This kick-ass woman and former Silicon Valley Banker founded a coding school for new mothers while on maternity leave with her second child, Ivy. Its called Mums in Technology and it allows mums and primary caregivers to take their kids along to coding classes. For 3 hours a week over a 6-week period, they learn to code, their kids are cared for in the same room and they get to enjoy hands-free time immersing themselves in learning new skills and making new friends.
June practices what she preaches. She takes her youngest along to classes with her while the elder one is at nursery and loves that she doesn't have to choose between her passion for technology and her children. It’s a great pleasure to be able to chat to June about her experiences and she’s been one of the women on our role-model ‘hit-list’ from Day 1. As a mother, an entrepreneur and a mentor - she is one woman that is empowering women at all stages in their career.
N: Talking about role models, who was your role model growing up?
J: Growing up, I really admired mum’s work ethic while still raising children. She made me conscious of passion, and instilled me a sense of doing things that I feel passionate about. Every hour of the day she was determined to be the best she could be, and I was really proud of that; I wanted to feel that way about what I was doing. I thought to myself, ‘I want to do something that makes me this happy'.
N: In terms of being a positive role model for your children, how important is exposure to the tech industry going to be for your children, and your daughter in particular?
J: It is something very close to my heart for both my kids. I hope that when Ivy looks back on what I’ve done she will be inspired because she’s been part of this journey. She was actually first exposed to tech when she accompanied me to General Assembly for a seminar at two months old! I hope that when she is of an age to appreciate what is going on in the tech industry, overcoming bias and stereotyping merely because of her gender won’t be something that she has to prove - I hope that it will be normal for girls to be a part of the conversation.
N: I couldn't agree more. One of the goals for SheCanCode is to ensure that the topic of ‘gender equality in tech’ for the generation after us to be a non-issue. Yet, in saying that we still see ‘the women of tomorrow’ being gendered toward certain gadgets and careers from a young age. We hear about it in the media too and there’s a lot of noise about girls not getting the exposure to tech that boys do; the toys they play with being gendered, etc. Do you think enough being done to ensure that girls are exposed to technology?
J: We are lucky that in the UK, there are a number of organizations that are running initiatives that are making a contribution toward encouraging girls to get into it. A lot has been done in an attempt to normalize it. At a later stage, when girls are teenagers, it’s important to inspire creativity in design; and allow them to see how the technology works in context rather than teaching it in a purely theoretic manner or asking them to write lines of code. At the same time, it’s really up to us as parents, educators and role models to continue to encourage boys and girls equally - both in school and after school. Thankfully, at an educational level, IT as a subject is being taught as part of the curriculum, so there is a lot of progress on this front thus far.
We need to continue to be conscious of what our children are being taught so that we can get to that point where gender equality in tech is not a conversation.
And I am hopeful that we are on the right path to doing what needs to be done to accomplish that. I am hopeful because a lot of organizations are shouting about it.
N: I agree; however, I feel that often we don't know where to look. Are there any organizations in particular that you think are making a positive contribution?
N: Tell me a bit more about Technology Will Save Us and what they are doing that sets them apart?
J: What I like about Technology Will Save Us is that the children learn with gender-neutral kits. The technology they interact with is not pink nor blue, its for everyone; and they take care in ensuring there isn't any room for gender stereotyping. They also encourage discovery of technology using literally anything you can think of in your home already.
N: Contrary to my upbringing in South Africa, which is traditionally a patriarchal society (at least when I was growing up - things are changing in my generation), I really admire the Nordic ideals of shared responsibilities in the household. What are your thoughts on maternity v. paternity leave and sharing household duties in the workplace as well as the household so that women are able to prosper in the workplace, particularly in male-dominated industries?
J: [Laughs] I’m an egalitarian - I'm very much with you on that one. I am lucky I have a husband who believes in that too. We are very much partners in this parenting game and I wouldn't say he has ‘allowed’ me to, but he certainly has made it possible for me to pursue my passion.
He helps out with the cooking, we share cleaning responsibilities; in the evenings he watches the kids so I can shoot of an email or do some admin that allows me to run my business. He very much believes in spending quality time with his family, and it is the fact that we have a balanced household that makes it a lot easier for us to be good examples for our kids. I want Adam (my son) to feel that when he is ready to get married that it is normal to share household responsibilities with his wife, and I want Ivy to aspire to have a career. Having a family in our day and age is about team work.
In saying that, I really do believe in sharing paternity leave. It gives women who may not necessarily want to be out of work for that long the time to get back on their feet; and it also helps their husbands to bond with their child. As far as this goes in practice, I think employers have made incredible progression in adapting to these changes in the household and are increasingly recognizing the fact that despite the female argument, men also want this time. It’s a beautiful thing to give them, the time to raise their children that is; and every company is starting to note this.
N: I agree with you. I think that companies are recognizing the need to adapt, however, I haven't seen the shift that much in practice (yet). I think men can also afford to ‘shout out’ a bit more; and I think we as women, need to encourage our partners to not be afraid to ask for this time off work to appreciate our children.
J: Absolutely, it’s all about flexibility in the workplace, and this extends beyond maternity and paternity leave to later on in our children’s lives and being able to work from home or choose when and how you work. Everyone works differently, and it’s when you embrace this that you increase productivity and get truly happy employees.
N: So on this topic, I was curious to know whether Mums in Tech is going to be helping woman that are already in the tech industry to transition back into work after taking time off for maternity or otherwise? I know ‘Returnships’ are being rolled out in a number of organizations like PwC, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Man Group etc. which is helping companies to retain their female tech talent; but I speak to a lot of female engineers who feel like during their time off they may have been left behind as technology is constantly evolving at such a pace that they may not be able to keep up with after taking some time off. Up-skilling, training and development programs are scarce among smaller start-ups that may not have the time or funds to roll these schemes out and I see this as a huge gap for Mums In Tech - do you have any plans underway to do this?
It’s funny you say that, as in terms of ‘Returnships’ we are doing exactly that for entry-level mums-in-tech. So far, two companies (Doctify and Let’s Hatch) have taken on our mums for insight weeks to give them a taste of what it’s like to work in a startup and use their newly acquired coding skills. We want to work with companies that embrace how we feel about being a mum in tech i.e. companies that understand what it’s like and are going to make provisions such as allowing us to bring our babies into work if it means that we can work. The great thing about the tech industry is that its flexible. With a computer, you can work from anywhere and in most cases the code is open-source and honest. You can do it remotely from anywhere in the world, so we should embrace that.
As far as further training and development goes for mums that are more experienced, it is definitely something that we are working on. Next week we launch our first data science course and in the future we are going to be doing more intermediate and advanced courses to give mums a flavor of all the aspects and technologies that software development encompasses.
We are also still a start-up so it’s all about growing with the mums, learning about what they may want and then adapting to meet that. It’s a very fluid process.
N: The same can be said for SheCanCode - we are all in it together!
It’s great to hear about future plans, and I would love to know a bit more about where have the Mums that have graduated from your classes gone on to work? Are they finding entry-level positions at tech companies?
J: We have had some lovely success stories. I met Sara Tateno on Twitter (of all places) who expressed interest in Mums in Tech just before the pilot program launched. I encouraged her to come along with her baby, told her there would be nannies in the room and all she would need was a laptop. She didn't even have a laptop and I said she could use mine. She came along to one of our visits to Makers Academy (we often visit start-ups to show the women what it’s like to work in these tech firms) for a taster of their Ruby curse. The head of education at Makers Academy was amazing and Sara was blown away. Not only was she grateful to have ‘hands-free’ time to work on her personal development, but she knew then and there she wanted to learn Ruby and signed up to Makers Academy for the full course. Today, Sara is building her own company called Tiddlertime (helps parents find real-time information on activities for their child) which is in Beta phase. Check it out!
N: It’s amazing to see how the cycle continues. Knowledge really is the gift that keeps giving.
J: It is, and we are very much in Beta ourselves and still have a lot to learn so it’s all about learning together. Even I learn from the students and instructors and every day is a new day where I learn something new. The great thing is that when you are in a learning environment, you need to be comfortable with breaking things and have the confidence to fix them. Some people are faster learners than others but it doesn't matter because we are always supporting each other. No question is a silly question and its totally fine if your baby is crying in the background because the nannies (thanks to nanny marketplace app, Poppins) are very well vetted & take the best care of them - you spend a lot of time laughing, its pure fun.
N: Tech really is infiltrating and impacting every aspect of our lives from finding nannies to activities for our kids. Everything can be done through an app these days.
J: I agree and what I will say is that the power of Google should never be underestimated. Because of technological advancements, we don't need to memorize everything; as long as you know how to learn and you want to learn, you’re in a good spot. That is what our company boils down to, equipping women with the confidence to know where they can apply their skills and helping them get there.
N: So, I’m curious to know a bit more about the structure of the company… How did companies like M&S, Skype, etc. get involved and how can other tech companies that want to invest in their pipeline or encourage mums to get involved?
J: Essentially the companies that support each cohort help us to constantly evolve and provide us with the support we need to continue driving mums in technology. We are particularly keen to work with Corporates that share are values and want to get more women into tech. We have a baseline curriculum which we take to each corporate partner who then tweaks it and makes it better than the last. We require from them a lead developer and a couple assistant instructors as well as one point-person who helps to manage logistics and a room. Our corporate partners provide their time, expertise and a space, which allows us to keep the cost to the mums at a nominal fee because we want the barriers to remain as low as possible.
N: June, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for leaning in and taking the time to tell us a bit more about what you’re doing and how we can get involved.