Work Hard

Are you a woman working in tech? Discover this networking community…

Women in Tech North East are removing the ‘intimidation factor’ of networking to provide a supportive space for women and non-binary people to develop their careers in the tech industry.

Written by High Life North
Published 20.05.2023

By Dawn McGuigan

Business networking had a very standard formula for a very long time: beige buffets, strong coffees, rooms filled with suited and booted executives looking for their next client.

Then, a few years ago, the ever-innovative tech industry wilfully disrupted the old guard by introducing meet ups where business could be done over pizza and beers. Much less formal, much cooler.

However, despite its modern approach, tech networking remains pretty old fashioned in that it’s still dominated by men.

Women occupy just 21% of digital jobs in the North East and only 4% of UK tech startup founders are female. Research from CodinGame found distinct barriers to accessing the industry, with two-thirds of tech companies admitting bias (unconscious or deliberate) when it comes to hiring women.

For women and non-binary people who have carved out careers in tech, or for those who want to, there’s a distinct lack of representation and role models.


In spring 2022, a new networking community was set up to tackle this.

Founded by Dr Elena Gorman, Professor Sue Black, Rachel Pattison and Kathryn Wharton, Women in Tech North East provides digital and physical spaces for women and non-binary people to meet, make connections, build relationships and be inspired by one another.

“I have often been the only woman in the room,” said founder, Kathryn Wharton. “Like many other industries, you can be surrounded by the ‘male, pale and stale’ types in tech, so it does take a certain amount of resilience to persevere in the industry.

“When I moved from the cultural sector into tech in 2020, there wasn’t a network like this to help me with the transition, or many visible role models to inspire my career choices.

“Women in Tech North East provides that platform to champion women and non-binary people in the tech sector and encourage more individuals to join us.”

Image credits: Flamingo Heights


The group’s networking events are deliberately more considered and collaborative.

Focused on banishing the intimidation of traditional networking, Women in Tech North East’s speakers are from its own community to platform unheard voices and diverse experiences. They banned the booze and the bloat, too, with a lighter food menu and non-alcoholic drinks (that include mocktails and nosecco).

Rotating event times also give those with childcare, caring responsibilities and school drop-offs to juggle the chance to attend.

The first event sold out and tickets for the second event were snapped up in just three days. There’s certainly an appetite for this style of networking.

Jeni Smith, networking strategist and founder of Durham-based NetKno, spoke at the first Women in Tech North East event and believes the group’s approach will help delegates to make more authentic connections in their network.

“Networking events can be intimidating, especially for minority groups, so creating accessible environments with a focus on support rather than selling proves hugely successful,” she told us.

“Research has shown that one of the most valuable assets networking provides is the access to knowledge. Women in Tech North East are creating safe spaces for delegates to share their experiences, forge meaningful relationships, and tap into the vast network of knowledge the region has to offer.”

Founder Dr Elena Gorman, meanwhile, believes the group’s appeal lies in its connectivity.

“We’re all about connections and relationships,” she says. “Our focus is on getting people from all walks of life together and building connections in a friendly, supportive and non-threatening environment.”

Image credit: The Bigger Picture


Women in Tech North East’s LinkedIn group now has almost 900 members and there are more in-person events being planned for 2023. Jen Wood, Ramla Lipstein and Loujane Alasi have also joined the volunteers on the organising committee to support the growth of the network.

And Kathryn believes the group’s mission is vital as the North East tech sector continues to expand.

“The region is punching above its weight by attracting some global tech firms that have active equality, diversity and inclusion agendas,” she explains.

“Our community can take advantage of those opportunities, and we’ll be here to lift up other women and non-binary people and cheerlead for them.”

Image credit: The Bigger Picture

To connect with the Women in Tech North East community and book your place at their next event, follow the group on Instagram

Other stories by High Life North

Durham best university in the North, according to The Times’ new guide

High Life North

Designer Jo Aynsley on the inspiration behind new Northumberland hotel, The Tempus

High Life North

Charlotte Fisher chats performing, law and Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr

High Life North

How the childcare crisis is costing North East mums their careers

High Life North

The most expensive food from around the world

High Life North

We meet the journalist forced into asylum for speaking out against female genital mutilation

High Life North