'I didn't see any events for us' - FT Women UK founder on addressing networking disparity

Nima Green
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'I didn't see any events for us' - FT Women UK founder on addressing networking disparity

Software engineer and chairwoman of FT Women UK, Angelique Vu, tells CRN how she's making tech networking more inclusive, and about the code she's written to uncover unconscious bias

Software engineer and the chairwoman of FT Women UK, Angelique Vu, has had an unconventional tech career path.

Eight years ago she was an art director in downtown Sydney.

Next month, she'll be speaking at the inaugural Women in Tech Festival about her work as a software engineer.

"My role day to day is to support editorial users at the Financial Times with their key publishing systems, and other tools that they use throughout the newsroom. It could be an image library application that we have, an advertising system or a system for syndication rights. So it's about being across all those systems, and also I need to be able to step in when something goes wrong."

More broadly across the business, Vu (pictured) saw something else that was jarringly wrong, which she chose to tackle head on.

"This was my first role in tech. It was a shock to the system coming over to an industry that is so male dominated," she said.

"I saw that it was quite cliquey. There was lots socialising happening between the guys around me but I didn't see anything similar for women; I didn't see that they were progressing in the same sorts of ways, or had access to those sorts of networks."

In response, two years ago she founded FT Women UK, to actively promote diversity within her company.

There is a disparity in tech networking

"Everyone is welcome at our events; it's not just about women. We do want to make them inclusive," she added.

"But the reason this is needed is for those who don't want to go to the cliquey drinks….There is a disparity in tech networking.

"I want to give people a reason to meet in a space where yes, they can chat, but also promote learning…

"We talk about building a personal brand, improving your communication skills, or assertiveness or negotiation skills.

"Thankfully there has been huge improvement at the Financial Times in terms of diversity, as well as in lots of other companies within technology since I joined the industry eight years ago."

Vu also champions pairing as a way of mentoring women to look into perhaps hitherto unconsidered tech roles.

"I was very fortunate that the Financial Times contacted me through a friend. I'd had some exposure to it [the tech sector], but really not very much at all," she said.

"I really learned on the job at the FT and it was a case of having a really understanding team and being partnered with some really great co-workers who were understanding about my level and happy to help me to progress.

"I was paired with other more experienced developers…It's a wonderful way to learn, and it's something I'm still doing now to get up to speed with new skills. There's such a diverse range of career paths within technology to suit a range of personality types, and it helps to show this."

Vu also made the point that in addition to helping girls and women rise through the ranks, software developers can actively help redress unconscious biases that could be slowing them down.

Being visible is engaging

In 2017, the FT introduced Janebot, a data analytics tool that helps the newsroom identify if there are no women included in their editorial images.

At the time, the FT said: "Our hypothesis is that female readers might engage more if there are visible reflections of themselves on the page."

Vu was involved in its development.

"It came about because of an internal hackathon that we ran. It uses AI and analyses images on our homepage to compare how many images of women there are versus men, and it really has helped editorial make decisions.

"The catch is, of course, that you can't change who the CEO of a company is if he is a man. But there are other images they use that they can choose to be a bit more diverse and appeal to our readers, because that was something that we identified - that we had a little bit of an image problem."

Last year, the FT also released its she said, he said bot.

It informs journalists what percentage of their quotes are attributed to men and to women, in an effort to push writers to look for female experts.

Again, the FT said the innovation was driven by its internal research that showed "a positive correlation between stories including quotes from women and higher rates of engagement with female readers".

When released in November 2018, only 21 per cent of people quoted in the FT were women.

The Women in Tech Festival

Vu is hoping that the CRN and Computing inaugural Women in Tech Festival, on Tuesday 17 September, will see more such tangible solutions discussed and shared across the sector.

"The festival looks like it has been well organised, and it also has a really strong line-up. So I'm happy to be involved," said Vu.

"I love meeting other people in the industry, and am looking forward to hearing about the great work that is being done."

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