Tanya Cordrey: Progress for women in tech has stagnated
Tanya Cordrey, the Guardian‘s chief digital officer, is a leading figure in innovating the way we consume information online.
She’s in charge of engineering the Guardian’s digital product, using data analytics and testing labs to improve user experience.
One of the joys of working in digital media is that “you learn something almost every day,” according to Cordrey. She emphasises the importance of “developing in the open,” with the launch of the Guardian‘s new website last Wednesday, stressing how essential it is to use tests to continually improve your product.
“Over the years I have become a complete evangelist around developing in the open – I’m a big believer that getting feedback and constantly learning from it is a really important process.”
What’s the situation for women in tech?
Cordrey reflected on the “sad” reality that there are still many barriers for women looking to build a career in the technology industry.
“One can always think back on your career and there are probably several instances of things that have happened that I feel grieved about when I was treated a certain way because I was a woman.”
For example, when she had a child, her working hours shifted – coming in earlier in the morning, leaving at five to pick up her baby, and then working online after.
Colleagues had warned her that she was “putting my career on hold” while working fewer hours to look after her child. She said that leaving the office to pick up her daughter would be seen with disapproval:
There’s a kind of macho culture at the office of who can stay the latest
“What is more damaging and more pervasive is those constant everyday things: when you see women not getting invites to contribute as much; or women being described in different ways to men.
“If a man is described as ‘forthright’ or ‘decisive’, sometimes a woman can be described as ‘strident’ or ‘bossy’.
“It’s just that sort of underlying pervasiveness of it, not just in technology but in society overall.”
I’m not sure it’s got any better over the last few decades
On the working conditions for women in tech, she said that progress had stagnated. She described it as “sad”, adding: “I’m not sure it’s really got any better over the last few decades.”
Cordrey’s teenage daughter is coming up to the age where she starts looking for a job. “The truth is,” she said, “I’m not sure my daughter’s going to experience huge improvements being a woman entering society – because I’m not sure over the last twenty years, things have actually got that much better.”
When asked about why there are more male than female applicants for technological roles, Cordrey said that the “problem starts at a very young age”.
Her daughter has been to coding classes where, Cordrey thinks, she may have been the only girl.
There’s something going wrong at a very early age – where young girls are not being encouraged to do these activities
“There’s something going wrong at a very early age – where many young girls are not really drawn or being encouraged to do these activities. To help stop the problem we have to work when people are very young.”
So what can we do?
“I think that many people – both men and women – are doing a great job. They’re often humble and don’t think to stand up and be counted as a role model, but I would encourage all women who work in technology to take a deep breath and realise that they are role models.”
She would encourage them “to do what they can – put themselves forward to speak at conferences, put themselves forward to help organise events, put themselves forward to mentor younger women in the organisation or help with graduate recruitment programmes.”
I encourage all women who work in technology to take a deep breath and realise that they are role models
There are, of course, challenges with this – such as the “utterly depressing” abuse that women can get when they decide to be high profile on places such as Twitter.
She said it is also important to “give lots of support to the men you work with as well, because I know there are many men in the industry who are also despairing over the low numbers of women and are keen to address that.”
What does the future hold?
Looking forward to the future in digital media, Cordrey sees women playing a vital role.
It’s a “very exciting time” in the industry – with expansions in video, new forms of storytelling and user-focused innovations in design and interface.
Cordrey is confident that there will be greater equality for women in tech in the future. She is sure that women will be playing a “really important part” in tackling “all of these wonderful challenges ahead of us”.