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'Be brave' – inspiring the next generation of women in tech

Five high-profile female leaders in the tech industry reflect on their careers, offering advice and inspiration to younger women
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Whitney Wolfe, founder of dating app Bumble

Believe in yourself, no matter what. After I left Tinder, the company I co-founded, and before Bumble launched, I lost that sense of belief. I started to believe what people had been saying about me online and it really had a detrimental affect on my self-value and worth. [Wolfe was the victim of online bullying following a high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit.]

Even though that situation ultimately fuelled my desire to create something which stopped this happening to other people, it was a pretty tough road to get there. When people are saying such nasty things about you, it’s difficult to brush off. I wish I had the resilience I have now.

If you’re looking to start your own tech venture, find a gap. Technology is often developed to provide a more efficient way for individuals to go about their daily lives, so think about what would help you day to day.

The reason I started Bumble was because I wanted a solution to the experience I went through and it was something that I could see many women face. So I built a dating app where only women could make the first move, and we built a brand that was built on the foundations of female first, empowerment and respect.

Joanna Shields, founder of WeProtect, a movement to end the sexual exploitation of children online

Don’t be afraid to get lost from time to time. It’s often on the untravelled path that we discover the most exciting and interesting opportunities. That’s where big ideas take shape and where real breakthroughs happen, both emotionally and professionally.

I know it’s hard – we are connected to devices 24/7 – but try to find a quiet place. Wander off for a few minutes and give yourself a bit of time. You will find remarkable clarity even after a few minutes.

Holly Brockwell, founder and editor in chief of tech site Gadgette

Holly Brockwell, founder of Gadgette. Photograph: Knomo London

You can get started on your tech career today. You don’t need someone to give you an opportunity. Start a blog, record a video, tweet your thoughts – just start doing. I used to do terrible phone review videos at 2am in my bedroom because it was the only time I had available, but that led to bigger and more exciting things. Every step, no matter how tiny, is a step forward.

If you’re identifiable as a woman – through your Twitter name, photo, video and so on – you will get nasty and creepy comments. Don’t let this put you off and don’t feel you have to be anonymous. The more of us who are openly being ourselves, the more normal it will become, and that’ll make it better for all of us.

When you’re a supergeek like me, your rockstars aren’t Beyoncé and Rihanna – they’re Samsung and Google. Even if I worked in a shop, I’d still watch the livestreams of product unveilings, still speculate excitedly on what was coming next, and still consider selling a kidney for the next big thing. Honestly, I couldn’t be more in my element.

Nicola Mendelsohn, vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Facebook

Early in my career I used to stay quiet in meetings when I had an idea, fearing that I’d say something stupid. Someone else – usually a man – would then suggest the exact same idea and get praised for it. If only I’d been braver. And that’s not just advice for young people. All women should have the self-belief to put themselves forward and make their voices heard. How else will we inspire the next generation of women if we don’t set the examples ourselves?

The challenges facing women in business aren’t exclusive to tech: prejudice and unconscious bias exist in almost all sectors. When I worked in advertising I told my then boss that I was pregnant for the third time. His response was: “How many more times are we going to have this conversation, Nicola?” Things have improved since then but we still have a long way to go.

Sarah Wood, co-founder and chief executive of video advertising company Unruly

Sarah Wood, co-founder of Unruly. Photograph: PR Company Handout

I wish someone had told me to worry less early on. Every moment I worried about what might go wrong was a moment I could have spent making the right things happen.

Along the same lines, the best piece of advice I ever received came the night before my final exams at college. I was terrified and my university professor passed me a handwritten note that just said: “Courage!”

When we founded Unruly I was an outsider in every other way. Not ever having been in advertising, never having run an ad ops team, publisher team, design team or a sales team were more daunting than being a “woman in tech”. So gender was the least of my concerns.

Having my own business has given me a certain control and freedom to manage workload without having to worry about people’s perceptions. More importantly, it has given me the opportunity to create a workplace and a work culture that welcomes friends and family, and helps employees to balance work and home.

At Unruly, in my experience, women often have all the requisite skills, they just don’t know it. There’s no ability gap, but there’s often a yawning confidence gap, and that’s what we need to close. We use quarterly reviews and training programmes to encourage women to step up and take responsibility, step up and run a team, step up and lead.

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