Features / International Women's Day

How kids will solve tech’s gender imbalance: the story of Tech Will Save Us

Tech touches nearly every facet of our lives, and there aren’t many in today’s society who don’t come into contact with it on a daily, if not hourly, basis. As an industry, however, tech is far from representative of today’s society. Instead it remains a male-dominated sector. But why is that? And how can we tackle this issue?

We got in touch with Bethany Koby, the founder of Tech Will Save Us, to help provide some insight into how she’s shaping the landscape of tech by engaging children. A London-based company, Tech Will Save Us is on a mission to spark the creative imagination of young people using hands-on technology. Started in 2012, Tech Will Save Us has now collaborated with Google, Code Club, The Prince’s Trust, the BBC and, most recently, Disney, and its award-winning make-it-yourself kits and digital tools help kids to make, play, code and invent using technology.

Technology threads through every aspect of our lives. Yet most people know very little about how it works, how it is made or how to fix it when it breaks. At the same time even fewer people – mostly men – are at the helm of creating, inventing, investing in, and making the decisions about the products and technologies that we all use. Tech Will Save Us is addressing the former issue by offering play experiences that make technology learning accessible to kids. I aim to impact the lack of diversity in the broader technology ecosystem by setting an example as a female entrepreneur and leader of a company that values diversity.

Pregnant with my first son, seven years ago, I was excited to see a rapidly changing technology landscape, but discouraged by the waste of seemingly disposable computers and smartphones. Reflecting on this, I knew I wanted to ensure that my son would have the opportunity to test the boundaries of technology, and not be limited by an ignorance of the capabilities that technology skills can offer. And so Tech Will Save Us was founded on this radical premise: What if kids could build the technology they use, and learn more about it in the process?

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The key to diversifying the pool of people who design and make the technology we rely upon is to inspire young kids to become able makers, inventors and influencers from the outset. Accessibility to technology concepts and tactile technology experimentation at a young age are essential for children to see technology as a building block, a viable career, and a toolkit. This toolkit will broaden the way they approach the future of everything from art to music, marketing, games design, medicine and rocket engineering.

According to Cathy Davidson, a scholar of learning technology, 65 per cent of children will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet. Many of these jobs will be about problem-solving – and they’ll solve these problems using technology. I think kids will invent future jobs based on playing with Minecraft, by coding wearables that react to movement, and by designing their own games controlled by their BBC micro:bits. Every day, I am inspired by our customers, aged between four and 13 years old, who design crazy things from Creative Coder powered toothbrush timers to blinking Electro Dough wizards.

Beyond these young makers, we are creating a super-engaged community of future-focused parents. There’s a lot of fear around kids when it comes to tech and we want to be one of the optimistic voices that says, “Yes it’s scary, yes it’s moving fast, but let’s demystify it, let’s put it in the hands of kids and parents, because you could go the other way, or be neutral which would be even worse.” We believe diverse, creative, and empowered kids and families will save us and technology will be at the heart of how they do this!

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Knowing that I had a mission to impact diversity in technology by providing the next generation with access to technology skills, I had to overcome the first challenge of diversity – raising funding as a female entrepreneur. Despite the fact that less than three per cent of venture capital funds back female CEOs, we successfully raised a Series A round. The funding process reflected an entire investment ecosystem that lacks diversity in various ways. Finding female role models, mentors and advisors as I’ve built my business has been critical to our company growth and I hope to become a role model as well as creating the next generation of tech heroes.

This is so important because collaborating and finding inspiration from others is at the crux of innovation and has been central to the success of my business thus far. If we can create a new set of role models, there will be a wealth of collaboration and inspiration available to others. Technology has enabled me to tap into a deep and wide network of female leaders and makers in tech – online communities such as AdasList and the female members club The Allbright have proven to be a goldmine of support and talent. Personally, I am inspired by tech pioneers such as Radia Perlman, Hedy Lamarr, and the many female software engineers who drove coding in the 1960s.

Unlocking accessible ways for all kids to create and play with tech, regardless of gender and labels, will empower kids to invent the future. Accessible role models instil self-belief and once the spark for tech learning has been ignited, forums for networking, collaboration, co-learning and skills exchange will enable them to shine. By handing kids the right knowledge and tools today, they will create the technology that will save tomorrow.

Illustrations by Sara Andreasson.

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