intensive caring roles.”

    Many of the women at yesterday’s event echoed this sentiment, but perhaps it is not well known among school children that tech can be used for such good, when it can be presented as a cold, mathematical and sometimes monotonous subject.

    Professor Cathy Craig is currently a part-time professor of psychology at Ulster University. She left the world of full-time academia when she became CEO of psychological sport analytics company, INCISIV. She commented during the day’s first panel session, that “people work a lot in labs in academia, but it doesn’t often come into the real world”.

    This is something she clearly combatted with her work at INCISIV, but again could be the reason why younger people disengage with STEM.

    RELATED: Best of Belfast: Incisiv's Cathy Craig on virtual reality and decision-making

    Students – if they go on to study higher education – spend basically 17 years of their lives in academia. There is no real surprise then if they become disillusioned, and so more demand for real-life situations should be implemented certainly at university level, but from an even earlier stage as well.

    Prof Craig added that “we need to disrupt education and change how people learn. Postgraduate courses used to be a stepping stone to a PhD but now they’re for people making a change because they’ve decided they don’t want to do what they’re doing anymore.”

    Masters Conversion courses are increasingly popular now because of this and Cathy’s words suggest that one can never stop learning in life – nor is it too late to start trying.

    Cathy Craig, CEO at INCISIV and Professor of Psychology at Ulster University 

    It’s not like Northern Ireland can’t facilitate learning for those interested in tech careers. AI engineer at Kainos and recent QUB software graduate Chloe McAteer advocated Kainos’ AI camps and clubs that help undergraduates and current employees to upskill in artificial intelligence.

    Dr Aislinn Rice, the managing director at Analytics Engines reiterated: “If tech doesn’t serve a purpose in the world; if you can’t put a wrapper on it, then why do it?” Her speech on achieving one’s goals, preached the importance of holding onto the things that make you human as a woman in business.

    RELATED: PwC NI's Paula Murnin: 'I had no experience in tech, but immediately I felt at home'

    She herself owns a Harley Davidson motorbike and said that riding it makes her feel free and reminds her of the person she was 20 years ago. She said: “Hold onto the things that matter most to you, and have always mattered. Don’t lose that person just because you get older, get a career, get married and have kids.”

    She emphasised that during her years of working in tech and often as the only woman on the team that she never felt like she was the only female there; “I never felt in any shape or form that my gender was limiting. I always felt very comfortable working in that male environment. People also tend to think at a certain point in your career that you know all the answers, but you never will.”

    Dr Rice preached the importance of never being afraid to say you don’t know something, and never being afraid to ask for help.

    Dr Aislinn Rice

    A common theme of the day was ‘imposter syndrome’ and how as females, we aren’t as willing to put ourselves out there or give ourselves credit in comparison to our male counterparts. Even with abundant achievements, some women doubt themselves and their capabilities.

    Even if this is a common trait among the female gender, it was reassuring and empowering to be in a room full of women encouraging one another to be themselves, even if that does come with vulnerability.

    I could continue to write a full-blown essay on all of the speakers and sessions from yesterday, but it would take me all day and probably end up the length of a dissertation.

    Despite not being a literal techie myself, I was proud though to be part of such positive, female-driven energy and enthusiasm, and I am thankful that I get to report on the wonderful women in tech across Northern Ireland as part of my own career on a daily basis.

    RELATED: Read more from Women in Tech @ Sync NI

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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