How Belen Ripoll is pressing for progress in tech
It can often feel like progress is slow when it comes to improving gender equality in a male-dominated industry. It’s something that will take time, but with more discussion and smart initiatives, there has been some really positive steps forward.
Belen Ripoll is an active campaigner for Women in Tech. We interviewed her to hear about her experiences and find out how she’s pressing for progress.
What are you doing to celebrate International Women’s Day today?
There are different initiatives, events and strikes happening across the globe. This year’s theme is Press For Progress, encouraging people to continue the vocal fight for equality. Today I will be attending a couple of panel discussions (and an after party event) supporting the cause, hoping to learn new things and meet new people.
In Spain, where I am from, there’s been a 24h strike organised with the theme "Without women the world stops" that is having full support of unions and very well known social organisations. Most of my family and friends are attending.
International Women’s Day is a great campaign for promoting awareness of gender equality, but it’s important to keep this message relevant every day as this will be the only way to make real progress.
Why did you decide to get involved in the Women in Tech community?
I come from a very strong sports background. I’ve played tennis and football all my life, and before I joined the tech industry I worked in the sports field for almost 10 years. Sports and tech are both male-dominated industries, so when I realised how similar this was I felt I wanted to do something about it.
At first, I started to host some breakfast meetups for women leaders in the tech industry. After a few months and seeing how beneficial this could be for other women I decided to start Tech Women London, a non-profit community dedicated to bringing women in technology together. We organise regular meetups with the help of diverse and inclusive organisations such as Cloudreach in order to inspire, empower and connect women working in the field to further improve and develop their careers.
At Cloudreach we have organised, sponsored and hosted a number of events and conferences specific for gender diversity. Here, I am also involved with the Alliance for Partnerships and Inclusion Council.
What is your experience of being a woman in the tech industry?
I have worked at 2 tech businesses so far - both of them with a higher percentage of men and both advocates for women in the industry, otherwise I would not have joined them. The environment I’m currently working in is empowering and inspiring me as a professional and woman to make the most of my career. One day, I will be part of the now 5% women leaders in the tech industry, and help that percentage rise.
I have been lucky in that the tech companies I have worked at have been supportive for inclusivity. I know from attending conferences, meetings, events or trainings in the tech industry that this is far from always being the case. This is not new to me - I had to overcome a number of similar challenges when working in the sports field previously, where I learned to confront discrimination and developed a thick skin.
Belonging to a minority group, regardless of which one that is, it can be very tough and there is a lot of people that feel excluded, harassed, bullied, undermined or not valued because of their ethnicity, background, gender, sexual orientation or disability. There is a lot of work to do and it is everyone’s job to speak up and make workplaces more inclusive, equal and diverse.
Let’s not forget about the benefits of an inclusive and diverse company. Companies with gender diverse management teams have been proven to consistently perform better and be more profitable than those without them. On the other hand, having a diverse team will also help bring a new perspective and new ideas to make any team or business succeed.
Have you seen improvements in the tech industry with regards to promoting gender diversity?
Nowadays, in every single tech business there is going to be a higher percentage of men and this number won’t change unless companies really put their money where their mouth is. Only 17% of the workforce in this industry are women, but in the UK there are even less women choosing to start a career in technology after graduating (15.8%). We need to take responsibility, drive awareness at schools and universities, and create new programs that inspire girls and women to want to pursue a career in technology.
Let me give you a very specific example of a successful initiative we have taken at Cloudreach. This week we started a program called Cloud Systems Developer Fast Track Program, previously known as the Graduate Scheme. The name was changed to truly reflect the diverse background of our new team members. Some are recent Computer Science or STEM graduates, some have self-taught themselves computing, some come from other professional backgrounds, and 60% of them are women overall which is fantastic.
What advice would you give for other women in male dominated industries?
I’m a woman, gay and was born in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Barcelona. I have never underestimated myself for who I am or where I come from, and I have never let anyone make me feel that way. Four years ago I could not speak a word of English - if you really want something, go for it and surround yourself with people who can help you get there. Never give up.
I recommend attending events and conferences where you can meet like-minded people and create invaluable connections. Be generous, help people and it will pay back. Go to meetup.com and search for any tech meetups of interest, including women in tech related meetups such as Tech Women London and Women Who Code.