This Sunday 8 March, it’s Women’s Day. Throughout the whole of this week we will be spotlighting the stories of inspirational female founders and investors, to both open up a space to discuss shared challenges and possible shared solutions, as well as give more visibility to female startup players to smash the “you can’t be what you can’t see” hypothesis.
Cypher Coders, founded in 2016, teaches children aged 5-12+ years old through hands-on creative camps and courses. Founder and CEO Elizabeth Tweedale started Cypher with a mission to inspire children to learn this language of the future, with enthusiastic and trained teachers, in a way that gives both girls and boys a way to be creative and learn together.
We took the chance to ask Elizabeth about her predictions for how future generations will manage the balance between tech and ‘real life’, her thoughts on how today’s adults can implement coding in their jobs, learnings from her own entrepreneurial journey, and tips for budding entrepreneurs.
What were you doing before Cypher? Have you always wanted to start your own venture?
I would best describe myself as a serial entrepreneur. I’ve been interested in business since I was very young. When I was in year three of school, I started my own company selling friendship bracelets. I would bring string to school and teach my friends how to make their own bracelets. Then, they would make their own and sell them.
As I got older, my passion for entrepreneurship progressed. Prior to launching Cypher in 2016, I exited another business teaching kids how to code and co-founded an artificial intelligence company for the spatial adjacencies of people in the workplace (GoSpace).
As an edtech startup, Cypher focuses on teaching kids to code. But it’s also pushing forward the ‘women in tech’ agenda. Can you talk to us about the inspiration for this idea?
Having worked in the technology industry for a number of years, I’ve learnt first-hand that there is a major issue around diversity. I founded Cypher from the desire to encourage girls to develop technological skills and eventually pursue careers in this exciting industry.
But at the same time, I wanted to create something that was inclusive of both boys and girls as opposed to being exclusive to girls. I strongly believe that getting boys and girls to work together with tech creates a better outcome for both genders.
To get both genders interested in technology and developing coding skills, we base our entire curriculum off creative themes that appeal to both. When teaching code, we cover areas such as fashion, music, architecture, conservation and sustainability. We want to show that technology covers a variety of areas and make the experience as immersive and fun as possible.
What do you think we are missing out on by only marketing coding classes, schools and academies to boys?
The common perception of coding and technology as a career is that it’s very male dominated and not suited to girls and women. Unless we focus strongly on promoting the idea that technology impacts a plethora of areas and that there’s a unique opportunity for everyone, we won’t be able to improve gender diversity.
Initiatives like Cypher will help, but what do you think can be done to make tech something women do? And who should do it?
Understanding that technology is vital in all parts of a business is the first step in encouraging women to become more involved in coding and technology. In areas such as marketing, human resources and communications, there’s typically a higher proportion of female employees compared to STEM professions. However, technology is increasingly playing an important role in these fields.
As we enter the connected era, everyone will need to understand how to utilise digital solutions in their roles. As a society, we need to make it clear to women that technology is fundamental and that it’s not just relevant for men. Then more females will be involved in learning how to code or how technology works in association with what they are currently doing.
When hiring, do you have any measures in place to encourage female applicants? How do you manage positive discrimination?
As a business, diversity of all forms is important to Cypher, and we’re certainly proud that
90% of our core team is female. However, when hiring, we don’t really look at whether someone is male or female. We look at a person’s experience, talents and motivations, and whether they’d be suited to the role.
We do everything possible to support and accommodate their needs. Whether someone has a child or has a disability, we take all necessary steps to ensure they have the resources to do their jobs to the best of their ability and reach their true potential. For example, we offer flexible working.
Edtech is reaching children at younger and younger ages. How do you think tomorrow’s generations can balance tech with ‘real life’?
We believe that the next generation is going to have a much healthier balance of screen time. Nowadays, when children grow up, technology is so ingrained in everything they do – from the classroom to the home. Children today are very attuned to what’s happening behind the screen, understand the different types of screen time and that the interactions with the screen can change.
Also, because children are seeing adults interact with screen time, they’re starting to generate their own perceptions of what’s healthy and balanced. For example, they know not to use their iPhones at the dinner table. I believe that this way of thinking among children will continue to manifest in the years to come.
Everyone has their own examples of discrimination, but what has been your biggest challenge up until now as a female founder?
I think that there are so many challenges for female entrepreneurs, from raising investment to a lack of diversity on boards. I think that these issues will only continue to get better as we continue to talk about the problems we’re collectively facing. Celebrations like IWD are brilliant to shine a light on the incredible work done by women everywhere, but let’s not make it tokenism. There should be the opportunity to highlight all the great things happening every day, regardless of one’s gender.
What is your main motivation for when the going gets tough?
As a mother of three, my main motivation is setting a good example for my children. When I encounter challenges or obstacles in business or daily life, I want my children to be inspired by how I react to and deal with them. I want them to understand that you can achieve great things by persevering. My children get me through everything.
What would you say to a fellow tech entrepreneur who is thinking of launching their own venture? Any wise words to impart?
There are no rule books. So just go for it and do the things your gut is telling you. Even if people say you need to run a business in a certain way or hire this type of person, go with what feels right.
When you launch a business, it’s also important to embrace the journey and learn as you go along. As an entrepreneur, no two days are the same. So don’t be afraid to try new things and learn from them.