Originally published on KKR
A few years ago, I was speaking to some friends from university who had heard about an organisation called Code First: Girls that had just launched and was causing a buzz in the London start-up network for offering free coding courses for women. Like many people, coding had always been a bit of a mystery to me, so I was intrigued and I enrolled on a course straight away. Fast forward to earlier this year when my colleague, Jean-Pierre Saad, mentioned that he was working on a partnership with a pioneering organisation called - Code First: Girls! I was obviously keen to get involved, and help an organisation I'd experienced firsthand deliver tangible benefits.
Code First: Girls is focused on addressing the gender and skills gap in the UK technology sector by providing young women with free coding courses. They've already made impressive progress, and over the past three years have taught over 5,000 women to code, delivering £2.5m worth of free coding education. But their ambitions are even bigger, and through their 20:20 campaign, they aim to teach 20,000 women to code by 2020.
As a woman with experience in the world of technology, this focus on promoting diversity within the male-dominated industry really speaks to me. Women currently represent around 17% of the technology workforce in the UK, and the issue starts with education; only 14% of students accepted onto UK computer science courses in 2016 were women, for example.
I have been passionate about promoting female participation in the workplace for some time, dating back to 2012 when I co-founded a London-based millennials network for women, aiming to connect and inspire young female professionals. Unfortunately, my experiences in the technology industry have only highlighted the disproportionate lack of female founders, technologists and investors. I'd seen KKR's announcement earlier this year with Girls Who Code in the US, and it was clear to me how much we need organisations like Girls Who Code and Code First: Girls to help us address this.
As a past participant in the program myself, I was able to experience firsthand how Code First: Girls' focus on skills and the dedication and expertise of their teaching volunteers can quickly make a big difference. The environment is incredibly friendly, collaborative, and well-run, which instantly puts you at ease. I began my lessons knowing nothing about coding, but by the end of my course I could help my parents redesign the website for our family business. Coding is a key part of so many technology jobs and some of my friends who attended their courses are now working in technology as software engineers, highlighting the efficacy of the organisation in helping women transition from different sectors into tech.
So what are we at KKR doing to help? Code First: Girls has big ambitions and while we are providing financial support, we are also focused on participation and Code First: Girls' 20,000 target. We are a big investor in tech companies and our priority is linking Code First: Girls to the KKR network, both in technology and more broadly, to generate awareness and enrolment.
Our portfolio companies are hugely excited about being able to access such a valuable resource and to help Code First: Girls hit their target. Most importantly, these courses provide women with the skills they need to effect genuine change – a mission we are all proud to be part of. A more diverse and more highly-skilled workforce benefits not just the whole technology sector, but the wider UK economy. I am also a firm believer that having greater diversity in technology will result in better products, capturing feedback from a wider range of users.
For me personally, knowing the basics of writing code has instantly made me a better tech investor. I can get under the skin of a business and its strategy much more quickly, as coding and web development are crucial to scale and growth for tech and online businesses; I can also ask questions of the business that I wouldn't have known to ask before.
We hope at KKR that this is the first of many announcements we make with Code First: Girls, as we help them hit their 20:20 target. But this isn't just about the organisation or its supporters. Making a difference and promoting diversity is a responsibility for everyone, so please join us in our efforts to educate and inspire young women, to the benefit of the whole country.
Code First: Girls will be publicly launching our 2020 campaign on the 5h December 2017. To find out how you can get involved visit www.codefirstgirls.org.uk/2020
Code First: Girls