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Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Anna Brailsford

Anna Brailsford is the CEO of Code First Girls (CFG), a Board Member for the Institute of Coding and an advisor to HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

Before joining CFG, I was the CEO and co-founder of Founders Factory incubated EdTech startup Frisbee. I also co-founded my own EdTech startup and was the Commercial Director of Lynda.com. I oversaw LinkedIn’s acquisition of Lynda.com for $1.5 billion, becoming part of the fourth-largest acquisition in social media history.

I joined CFG in June 2019, and lead the team on its mission to close the gender gap in the tech industry by providing employment through free education globally. We create life-changing economic opportunities for CFG’s community of learners, using data to match candidates and employers to ensure both parties benefit from CFG’s courses.

My passion for this mission has brought some of the world’s biggest brands on side – including Nike, Rolls-Royce, Goldman Sachs and BAE Systems. This, married with our work to tackle a major skills gap and recruitment shortage in tech, is helping turn the industry’s recruitment on its head.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

As in any industry, a lack of diversity amongst employees causes a one-minded way of thinking, resulting in decreased productivity and a lack of creative and innovative solutions when it comes to problem-solving.  

The current gender gap in the tech industry is stark. If current trends continue, it will take another 283 years for the percentage of women working in the UK’s tech sector to match the 48% of women there are in the wider workforce.

This is why Code First Girls was founded. We’re on a mission to close this gender gap that will not only benefit  industry but also women too, given tech jobs offer higher salaries than many other industries. 

How did you achieve awareness?

We’ve achieved awareness for CFG predominantly through our partnerships with over 130 global businesses, 100 universities, as well as government and political institutions including GCHQ, UK Parliament, and the Cabinet Office.

Through these partnerships, we build regional talent pools, helping to build local communities and economies. Our partners and community benefit from our work, so are passionate about spreading the word to help others on their tech journey. The community of women who have benefited from CFG’s free education and employment opportunities are also the best ambassadors we could have.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

In 2022, we raised £4.5m from prolific angel investors and the investment company Active Partners, to accelerate our growth. The lion’s share of our investment comes from female angel investors and male allies who are passionate about improving gender diversity in tech.

Our investors recognise that supporting diversity in the tech industry is the right thing to do and that CFG has found the right way to do it. The fact that these major tech leaders are investing in CFG is a big vote of confidence in our model, which they see as a core solution to the tech gender gap.

What are the key successes?

I’ve had many achievements that I’ve been proud of during my career – I mentioned the acquisition of Lynda – but I’m now proudest of my work at Code First Girls. Since joining, it’s been amazing to achieve not only incredible business growth, but to make real, tangible social change. 

I’m proud of both our social and commercial impact, as well as the vote of confidence from major figures in the tech industry, who see our pioneering model as a solution to the tech gender gap.

Having built a unique and committed community of women coders, we are fast becoming one of the world’s richest sources of data for women tech talent – and that is an incredible achievement. 

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

From an organisational perspective it’s hard to ignore the glass ceiling in action. It’s the most difficult thing for ambitious and intelligent women who want to succeed. The quicker you identify the glass ceiling, the quicker you can move on to things that are bigger and better. 

Which could explain why I decided to be an entrepreneur. 

From an entrepreneur’s perspective, the biggest obstacle has been learning to love the word “no” when fundraising. 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. 

What are your plans now/for the future?

We’ve already helped more than 150,000 women learn to code, but we want to go further. Our aim is to provide one million opportunities for women to learn to code and participate in the industry in the next five years, becoming the world’s first EdTech unicorn dedicated to women.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

Life is all about facing new challenges. If you’re not taking on any new challenges – there’s no space to grow. Starting your own entrepreneurship journey is, in my opinion, the best way to grow.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

Being resilient against failure. I’ve heard the word ‘no’ a hundred times in my life – but I haven’t let it stop me. 

You must embrace it, learn to love it and learn from it. By embracing the nos and the failures, I’ve been able to push myself beyond my comfort zone and take risks I might not have before. 

The key to my success simply lies in my past failures.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

  • My mum – she was an entrepreneur and taught me that resilience and hard work pays off.
  • Ada Lovelace – widely considered to be the first female computer programmer.
  • Annie Easley – hired  as a “human computer” at NASA in 1955 and became an advocate for females and minorities to pursue careers in STEM.
  • Grace Hopper – mathematician responsible for programming the Mark 1 computer, the first large-scale automatic calculator,
  • Mary Earps – England Goalkeeper and Winner of Sports Personality of the Year. 

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

  • “We must not allow other people’s perceptions to define us” – Virginia Satir
  • “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time” – Thomas Edison

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?  

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/codefirstgirls/?locale=en_GB