It’s Woman Crush Wednesday, and to celebrate we managed to steal a few minutes with Liverpool’s Girl Geeks founder, Chelsea Slater.
We’d like to say what a woman, but we feel like gender shouldn’t play a part in commending Chelsea’s successes thus far. Instead, we’ll go with, what a STEMendous asset to the tech community.
Chelsea, 28 has recently been acknowledged by the Echo as one of Liverpool’s “best and brightest” and has been cited as one of thirty top influencers who’re “transforming the city.”
Pushing for gender equality in the tech sector, Chelsea has established Liverpool Girl Geeks, alongside her business partner Jo Morfee, built a successful after-school tech programme for girl students – InnovateHer – and is a member of BIMA and Liverpool City Region LEP councils whereby she continues to push tirelessly for gender equality within the digital industry.
Inspiring girls and women of all ages to ignite their passions for tech, her team deliver evening crash courses for all to attend, and a series of 8-week programmes across the North West, where she inspires teachers and children to embrace a typically male-dominated industry. The programmes not only influence girls and students to become involved in tech subjects after school but serve as a model for schools and colleges to adopt in the future.
Chelsea’s programme and coding courses are free of charge and aim to raise awareness, skills, and prospects for girls and women who’re considering a career in tech. They also include tips and advice on which routes to take in the tech industry.
We spoke to Chelsea to find out what inspired her journey, and to see what challenges she’s met across the way.
So Chelsea, how did Liverpool Girl Geeks come about?
Liverpool Girl Geeks (LGG) starting in 2013 whilst I was 23 and studying a part-time masters degree in Digital Marketing. I worked in an app company, creating innovative mobile solutions and working alongside some amazing people as well as clients, I loved it! I came up with the idea of LGG because I realised I was one of few females I knew who worked in the sector, and when doing research I found that there was a huge lack of females within technology across the world. Being entrepreneurial I set up up a blog and a twitter account and LGG was born.
Did that inspire the birth of InnovateHer?
It did! Our journey has been really organic. LGG wasn’t supposed to be a business, I always thought I’d run a marketing agency, as this is what I educated myself in. But whilst working with so many incredible women I realised that this was my true passion. In 2015 I decided to leave my full-time job and pursue this further. I knew that it needed dedicated people working on it so that more impact could be made. I met my business partner Jo at a bloggers meet up and instantly knew that she had the same values as me, so asked her to join me in the business.
We came up with a business model and thought of new ways to attract women to tech. We knew we had to start as young as possible, so we started an 8-week boot camp for teen girls where they would learn tech skills, meet role models and build their confidence. This is when we knew that we had to do something nationally, InnovateHer was launched in 2017 to do just that, and now it’s scaling across the country. It’s an incredible brand!
How well-received are your crash courses and events for girls and women?
Both women AND men love our coding courses. Last year we made a decision to focus on our young person’s programmes but had to keep the coding courses for adults going, because people have got so much out of them. There are lots of amazing case studies; one woman worked in retail and really wanted a career change. She came on our 6-week coding course and now works down south as a full-time programmer. Other’s have gone on to create their own websites, take on apprenticeships and one now even teaches coding courses herself. It’s amazing what a short course can do, no matter what age you are.
Our school programmes are amazing too, we have worked with over 250 girls over the past year, teaching them tech skills and building their confidence. It’s so empowering to see a young girl say she feels much more confident to have a career in tech after just a 2-hour session.
Why do you think that the huge female void in the tech industry continues to get overlooked?
It’s getting MUCH better. We hear stories in the media of women in tech, business and politics which is great because one of the reasons girls told us they didn’t consider a career in tech was because they didn’t see anybody like them in that career. There is still a lot to be done though, in the UK only 17% of tech jobs are filled by women and some tech companies are yet to have diversity and inclusion policies in place. The gender pay gap reporting that came out last year was a milestone, but only large companies need to report on this. Whether you are a startup with two people or an organisation of 2000, diversity needs to be at the top of your agenda.
What greatest achievements have you accomplished so far along your ‘STEMinist’ journey?
Launching InnovateHer was definitely a highlight for me. This year (2019) we’ve already launched InnovateHer in 3 schools, that’s 60 girls that are going through our programme. I have an amazing team who are passionate, courageous and really want to make a change, we couldn’t do any of this without people like that.
I’m so proud of what we achieve and the decisions we make on a daily basis. It’s nice to go home and know that we have worked with integrity that day and wake up ready to do it again for another.
Whilst pushing for gender equality in the STEM industry, what challenges have you been met with?
Liverpool is a great city and people are so supportive of our work and always have been. We’ve never wanted to create spaces that are solely for women, and have made sure that we also get men involved with the conversation, I think that’s why we have a big community! At first, we had all female panel events and soon realised that if we were telling people we were inclusive then we had to be too. Now, 50% of our meet up attendees are male, which is amazing! Men need to be part of this conversation too.
The biggest challenges have always been financial, although now we have a strong business model this is getting easier! Liverpool has a huge amount of small businesses in tech (who are super supportive and amazing), but less larger organisations who can fund us. We’re always looking for partners, to keep our school programmes free for the girls, so if you’re reading this and want to support… get in touch 😉
Who are your biggest inspirations?
Oh wow, this is a great question, I have so many! Dr Sue Black (our patron for InnovateHer) is a huge role model for me, she’s inspired so many people and fought for gender equality for over 20 years, we were starstruck when we first met her but now think of her as a friend, follow her on twitter if you don’t already!
My grandad has always inspired me and definitely inspired me to work hard from an early age. He gave me my first “real” job at 15 (after my paper round), at his taxi company as a receptionist and I have worked ever since. His work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit rubbed off on me for sure!
I have a great group of people around me. My business partner Jo inspires me every day, as well as local women like Amanda Follit and Robyn Dooley who give so much time back to the local community.
What does Liverpool Girl Geeks and InnovateHer have planned for the future?
We have so many plans for the future including building on our InnovateHer brand and launching it in towns and cities across the UK. We’re building our team, growing our company membership and adding new themes to our programmes. We’ve been working on our 3 and 10-year plan recently with our amazing mentor and advisor Tony Fogget, which is really cool because Jo and I have been able to learn so much!
I can’t share everything with you so watch this space as 2019 is going to be really exciting for us 😉
If you want to be a mentor, host an innovateHer programme at your school, or want your organisation to support, then please get in touch with InnovateHer via their website www.innovateher.co.uk or email them email@example.com.