In the ever-evolving world of tech, some leaders are carving out a niche by championing the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Anna Brailsford, CEO of Code First Girls, is one such trailblazer leading the charge. Dive into our insightful Q&A to learn about her mission, her perspective, and the future of women in tech.

Anna Brailsford, CEO, Code First: Girls

Dublin Tech Summit 2023 witnessed an array of luminaries, but Anna Brailsford’s thought-provoking panel, “Leading the Way: Women in Tech Driving DE&I Solutions”, garnered widespread acclaim. The European tech ecosystem, brimming with tech startups, often sees the limelight fall upon male counterparts, overshadowing the groundbreaking work of female founders. But Brailsford is a force to be reckoned with. As the CEO of thriving tech startup Code First Girls, which is bridging the gender gap, she’s setting an example for women in tech, not just in the UK, but globally. 

As you delve into this Q&A, discover the strategies, challenges, and successes of her venture, don’t miss the video below from her illuminating DTS23 panel discussion with other women in tech leadership. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or an established one, Brailsford’s insights underscore the importance of DE&I in shaping the future of the tech industry. 

DTS: What problem is Code First: Girls solving? 

Anna: Currently, women make up less than 17% of tech industry candidates, and black women make up less than 3% of candidates. With this in mind, Code First Girls’ (CFG) objective is to encourage more women to code and ensure tech companies can access the top female talent they need in order to flourish.

To date, CFG has taught in excess of 150,000 women how to code completely free of charge through its Massive Open Online Courses, Classes or CFGdegrees and +Masters courses. This is five times as many women as the entire UK university undergraduate system has taught to code.

We work closely with more than 130 businesses including Nike, GCHQ, and Goldman Sachs, to get more women into tech roles. Through these partnerships, we are helping women break into the industry by linking amazing talent with businesses globally.

This benefits businesses and the wider economy as diverse teams are proven to perform better (+35%), innovate better (1.7x) and drive diversity of thought, giving companies a competitive advantage and enjoying, on average, 2.3x higher cash flow. 

DTS: Tell us how you first learned about this problem and how you knew Code First: Girls would be able to solve it. 

Anna: When CFG began, it was more of a campaign than a business, with a mission focused on education rather than employment.

By listening to industry and recruitment teams across numerous sectors, we discovered that there was a desperate need for building a pipeline of women in tech roles. We soon realised that the best way to do that was through providing free, virtual and accessible education, helping women fit their studies flexibly around their lives and removing barriers for those in full-time education, work, or with caring responsibilities.

In 2022, CFG raised a £5m from prolific angels and investors, to accelerate our growth and enable us to reach our new target: to provide one million opportunities for women to learn how to code and participate in the tech industry in the five years. The lion’s share of our investment came from female angel investors, including the CEOs of leading companies like Bloom & Wild, Wise and Clearscore. The fact that these major tech leaders are investing in CFG was a big vote of confidence in our model, which they saw as a core solution to the tech gender gap.

DTS: Which kinds of clients do you work with to help them solve this issue? 

Anna: We work closely with more than 130 businesses across a variety of sectors, from fintech and banking to aerospace, cybersecurity and the public sector. Our partners include GCHQ, Credit Suisse, UK Parliament, Nike, BAE Systems, Skyscanner, BT, Aviva, and Barclays. 

Through these partnerships, we are helping women break into the industry by linking amazing talent with businesses globally.

We match candidates throughout the educational process using data and insights to ensure the best fit between employers and our community. We help build regional talent pools, supporting local communities and economies.

Candidates complete a 16-week course, the CFGdegree, which teaches them skills in either data, software, full-stack or product management. Upon successful completion of the course, candidates are either offered positions with their sponsoring companies or are provided advice on how to secure a tech role. 

We also work with more than 90 universities across every region of the UK and Ireland, including Durham University, Bath University, Royal Holloway, Nottingham Trent and the University of Hull – helping students to boost their studies with coding and tech skills.

DTS: What’s one of the “wins” you are most proud to have achieved so far in solving the problem of gender disparity in tech?

Anna: There have been so many wins along the way, but I’m proud to say that we’ve taught more than 150,000 women, from a range of different backgrounds, to code. 

With 80% of our students coming from non-STEM backgrounds, it’s clear that girls are not being encouraged into tech careers and pathways early in their education – but we’re helping to rectify that later on by providing women with the opportunity to boost their university studies or career switch at a later stage – at no cost to them.

DTS: Are there ways companies who’ve never heard of this problem before can get started on solutions for it? 

Anna: The economy benefits greatly from companies diversifying their workplace, especially when it comes to problem-solving and facilitating progress – and the tech industry is no exception. But it isn’t as simple as just hiring diverse employees – companies need to support and encourage those from diverse groups to pursue (and stay in) a career in tech. 

The UK’s tech job market is projected to be worth £30bn by 2025 – six times larger than it is now. That kind of growth brings big opportunities for our economy, but as things stand, there will be 1 qualified woman for every 115 roles by 2025. It’s therefore critical to build and invest in a talent pipeline, rather than relying on an education system which has failed to create a graduate pool that is large or diverse enough to capitalise on this growth. 

Businesses have an opportunity to hire candidates from diverse backgrounds, which not only helps boost diversity of thought within tech teams, but empowers minority groups. In addition, businesses must ensure that they operate an inclusive culture, where women feel confident to apply for roles and share their thoughts, ideas, and talents. By actively enabling and promoting an inclusive culture, companies are supporting the progress of women working in technology by developing an environment in which they can learn and grow – which will ultimately result in more women in leadership roles, to inspire the next generation. 

DTS: What’s your best advice for someone who wants to enter the same professional field as you? 

Anna: Throughout my career, I’ve faced countless challenges but I find the fear of personal and professional failure can often hold people back. It’s taken me some time to accept that you can’t always get it right and you have to get comfortable with failure.

From an entrepreneur’s perspective, the biggest obstacle has been learning to love the word “no” when raising. There are many times when you have to accept that other people just don’t think like you, let alone look or sound like you. You have to acknowledge the odds are stacked against you when you raise as a woman – but you never have to accept the status quo. You just need to take every measured and well-timed opportunity to challenge the status quo.     

Finally, one of the greatest experiences a budding entrepreneur can have is working in a start-up environment. It teaches you about the different layers of a technology business and how start-ups can grow under effective leadership. It’s also important to have a thorough business plan and clear objectives of what you want to achieve!

Watch CEO Anna Brailsford and co-panelists discuss leading the way with DE&I solutions for tech companies.