Martha Lane Fox on inclusivity in the tech sector, inertia in the House of Lords, and why she’s a ‘dot com dinosaur’

In WorkL’s Autumn Lecture, today Baroness Martha Lane Fox looks back on history, reflecting on the 1960’s and 70’s when women, working from home were programming the Concorde and working in deep tech, yet today there’s an astonishing absence of ‘gender balance’ in the sector.

Martha highlights the tech trailblazer, Dame Stephanie Shirley who employed women in building complex technologies and argues that today “we would be absolutely astonished if we had seen so many women engaged in those areas of technology, they are not associated right now, those deep tech areas of technology, with such a gender balance.”

In the lecture, Martha questions why, today, we are not using the insights and learning from the 1960’s and 70’s, to build a more inclusive and sustainable technology space for the future?

Having studied Ancient and Modern History at University, Martha looks back to the past to learn how to create a fairer and more inclusive future for the technology sector and our digital spaces.  Beginning the lecture, outlining how she was called a ‘dot com dinosaur’ in the street, Martha accepts her “whole career has been underpinned by technology right from the beginning”.

Martha co-founded Lastminute.com and doteveryone, a think tank championing responsible tech for a fairer future.  Martha argues the Covid-19 pandemic shifted our relationship with technology but highlights not everyone was able to move seamlessly to technology during lockdowns.  Her “metropolitan bubble”, helped her “carry on as normal” when the world was locked down yet “only 50% of jobs could be done online, and a huge percentage of the people that weren’t able to work online.”

Martha goes on to stress that there is still a “huge job to do to include everybody in these enormous changes that have dominated so much of the working landscape over the last three years, but before that as well”.  Incredibly Martha cites that “half the world is still not using the internet, can you imagine what that felt like during this pandemic?”

Reflecting on her experience at the House of Lords during the pandemic Martha writes:

“If you had said to me that before the pandemic, we would be online doing committee meetings, we’d be voting and talking in the chamber, within 3 weeks of everything shutting down I would honestly have thought you were smoking an enormous spliff. But actually, that’s exactly what happened.  Parliament was able to digitise itself incredibly quickly and push through some of the inertia that perhaps had hit the organisation previously.”

WorkL’s Employee Experience report, published today, highlights the technology sector as being one of the happiest.  Since 2018 its score has risen from 73% to 87% in 2020.  Pre-pandemic to Lockdown-1m  scores jumped 7% (from 73% to 90% – a score no other industry has ever hit).

The industry has made progress in terms of women’s experience in the industry.  In 2018 WorkL data showed male employees felt more empowered and trusted in their jobs than women (60% in men vs 54% in women). In 2022, this gap stabilises as both men and women score 74%.  Women today feel more empowered in the technology industry.

Looking ahead to the future of the tech sector Martha emphasises the need to question where we get skills from and how we can help people from all kinds of communities to be part of that future that we are building.

For more information on the lecture and WorkL’s Employee Experience report, go to workl.co