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Amanda Storey, Sian Cox-Brooker and Lia Yeh speak about the tech industry

On Friday 8 March, Oriel College, Oxford, celebrated International Women’s Day with an inspiring panel of women in the tech industry chaired by Dr Irina Voiculescu, a lecturer in Computer Science at the College.

The panellists, Amanda Storey, Sian Cox-Brooker and Lia Yeh, shared their experiences of regularly being the only woman in the room throughout their careers, offering guidance on their approaches to working in a male-dominated tech industry, and discussed safety online.

In 2023, 11 per cent more eighteen-year-old women started computer science degree courses across the UK compared to 2022. Yet men still outnumber women at a ratio of 3.8 to 1, according to BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

A doctoral student at Oriel College working in quantum computing, Yeh recalled being known as “the girl” in her classes at her undergraduate college. “I wanted more of an identity. So I had to really think about my own identity. And I had to learn how to communicate effectively what I was doing,” she said.

Alongside her studies, Yeh works part-time as a research engineer at quantum computing company Quantinuum.

“It’s important to ask yourself, ‘What skills can I bring, what perspective can I bring?’” said Cox-Brooker, who studied Women’s Studies at Oriel College and, before moving into tech, had a background in journalism.

“If there’s one thing I hope I can demonstrate, it’s that you don’t need a background in tech to go into tech,” she added.

Today Cox-Brooker helps set content standards and guidelines across Meta platforms as the news programme lead of the Product Content Operations team.

As a senior director at Google’s Trust and Safety team, Storey, who studied Experimental Psychology at Oriel College, ensures policies dictating what content is permitted online sustain the “safety of the ecosystem”.

Her career advice to audience members was to find a career which utilises their “differentiating skill”. “You’ll move a lot faster,” she said. Negotiating, she added, was hers.

Both Cox-Brooker and Storey attributed their ability to confidently hold their own in business to the tutorial system. “Once you’ve had that [experience], nothing scares you,” commented Cox-Brooker, only half-joking. “You tell yourself, ‘You can do it because you already have.’”

Yeh told the audience that the underrepresentation of women in computer science first hit home for her when she worked as an assistant at a summer camp, teaching students about the code behind popular computer games. The experience formed part of the reason why she organised an all-women and non-gender binary student hackathon years later, she said.

Diversity in the tech industry is not helped, commented Storey, by the fact that career progression is based largely on self-promotion, something men are more disposed towards than women, meaning representation of women decreases the higher up the ladder you climb.

“We found that if you say, ‘If you think you’re only 75 per cent ready, apply,’ more women apply,” Storey added. “You’ve got to think about the right nudges to get over structural inhibitors.”

It is the second year the Oriel Women’s Network has held an in-person event on International Women’s Day.