Jem Henderson, entrepreneur engagement manager for TechNation in Yorkshire, says she is going to be “banging the drum” for working class voices in tech at an event during Leeds Digital Festival.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ms Henderson said: “We’re building technologies and we’re building platforms but currently they are mostly being built by white middle class men.
“The problem is that they’re only really solving problems for white middle class men.
“If we ask somebody from a background, where they have experienced poverty, they’re going to be facing problems that people in the Valley and San Francisco couldn’t possibly even comprehend.”
The entrepreneur engagement manager has herself run technology-related businesses ranging from a co-working space to copy- writing.
At the age of 16, Ms Henderson was made homeless. She spent time living in a homeless hostel and had to beg on the streets in order to buy food.
“It was pretty difficult because I didn’t have any money to eat,” Ms Henderson said.
Technology can be a force for good, the now 33-year-old says, but because of a lack of diversity, not every strata of society is benefitting.
“There are going to be problems out there, which technology can fix, but because currently only a thin sliver of society is building these technologies, we’re not going to be solving all the problems that we could be,” Ms Henderson said.
The issue isn’t just confined to the development of apps, she says, but also applied to hardware.
“Everything from electrical doorbells through to your smart boilers,” Ms Henderson said, “they’re just toys for rich people.”
Technology could be used to help protect vulnerable elderly people, the entrepreneur engagement manager added. “We should be creating and using technology for all strata of society,” Ms Henderson said. Her comments reflect those of Stuart Clarke, co-founder and director of Leeds Digital Festival, who said the tech sector needed to do more to break down class barriers.
“As a sector we need to be reaching out to those areas that don’t have the advantages of others,” he said.
The industry needs to show young people from disadvantaged areas role models, who have come from similar backgrounds to them, Mr Clarke added.
Ms Henderson believes a more diverse range of investors is also key to improving diversity.
She added that the reason she felt there was lack of working people in the tech sector is down to a lack of time.
Ms Henderson said: “It’s about that space in your head. If you’re constantly worrying about where the next meal is coming from or if your children have got into the school that’s going to set them for life, then when are you going to find time to think creatively about what it could be like.”
The Leeds Digital Festival is back for a fourth year, and runs until May 3. Ms Henderson will be speaking at the Women in Leeds Digital event at this year’s festival.
The event will run from 9am to 5pm at Leeds University’s new Nexus building on May 2.
Mr Clarke added: “It’s a great way for people to come along, learn, be inspired and collaborate with their peers.”