Women in tech: Sledgehammers not pinkification

Recently I met a group of friends for dinner. We all work in tech, and we’re all women. Throughout the evening we all seemed to come back to the topic of gender balance – or imbalance – in the tech industry.

I find it really frustrating that the tech sector is relatively new, but new instances of sexism against women are coming to light all the time (and they’re just the ones being reported).

A survey of Guardian readers into sexism in the tech sector found that 73% of men and women who responded think the tech industry is sexist. One 39-year-old male worker at an information security firm said: “I find women in my industry to be leaders of new ideas and equals in every way to men. I’m ashamed of being male sometimes for the way women are treated.”

Why is a new sector being built to exclude women and girls?

We seem to be building a new sector on the fault lines of the old ones

Sexism is an issue common to many other industries, but as you know my bread and butter is in digital. So, if we have a new way of living our lives (and a new industry creating it), and it’s mostly being built by men, where does that leave society?

I like men, I’m a mother to two boys, and I know several men who have stood on a chair and shouted “I’m a feminist”. I don’t want a world where the dial swings the other way and we exclude the men. But I’d really like us to try and get a better gender balance. Without it sounding like a complete compromise, I think the answer has to include men, as well as acknowledge that the current status quo is a problem and we need to actively encourage and support women explicitly into the sector.

Take a look at Emma Mulqueeny’s great blog, ‘How to put girls off programming and tech – the easy way’, as an example of trying to include more girls in tech with the best of intentions, but in reality doing the opposite.


When I was little, my mum modified the TV so that me and my siblings couldn’t watch ITV (to avoid the adverts). My brother would even say he was going to his friend’s house to watch TV so that he could work out what he wanted for Christmas. Now I understand what my mum was up to. Instead of letting the toy companies or cosmetic companies tell me what a girl was and what I should be, she was trying to let me decide that for myself. You only have to Google ‘Girls Toys’ to see the pinkification of our world. And I’m afraid it’s only got worse since I was a child.

Toy shop

I like pink, but just as one colour in the paintbox.

And what about me? I’m not exempt from sexism. Of course I experience sexism. Sometimes I know if I was a man I’d immediately have status. But I’ve spent my life trying to ignore gender and just getting on with it so I can do what I think needs doing. You might have noticed this is my motto for most things.

Dame Shirley is an amazing role-model, a pioneer and one of the most successful tech entrepreneurs ever. She says she “just got on with it” but in order to become successful she had to go by the name ‘Steve’ and her husband had to help her open her first bank account. She did so much for women to work flexibly in technology, as well as other important issues such as equal pay. Watch her brilliant TED Talk – ‘Why do ambitious women have flat heads?to find out more. Please do take the time to watch – you’ll even have a laugh!

Unfortunately after all of the groundbreaking by Dame Shirley and others, we don’t really seem to have gone much further. In fact has it got worse?

The answer has to lie in both men and women creating the right working environments that are fair and equal.

I won’t pretend to have the answers to these questions because it’s clearly not that simple. Does banging on about it even help?

Martha Lane Fox has set up Dot Everyone, with one of her early priorities a focus on Women in Digital; their website says: “Our objective is that 50% of the people that design and make Britain’s networked world will be women. Our initial focus will be on: mapping and assessing activity of women in digital; building an evidence base of the challenges faced by girls and women; and creating a funding vehicle that invests in sustainable social enterprises helping girls and women in digital.” Don’t just watch this space, but go over to her website and see if you can help.

I’ll be meeting up with my dinner friends in the not too distant future to talk about how we get the balance back, how we can help the women and girls following behind us, and what we can actually do that will make a difference.

The optimist in me likes to think things are getting better, slowly; more men are talking about this as an issue. But I’d rather make progress more quickly; let’s tackle this with a sledge hammer not a toothpick. We deserve to have a digital world where men and women are respected and have equal opportunities; where women also build the digital society. After all, we live and work in it too.

Tweet me at @helenmilner and let’s discuss.

Digital exclusion will damage your health

What were you doing in July 2013? I’ll tell you what I was doing; I was anticipating the start of something great for Tinder Foundation as we embarked on a partnership with NHS England.

Long before we launched the now award winning Widening Digital Participation programme in the summer of 2013, we’d been talking internally about the correlation between health issues and digital exclusion. You can’t ignore facts, and the facts were showing a huge synergy between the two.

Two years into the three-year project, and the facts once again speak for themselves. I’m so glad we’re on this journey with NHS England at a time when the shift towards digital by default services has become even more widespread throughout health services in the UK, and the danger for people suffering health inequalities to be left behind becomes even greater.

Since the project began we have:

  • Made 235,465 people aware of online health resources
  • Trained 158,171 people to improve their digital health literacy – that means showing them how to access and use health resources, such as NHS Choices, to manage their health
  • We’ve also trained over 4,000 volunteers to support other people to improve their health by using digital
  • Provided grants to support over 200 community partners (each year of the project) to deliver digital health literacy training and support to people wanting to learn more.

The numbers are growing all the time, our partnerships – both local and national – are working. Great things are happening through digital.

But, there’s so much more we can do. We’re well underway with year three of the programme and we’re looking ahead to what happens when we finish in March 2016. But, I don’t think of it as the end because the last three years we have laid the (strong!) foundations – it’s just the start.

Read our new report, it identifies four key things we intend to do to extend the life of our work:

  • Create capacity for our hyperlocal community partners so that they can continue doing what they do best
  • Continue shouting about the work our partners are doing, and the benefits digital health literacy have
  • Work with more GPs, make sure they understand the value of digital health literacy
  • Focus on joined-up policy responses that promote local support for digital health training

If we can do this, then we can help so many more people, like the wonderful Amy, who’s story you can hear in this video:

Maggie and Digital Evolution are coming!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that Tinder Foundation’s Digital Evolution Conference, which takes place every November, is without doubt one of the highlights of my year.










And yes, you might think it’s a bit soon to be talking about an event taking place in November as we’re only just in August, but I can’t help but get excited by how this year’s conference is already shaping up.

I won’t give too much away at this stage, but I do want to say how pleased I am to have an incredibly talented individual joining us on the day.

Maggie Philbin

If you’ve ever met Maggie, or had the pleasure of hearing her speak, then you’ll know why I’m so excited to announce that she will be chairing this year’s conference.

Maggie is one of my heroes – she knows loads about technology, she shares my beliefs of having a society where everyone has the opportunity to benefit from digital, and she’s a great person too.

She is the perfect person to host.

Have a watch of Maggie speaking below.


I can’t wait to reveal more of what we’ve got planned, but in the meantime you can find out more about the Digital Evolution: Building a digital nation conference (Wednesday 25 November at the BT Centre, London) here.

Tickets are now on sale with a special introductory offer available until Monday 7 September.

Community Transformers

On Tuesday I visited London Community College, a new community partner in Tinder Foundation’s UK online centres network. I was there with representatives from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and Baroness Williams, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Visiting London Community College July 2015









We met people learning English at the centre and found out about how the English My Way programme is helping them to feel more connected to their community. Our English My Way project, funded by DCLG, is now in its second year and is a classroom based learning programme aimed at people who have very, very little English language.

It was also good to see how the curriculum – led by the British Council – was working alongside the Tinder Foundation hyperlocal partner network. The BBC are also a national partner, developing great resources and running learning circles.

Meeting learners at London Community College












London Community College is a wonderful place and it was a pleasure to be visiting for the first time. I loved seeing their English My Way lesson plan (printed off from the national site) and how it’s been embedded into their wider learning programme. It was great chatting to Centre Manager Avinash Panchoory who said he thinks Learn My Way is the best progression route from English My Way, which was music to my ears!

Witnessing English My Way in action at London Community College

   Images courtesy of London Community College

He also said: “We have a very diverse group of learners who represent the local community and who require our support to help them integrate through English My Way. London Community College is proud to promote integration within the community and eliminate barriers to communication through English My Way.”

Places like London Community College are encouraging their learners to share their knowledge with their own communities. Imagine the difference it would make to a mother, for example, who has learnt about English My Way and now has the confidence to go to her son’s parents evening and speak to the teacher. Or a woman I met at a previous event who has the confidence now to say hello to her neighbour as they have share a common language.

I always feel privileged to visit organisations like London Community College that are really embedded in the heart of the most deprived communities. It’s places like this my entire team work so hard to support on a daily basis, and it’s places like this where people lives are getting transformed.

English My Way is a free website packed full of resources, lesson plans, and a learning platform: www.englishmyway.co.uk

Why I believe libraries can thrive in a digital world

I was delighted to recently be asked to write a guest blog for the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), which leads and manages public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland because I adore libraries.

Libraries are a regular topic on my blog, and anyone that knows me will know I could happily talk for hours about them! I’m passionate about what they stand for and their potential to play an even more prominent role in their communities.

I’ve spoken a lot about this in the past, and I’m particularly keen to see libraries evolve and excel in the 21st century, which is why I’m so pleased to be working with SCL to strengthen the Universal Offers of public library services. And it’s with great excitement that Tinder Foundation will be making an exciting announcement next week about a new project that aims to support libraries, and their digital offering in particular, over the next few years.

To continue reading my thoughts on why libraries are essential to our society visit the SCL blog

Is Facebook the gateway to the internet?


I’m always talking to my team about finding new ways to reach people, whether that’s people that aren’t online and don’t have digital skills, or the people that do have some sort of access but still don’t know how to use it, or simply aren’t motivated to use it.

One thing we know is that to reach new people we have to go where they are and not expect them to come to us. Here’s a fact for you: 70% of our community partners do outreach work, physically going out and finding the people that need their help the most. At Tinder Foundation, it’s just as important for us to be looking for these people in the online world too, which is where Learn My Way’s new Facebook course comes in.

Learn My Way - Doing More with Facebook

Designed to help people that have already signed up for a Facebook account but either don’t know how to use it or lack the confidence to use it (the digitally excluded come in all shapes and sizes), Doing More With Facebook shows people how to make the most of social media, do more with Facebook, and gives them a taste of Learn My Way in the hope that they’ll want to continue learning. It will even post to your wall so you can encourage friends to use the course app too.

Learn My Way - Doing More with Facebook









The team behind Learn My Way work closely with stakeholders to develop new learning content and they started to think about creating something for social media after a lot of community partners found the young people they were working with in particular had access to Facebook on their phones, but weren’t using the internet for other things like applying for jobs, looking for housing, or even emailing their granddad.

This also ties in with Ofcom’s Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015, which found 40% of internet users only visit between 5-10 websites a week, with 50% of newer internet users visiting between 1-4 websites on average a week. I think we can assume Facebook features somewhere in that list.

So, the idea is we’re breaking down barriers by reaching people in a place where they’re comfortable and introducing them to Learn My Way and tonnes of free learning in the process. 

ND15: The deadline for a digital nation

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of giving the closing keynote for the National Digital Conference below. Here’s what I said.

Every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end, so this is where my digital journey started.

This is a photo of me in 1985 – 30 years ago. When I first started working in the internet sector (helping children to communicate online) the world wide web hadn’t even been invented yet.

Helen, 1985







We’ve seen such our society be transformed immensely: the way we work and collaborate, and start and build businesses; and, the way we live, 24/7 shopping, banking, social contact, pay our taxes.

Matthew Hancock’s speech earlier today was so positive, I believe that he wants to make services better – as well as cheaper – through digital.

Many things have been transformed to such an extent that we no longer recognise it. The only person who ever writes me a letter for example is my Mum.

In 1985 a futurologist, Ray Hammond, said “Now that day has arrived … the humble school micro provides a gateway to a world of knowledge so vast that it is breathtaking at its first acquaintance” So there’s a part of me that thinks if we knew of the power of the internet, why in 2015 do we live in such a divided society?

We live in a digital society and we live in a divided society, and an unequal digital society.

In 2015 if you’re born poor you will die poor. We have over 1m people who need to eat from food banks. People are having the benefits stopped because they don’t know how to search for jobs online using Universal Job Match.

We live in a divided nation – and digital exacerbates that.

It isn’t right that 10m people’s lives are poorer and harder because they can’t or don’t use the internet. I’ve been impressed and pleased with the support that the new Government is showing to digital inclusion. Matthew Hancock understands technology and wants to make lives better – it’s a good start.

Today we heard Ed Vaizey say that the Government was refreshed, energetic and keen to do more with digital and digital inclusion.

It’s likely that in this age of austerity the driver for digital inclusion – however it’s presented – is to reduce the costs of people transacting with Government. The people who are excluded, are high volume users of Government services, so if they remain excluded they will continue to cost the Government a lot of money. The digital transformation of Government can’t succeed with 10m people lacking basic digital skills.

So why in 2015 do we have such a digitally divided society?

We have a great sector, we have a lot of great people and organisations doing great work. Looking across the room today it’s fabulous to have collaborative cross sector drive and leadership from public, private, and the voluntary and community sector here sharing ideas and passions.

But we need a better plan. A more ambitious plan.

I have two sons and the older one is football mad. From the age of about two he kicked balls around, so we started that weekend delight of watching small boys play football badly – usually on very cold days – from when he was about six years old. If you’ve ever watch small children play football you’ll know what I mean – no space, no tactics, no strategy, just ‘look there’s the ball’ and run after it. Sometimes I think the digital inclusion sector is a bit like those six year olds playing football.

We’ve heard many good speeches today, fascinating stats, and great ideas.

Rachel Neaman started well this morning suggesting that we should eradicate digital exclusion, the gender imbalance in the tech sector, and poor digital skills in businesses by 2025. By the time of the 20th National Digital Conference.

I’d like to be more ambitious and take one of those – digital exclusion – and set ourselves a deadline – 2020. By 2020 let’s not live in a digitally divided nation.

Here are four things that worry me that we need to sort:


1. There’s no silver bullet

We know what works – community based support and help, personalised – supported with leadership and guidance from organisations like Tinder Foundation and others – who help with ideas, products and support.

Simply more investment in what works results in more people gaining digital skills and changing their lives. Martha said earlier that it’s foolish to not spend money as the money saved is far greater than the money we need to spend.

2. Why don’t Employers do more for their own staff?

It’s great to work with Lloyds Banking Group, Vodafone, TalkTalk and BT on projects and digital champions. Thank you for your support, it’s really valuable.

But what about employers working to upskill their own staff? How about: A Digital Basics Employer Accreditation or Investors in Digital People. Just like an employer can get accreditation for being a Living Wage employer how about a “Digital Basics” Employer. Why not a transparent accreditation or badge for an employer who knows that all their staff have basic digital skills. And it must include contract staff such as cleaners, security, and catering staff.

And let’s start with the Public Service. Government just must know that all their staff and all their contract staff have basic digital skills. They must do it.

3. What about the really poor people who just can’t afford devices and broadband?

Today on the radio I heard a woman from a charity working in Calais giving support to migrants and asylum seekers sleeping rough. She said they provided them with “food, clothes, and phone chargers”.

As the digital divide narrows it deepens. A year ago 21% of people said that they didn’t use the internet because of the cost of devices and broadband. This year it’s 32%. We must acknowledge that there are people who just can’t afford it.

Whose responsibility is it to tackle this issue?

Will we look back and think this is a basic utility just like electricity and gas?

Instinctively this feels too risky – from a ‘Daily Mail’ point of view for the Gov to get involved – so that leaves the private and the volcom sector.

Without a solution to this issue we will always leave people behind.

4. Better understanding of the relationship between improved social outcomes and the digital inclusion contribution to that impact

Last year we commissioned “A Leading Digital Nation by 2020: Calculating the cost of delivery online skills for all” with Economist, Catherine McDonald. It’s a great read that proves that the investment is low compared to the reward.

However, what Catherine’s report did say is that by 2020 6.3m people will still lack basic digital skills if we just keep doing what we’re doing now (at today’s investment).

Those 6.3m people will be the poorest, the disabled, young and old people lacking a range of skills, and who will have a range of complex needs.

We know that digital inclusion drives social inclusion, I’ve met people who tell me that they are alive because a local community organisation helped them to learn how to use the internet. It saved their lives. This is the sort of transformation we want more of.

We know this, but we need more evidence and we need to know what more we can do to drive better social outcomes through digital inclusion. Focusing first on the social impact, seeing digital as the tool to get there.

Today it’s announced that Tinder Foundation, working with Family Fund, Mind, Homeless Link, and a number of local community organisations will rebuild the lives of people through the Rebook UK project. personalised digital skills training and community-based support which will enable them to be more in charge of their own lives. So by Christmas we’ll have a few more answers.

We need to be more ambitious. But are we just too polite and too patient.


We should get angry and get organised.


We need a deadline.


Let’s pledge to 100% of people in the UK using the internet by 2020.

In 2020, let us all be here celebrating a digital nation, that inclusive and equal for everyone.