In 2018 Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates (TLA) and Global Tech Advocates (GTA), won the Male Agent of Change Award at the 2018 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards.
Everywoman introduced the Male Agent of Change award in 2017 to shine a light on some of the men who are trying to help to shift the dial in the sector.
While some wonder if there should be a place for men in an event dedicated to showcasing women in the technology industry, Shaw points out that having men present and participating in these situation acts to educate others about what they can do to help make a change.
“Men are part of the problem and therefore must be part of the solution. Getting more women into the tech sector and guaranteeing that we take on the structural barriers that have restricted opportunity requires engagement at all levels,” he says.
“Part of the problem is education, if we are not assessing and redefining today’s current practices then we cannot address the roots of the problem – men must play an active role here and promoting some of the male role models who are doing this well, I think is a good thing.”
It’s not revelation that in order to increase the amount of diversity in the technology industry those who are in decision making positions in firms have to be on board with the process, and a majority of these in the sector will be men.
As the founder of TLA and GTA Shaw himself has played a huge part in pushing for diversity in the space – TLA has created the Diversity in Tech: a manifesto for London which aims to act as a “call to action” for the public and private sectors to do more to tackle the lack of diversity in the tech industry, bringing together insight from experts on the topic of diversity and inclusion in tech.
Working groups such as TLA women in Tech, led by regular on Computer Weekly’s list of the most influential women in UK tech, Sarah Luxford, also play an active role in presenting solutions to tech’s diversity problems.
Shaw urges others in the industry to be “part of the collective efforts” that are in place to support and advance women in the industry, as well as to provide mentorship to women on an individual basis.
“There are great initiatives out there that invite men to take part and act as excellent resources for educating men on how we bring more women into the tech sector,” he explains.
“I think it’s also key to recognise the importance of helping women on an individual to individual basis – be there to listen, provide support, share perspective – these are all important things that men can do on both an individual and collective basis.”
Mentors and role models can play a key role in encouraging people to pursue particular careers or roles.
Many young women have also claimed they wish they had more encouragement from role models in the industry – a lack of visible and accessible role models means young women don’t consider careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) as if they don’t see anyone like them, they don’t think it’s something they can do.
The same may be said about men in the industry – if they don’t see other men doing their part to promote diversity they won’t see the need to do so.
The Women in IT label can sometimes put men off of attending events or getting involved with initiatives, but Shaw says education surrounding the issues the industry is facing can change this.
He says: “It is vital that these initiatives are targeted at men and that we make sure that the rallying messages are making their way into the areas most dominated by males. Again, this is about education and action. We need to change attitudes but equally make sure that workplace practices are amended to create inclusive environments that allow women to prosper across the tech sector.”
Despite the effort that many are putting into trying to increase the amount of diversity in the technology industry, progress is slow.
Shaw says: “For too long the tech sector has suffered from an unacceptable lack of gender diversity – it isn’t good enough and now is the time for change.”
The 2019 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards will be announced at a special event in London on 6 March next year.
In this guest post Byron Calmonson, director of the resourcing hub, claims the only way to ensure diversity and inclusion in an organisation is to set measurable targets.
Are you getting fed up with the constant talk about diversity and inclusion..? So am I.
Because simply talking about diversity doesn’t mean that anything is actually going to change.
In the resourcing hub’s WITsend blog in November 2017 I wrote about how most companies now have a diversity and inclusion policy, but that there usually is little substance behind it. REAL diversity and inclusion require REAL change and commitment, which in turn require clearly defined and measurable targets.
If your organisation is serious about recruiting a diverse workforce and ensuring that your employees all get equal opportunities to grow and progress, you should set measurable targets and continuously monitor them.
In order to improve diversity within their organisations, business leaders need to first and foremost fully understand what diversity and inclusion actually mean. A significant shift in awareness, attitudes and behaviours is required.
Organisations must also possess the strategic focus, resources and tools to map out:
- Where they are now
- Where they want to be
- What the timescales are
- What changes are required
- How to overcome any hurdles
- Who is accountable
- How success will be measured
An inclusive government
The UK Civil Service is a very interesting case in point. As part of the Civil Service Workforce Plan, the government set themselves the ambitious target to become the nation’s most inclusive employer by 2020.
In order to drive the Workforce Plan forward, the government has created a diversity and inclusion working group. I am thrilled to be a member of this committee and regularly meet with senior government leaders to consult on, in particular, disability inclusion.
The Civil Service has already introduced several brilliant initiatives such as development programmes for employees from underrepresented groups and ‘name and school blind’ recruitment processes. Furthermore, all Permanent Secretaries are tasked with improving diversity and directly accountable to the Head of the Civil Service. There is also a partnership with the private sector and CIPD, the professional body for HR, to define the goals and action plans.
Will the Civil Service meet their target by 2020? Perhaps not, but by then they will be on their journey travelling in the right direction and have every reason to be proud.
Smart Recruitment for diversity
In our business we have trademarked SRaaS (Smart Recruitment as a Service) where we encourage hiring managers to think much wider about talent and resourcing to help attract a high-quality diverse candidate pool. We want clients to move their businesses away from static recruitment processes that exclude a significant proportion of the candidate market to flexible, inclusive solutions.
Effective target setting and continuous evaluation are a key part of this. We work with clients to bespoke and agree specific diversity metrics and key performance indicators for each new job role and recruitment campaign. For example, organisations could aim for 50% women at board level within 5 years or increasing the number of graduates from ethnic minorities by a minimum of 25% during a 2-year period. Some positions offer us more opportunity to be truly inclusive than the ‘harder to fill’ specialist roles, but we will always look to present a range of candidates that offer the client talent from a diverse candidate pool.
Utilising our database and tools we produce regular, tailored reports for the customer providing key metrics and updates on the recruitment services being carried out. Reporting content is determined by the customer’s key diversity performance indicators and targets. We also identify and monitor any challenges or issues.
In summary, I firmly believe that leaders in the public as well as private sectors who invest in targeted, measurable inclusion and build diverse, multi-skilled teams empowered to think differently will reap the rewards. Organisations with a diverse workforce are simply smarter, more innovative and achieve better financial outcomes.
Anyone who plays a part in promoting diversity in the technology industry will have heard of unconscious bias training, and earlier this year I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to take part in the unconscious bias training that CA Technologies has provided to all of its 2,000 employees in Europe, regardless of whether or not they are hiring managers.
The point of unconscious bias training is to make people aware of their biases and ways that they can overcome them.
In relation to increasing the amount of diversity in the technology industry, by making people aware of their biases, they will be able to address them during the hiring process, recognising when they may be choosing one candidate over another for psychological reasons and hopefully consider other people for the role.
Knowing your biases, though sometimes uncomfortable, helps you to tackle them.
CA’s training began by talking through how people’s brains work – inherently humans are wired to keep themselves safe, and as such they make millions of unconscious choices a day, some of which encourage a human’s fight or flight response.
Depending on our upbringing, social stereotypes and a number of other factors, our brains may be wired to be wary of certain people, usually in such a way that we are more prone to trust and accept people who look and act like us.
By becoming aware of these biases, we can change the way we assess people.
Part of CA’s unconscious bias training involved looking at pictures of real adverts that have been released to the public in the past that could be considered to be biased in one way or another.
One of the adverts, from Belgian company Re-born to be Alive, was for organ donation featuring a woman in her underwear and the caption: “Becoming a donor is probably your only chance to get inside her.”
This wouldn’t fly in the UK (I hope) and I can say it certainly made me feel uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as some of the comments my friends made afterwards when I told them about it.
They gave the justification that this kind of thing was “probably funny” in Belgium, and that women would probably also laugh at it.
Regardless of whether or not women would find this funny in its intended region, sexism didn’t need to be used in a campaign promoting organ donation.
And for those who are thinking you “can’t say anything these days” or that it’s “political correctness gone mad” I’d like to remind you that marketing is not the same as having a group discussion or going to see a comedian – and neither is making hiring decisions or conducting appropriate behaviour in the workplace.
Some of the women in my group stated that these adverts would not have gone public if there had been at least one woman involved in the decision making process.
Some men disagreed.
And of course there were comments from the men in the group and some male friends afterwards that adverts such as the Diet Coke advert are also sexist.
I agree that these adverts are just as inappropriate, but pointing out (the significantly fewer) wrongdoings in the opposite direction does not solve the issue.
If anything it highlights the importance of equality – no one should have to endure these generalisations.
Of the adverts we saw that opened my eyes the most about bias was for a rail company offering family tickets.
The advert featured a gay couple with a child, all looking very happy. This could be seen as an attempt to promote diversity, saying families are not always the traditional “nuclear” family involving a straight couple, usually with two kids (one girl and one boy) – and many in my group pointed this out.
But looking at the image I had never considered before that the “acceptable” representation of the LGBTQ+ community is white gay men in a committed relationship who have adopted a child who looks just like them.
Unfortunately it seems that unconscious bias training does not have to be given in every firm, and there is, as far as I’m aware, no standard for delivering it either.
I think going forward if we’re to see any change, unconscious bias training is something we should all have to go through to make sure we are aware of the inner workings of our brains and be better equipped to tackle the disparity this causes.
Not only was it an eye opening experience for me in that I learnt more about myself, but I also learnt, through discussions surrounding my opinion on the training, about the attitude others have towards equality, in the technology industry and worldwide – and it wasn’t a pretty picture.
In this contributed blog post Leon Brown, owner of Nextpoint, talks about the role exclusion pays in the technology industry’s diversity gap.
Attracting and retaining skills required to develop and operate technology is a concern for all major companies. Research highlighted by Computer Weekly suggests that the UK is expected to have 800,000 unfilled IT jobs by 2020 – a figure not helped by the rapidly impending Brexit. Organisations who sell to global audiences may find themselves disadvantaged due to skills shortages, increasing salary expectations and being forced to hire applicants who are not ideal.
Through strategic planning, the industry can avoid this scenario while simultaneously addressing the moral issue of inequality through social mobility. Unlike the issue of diversity, where the technology sector must compete with other industries to attract the attention of people who already have many options, there is an opportunity for our sector to gain a monopoly over a segment of society that has as much potential, but has been neglected by both politics and industries alike.
We have the vacancies, the innovations and the earning potential to create rewarding careers – we just need to make them more accessible to people willing to earn their position. It is this last point that our industry systematically fails people from disadvantaged backgrounds at every point from access to technology and learning resources, to education delivery and the obsession with identity politics. Our industry prioritises its efforts to create a level playing field through programmes, funds and incentives to help people break the glass ceiling, while forgetting the people who are sinking in the quicksand. We allow this to happen because the unintentional exclusion of these people from our industry has meant that we don’t have any insight to understand the barriers that restrict their entrance.
Most of us take for granted the support provided by our parents, family and friends from childhood to adulthood. The comfort of being fed without financial worries meant we were able to commit our full attention and ability at school. In many cases, extra curricular activities encouraged and paid for by our parents led to our current success. In other cases it was the inspiration of a role model, advice or an introduction to an employer that led to a job offer that kickstarted our career. Although we’ve worked hard to get to where we are, our success is a product of the people who were positive influences in our path to adulthood.
The path to adulthood is a very different experience for people from disadvantaged circumstances. Financial issues are often the main culprit limiting a person’s potential, further impacted by negative social influences. It’s not uncommon for schools to provide children under these circumstances with the only reliable meal source. Hunger becomes a distraction to learning – leading these children to fall behind in their education. Parents affected by inequality often lack awareness and funds to hire tuition intervention that other parents would take advantage of, creating a situation where their children are left to accept low expectations and unresolved education issues.
Other factors relating to finances include basics we take for granted such as having a home internet connection and not needing to worry about electricity. Where funds are limited, people are faced with the option of topping up the electricity meter, having gas for heating or purchasing food. Even where there is internet access, this becomes irrelevant when there is no electricity. Without access to a working computer and online learning resources, potential to learn skills such as programming is stunted by their inherited financial circumstances. Like hunger, learning in the cold is also a distraction – meaning all options lead to limited learning outcomes.
Social connections also create a barrier to prevent these people from entering the industry. Often without parents, friends or family already in a career, they have no access to the informal careers advice, support and introductions we took for granted from our parents. Despite schools being legally obliged to provide careers advice, this is often second rate and inaccurate – especially for fast changing industries like technology.
The university route is often touted by schools and careers advisors as the only/best way into technology careers, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. People from these circumstances have different requirements to succeed than the average person unaffected by financial and social inequality. Often with issues unaddressed from earlier in their education, along with no support from family and financial pressures to support their parents, these people are at best set up to achieve less than their class peers and are more likely to drop out or perform badly in their degree.
We view it as their personal failure when they don’t get the top exam grades; we tell them they were too lazy and that they should have no problem in achieving the same results as other capable people. We ignore the impact of being poor and its distractions from being able to fully master the skills we want them to have. We won’t hire them if they only received a 2:2 degree or less because we view them as less capable than the average person with a good degree – a 2:1 or above. We look at them as a statistic, comparing them on paper to people who have been provided with advantages at every step in their education – up to and including the job application.
In reality, the people who graduate under these circumstances are often the people we need in our industry. They have the resilience to persevere through adversity and defy expectations. These are people who have learnt how to tackle problems without needing supervision – because that’s the only way to survive inequality when parents and the authorities are unable to help. They don’t need you to micromanage their time to be effective; they will be proactive in delivering results because they recognise the value your employment represents as a route out of their circumstances. These are the minority who developed the ability to escape the quicksand – and have the potential to shatter the glass ceiling if given the opportunity. The question is, are we as an industry willing to give them a fair chance to show their potential?
By no means should we set quotas for businesses to hire people who face inequality. Ultimately, it’s only good for business when we are able to hire the best people for the job – a fair system offers no sympathy at the point of recruitment. So the question becomes about how we can create paths for people to become suitable for the jobs that need to be filled? Our industry needs to actively develop and promote programmes that invite people with ambition who can persevere to become the best – regardless of their background.
How are we able to create a level playing field where everyone has an equal opportunity to become the best candidate for our jobs? How do we avoid overlooking the best candidates through misleading statistics and their exclusion from support programmes? Should we recognise the contribution to inequality created by our obsession with diversity? These are the hard questions the industry needs to ask so that our businesses can benefit from a greater pool of talent without concern for political entitlement.
Our sector and society will only truly benefit from diverse talent when there are equal opportunities for everyone to become the best candidate, regardless of class, background, gender or race. Until then, we will suffer the high costs and missed opportunities associated with our focus on creating the illusion of fairness through equal representation and its politics.
Everywoman is giving people an extra two weeks to put women forward to be considered for the 2019 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards.
Now in its ninth year, 2019’s awards focus on the theme ‘achieve, elevate, inspire’ with the aim of showcasing both men and women in the technology industry who have worked towards increasing the amount of diversity in the sector.
In partnership with the Tech She Can Charter, the awards programme aims to create visible and accessible role models to try and encourage more women from across the pipeline to consider a career in tech.
Maxine Benson, co-founder of everywoman, said: “We are not only championing these women, but also the men going above and beyond to support them. The ever-evolving skills of “Rising Stars” and “Ones to Watch” make a valuable contribution to the growth of the tech industry, which is why this programme focuses so heavily on celebrating their talent and encouraging the pursuit of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.”
The 2019 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards categories are:
- One to Watch Award, sponsored by Computacenter, for a young woman between the ages of 11 and 16 who is encouraging others to study Stem
- Apprentice for a young woman taking part in an apprenticeship who is excelling in her early career
- Rising Star Award, sponsored by T-Systems, for a woman under the age of 26 who is excelling in her career
- Digital Star Award, sponsored by CGI, for a woman who is excelling in a digital role
- Software Engineer Award, sponsored by RBS, for a woman who is making advances in the field of software engineering
- Academic Award, sponsored by Lloyds Banking, for a woman in academia who is making a significant contribution to Stem
- Team Leader Award, sponsored by American Express, for a woman with a team of up to 100 employees how has made a significant different in her organisation
- Start-up Founder Award, for a female founder of a startup business
- Entrepreneur Award, for a female entrepreneur whose achievements will inspire entrepreneurship in others
- Innovator Award, for a woman who is using technology in a creative way
- Leader Award, sponsored by BP, for a women who is in a senior technology role in charge of more than 100 employees
- International Inspiration Award, for a man or woman outside of the UK who encouraging advancements in Stem
- Male Agent of Change Award, sponsored by VMWare, for a man who is encouraging equality in the technology sector
Nominations close on October 15, and the winners of the 2019 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards will be announced at the London Hilton on Park Lane, on 6 March 2019.
This year’s Computer Weekly diversity in technology event focused on the importance of inclusivity in attracting and retaining diverse talent. Inclusivity can mean many things to many people, and creating an environment that makes everyone feel welcome can be easier said than done.
But why is inclusivity such an important topic in relation to attracting and retaining diverse talent in the technology industry?
It has already been proven that diverse teams are more innovative, but part of the point of introducing diversity into an organisation is to reap the benefit of different mindsets, coming up with ideas a team of the same type of people wouldn’t have thought of and ultimately better reflecting the diverse customer base the technology industry has.
Without inclusivity, however, it can be difficult to retain people when they don’t feel like they can be themselves in the workplace, and if people have to put on a persona at work it defeats the point of having a diverse workforce.
For people who fit the stereotypical “IT guy” mould, inclusivity is already built in – they have been the only people in the industry up until this point who needed to be catered to.
This is obviously a massive generalisation, but workplace culture in the technology industry is weighted towards a particular group of people.
That’s why I wanted to tackle the importance of inclusion in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce as part of Computer Weekly’s annual diversity in technology event, in partnership with Mortimer Spinks.
To make it easier for organisations and individuals to understand how they can contribute to an inclusive environment, a number of industry experts and noteworthy women in IT gathered to talk about what inclusion means to them.
Creating a network of likeminded people, making sure people feel comfortable discussing inclusion topics and shutting down any negative-self-talk were all suggestions given to make the technology industry a better place to work for people who don’t match the usual IT stereotype.
But of all the topics covered throughout the day, acting as a role model and seeking out roles models was by far the most popular suggestion.
Joshy Uwadiae, who appeared on one of the day’s panels, has spoken to Computer Weekly before about how positive role models helped to encourage him into his career in IT, and this year’s Most Influential Woman in UK technology Amali de Alwis emphasised that everyone should feel they are a role model – there will always be someone who can benefit from your experience.
Computer Weekly’s annual list of the 50 Most Influential Women in UK technology aims to make industry role models more visible and accessible for those who feel they are standing outside of the industry looking in.
In 2018 the longlist reached more than 200, and several of the women who made it through to the next round of judging were new to the shortlist.
Represented among the top 50 were more small businesses and social enterprises than ever before, pushing aside some of the larger corporates and highlighting the number of entrepreneurial women who are contributing a large amount of time and effort to making the industry more diverse.
Alongside the top 50 are Hall of Famers and Rising Stars, representing the two ends of the role model spectrum, and all are important in ensuring more people from outside of the techie stereotype consider a career in technology.
So what does inclusion mean to me? It means feeling comfortable enough to be myself in the workplace and giving the company the benefit of me as an individual. It seems to be working so far…
In this guest post Anna Faelten, associate partner at EY, talks about the difference in investment between male and female run startups, and how we can start to close this gap.
According to data published by The Entrepreneurs Network, just 8.5% of funding for UK start-ups went to businesses led by women in 2017, with the figure falling to only 2% in the US. For those who do receive funding, women, on average receive significantly less capital, a disparity of more than $1 million, equating to over half of what male entrepreneurs receive, claim BCG.
There are a number of theories surrounding this gender disparity in funding, including that female entrepreneurs are often less ‘salesy’ and bold, taking a more risk-averse approach to their business, which can be misconceived as lacking ambition, knowledge and technical expertise. Additionally, male investors may unconsciously resonate with male entrepreneurs, consequently favouring them. Whilst female entrepreneurs may struggle to relate with a non-diverse group of investors sat on the other side of the table.
Investors and the entrepreneurial community have realised something has to be done, with 200 British business leaders signing an open letter insisting on better access to funding for female founders in the UK earlier this year.
One of the ways we are seeing targeted action in practice is in the form of female funds being set up. These follow the same investment criteria as every other fund, but focus solely on female entrepreneurs. Similarly, accountability must be placed on larger firms and government to lead the way, for example the UK Government recently pledged £400,000 mentoring and business support for eight female entrepreneurs as part of the Women in Innovation awards. The hope is that there will be a network effect, spurring the availability of more funds for more female entrepreneurs.
What can we do?
It is clear that we are moving in the right direction, but there are still actions we can all take to help level the playing field.
- Be a role model
Both male and female entrepreneurs and business leaders have a responsibility to act as advocates for diversity. According to EY’s Fast Growth Tracker, which interviews the entrepreneurial community every year, respondents believed that a lack of role models contributed to the slower growth of female-led businesses. As a mentor you have a role to provide challenges, guidance and insights from your own experiences, as well as acting as a channel for those whose voice may not be so easily heard.
- Get a different perspective
Partnering up with someone who is different to you, for example by background, gender, skill-set, or culture, can help foster greater inclusion in the workplace and harness innovation and new ways of thinking. Results show that diversity in leadership also has a positive impact on capital efficiency. According to the Female Founders Forum, private tech companies with at least one female founder achieved 35% higher ROI and when venture-backed, brought in 12% higher revenue than exclusively male-owned tech companies.
- It is time to call it out
Rather than remaining passive to the issue, challenge the opinions, behaviours or practices that are not supportive of diversity or gender parity. Challenge non-diverse teams, bad behaviour, or non-inclusive environments.
The economic value to the UK of closing the gender investment gap and supporting female entrepreneurs should not be underestimated either. The same research from BCG found that female-led or co-led businesses perform better, generating 10% more in cumulative revenue over five years.
GUEST BLOG: In this guest post Mark McBride-Wright, founder of EqualEngineers, talks about how the #MeToo campaign has impacted the technology industry
The #MeToo campaign has become one of the largest movements for female equality in recent times. It has challenged the patriarchal-systems of industries which have been led by men for years, and has denoted a tipping-point where people will no longer suffer in silence.
The movement is not restricted to issues faced by women. We have seen high-profile cases where men have also been affected, whether this be in entertainment, football or the church. The campaign represents a movement whereby the voice of one-person can lead to a fundamental shift in shaking up the power structures which exist.
Bullying and harassment have no place in any workplace, or indeed anywhere in society. It is the role of an organisation to protect employee’s health, safety and wellbeing; with a duty of care to ensure employees return home safe at night. It’s easier (relatively) for a company to focus on interventions which ensure the physical safety of individuals is protected, risks from hazards associated with the workplace. But what happens when the hazard is another person, or group of people?
Grievance and dismissal processes play a role in exiting those not up to scratch in the performance management process. Can these processes be manipulated when there is a lack of diversity in an organisation? Do they disproportionately affect people from minority groups? And how often is a pay-out settlement used in constructive dismissal disputes to keep people quiet for voicing their real experiences? Is there confidence in whistleblowing arrangements?
Where do we push for real progress rather than superficial? Men often feel disengaged from the focus on diversity and inclusion, which typically focuses on underrepresented groups in engineering (women; black & minority ethnic, lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender; disabled candidates). A vacuum is often created between the feeling of walking on egg shells for fear of offending, and political correctness. At the heart of it, it is a case of creating a culture where fairness, inclusion and respect is built into the core of the organisation.
Executive leaders and managers set the tone from the top, and outline what expectations are. This is the first step. But culture change happens across all levels, in every corner of the business. Each location will have its own sub-culture where micro-aggressions may be rife (or not). The key is to create an open and inclusive profession, where the central wellbeing of staff is front and centre.
Organisations need to be open to having challenging conversations which could likely challenge the fundamental foundations of their business. With their head out of the sand, an organisation can move ahead, create an impactful culture change programme, and weed out people who negatively affect other employees. Organisations need to invest in the appropriate training for supporting employees who might come forward to disclose traumatic experiences from their past, or their present. This would include (but not be limited to) mental health first aid training for people managers and HR teams. It is recommended to establish a team of mental health first aiders and make it known who they are, in the same vein as we do physical health and safety.
Technology is becoming ever ingrained into how we live our everyday lives. With it come risks of biases being baked into design if design teams delivering such technological advancements are homogeneous and non-diverse. Diversity of thought and experience is important when creating inclusive products, systems and processes. To achieve this, we need greater diversity at all levels, and we need a culture which will ensure all engineers and technologists thrive, with risks, hazards and barriers removed. It may seem like a utopic vision, but with greater transparency and coming together as a collective like the #MeToo movement, then I believe it can be achieved.
The Equality in Engineering Summit will take place on September 7 in Manchester in partnership with Siemens and the IET.
GUEST BLOG: In this contributed blog post Bryony Hill, Technical Data Scientist at Nominet, discusses the misconceptions around being a data scientist.
When I tell people I’m a data scientist, they often say “wow, you must be clever” or “that sounds hard”, but the role is so much more than being good at technical skills. Technical skills form a good foundation, but what really helps me in my role are social skills and analytical thinking; you need to be able to learn new things, communicate clearly and work well with people.
I work with big data and the tools available to assist me are always changing. This means there is always a lot to learn, which I really enjoy. I have been involved with the domain categorisation project at Nominet, and have loved exploring ways of automating the process of categorisation – asking: how can we teach computers to do tasks that to humans seem natural?
My mum is a software developer, and I think that has encouraged me to follow a similar path. She would often talk about her work and share some of the challenges – it all sounded so interesting. My dad is a lecturer and teaches statistics, and they met studying operational research. That said, they never pressurised me to do anything particular; they just want me to be happy.
I liked maths and sciences at school, and enjoyed studying them at A-Level. There were usually fewer girls than boys in these classes but it wasn’t something I was particularly aware of at the time. I went to university to study Mathematics, and then did a PhD in Statistics. I enjoyed computing and considered it as a degree subject, but my mum advised me that maths was more useful as a foundation – computing was an additional tool I could pick up along the way. She was right.
We always had computers around when we were growing up; my mum used them for work, and would frequently need to buy a new (higher spec) computer when her latest one was taken over by the rest of the family. I did my first basic programming on those machines, and liked the way it allowed me to create things. In the early days, because there was no operating system, you had to type instructions in to make things happen. Children today have a very different experience with technology, and a familiarity that will hopefully make them curious to understand how it works and enjoy the discovery process as I do.
You can expect a good salary when you work in tech, but I have never been driven by money. If I’d wanted a huge salary I could have gone into finance but I thought data science was more interesting. Happiness is more important to me than money or career progression. I like working in a sociable atmosphere with friendly people and knowing I am being paid appropriately for what I do. Having a good work/life balance matters more than anything, and this is definitely a nine-to-five thirty role, and so this ticks that box for me.
I’m about to go on maternity leave and I have never experienced any negativity about my desire to start a family. My boss was delighted for me, and just said I would be missed! My only slight concern is that things will change in my absence, but I will look forward to coming back to work and getting to know the new systems and people.
The technology industry is constantly changing. That’s part of the reason I love it. In some of my previous roles, I worked with nice people but the work could be repetitive, or slow. It’s rewarding to work in an industry that moves quickly and to be involved with creating solutions to some of the challenges we face due to our human limitations.
For any young person thinking about their future career, I’d highly recommend the tech sector. Maths student or not, you can find a niche for yourself as there are so many roles that require a variety of different skills. Seek out advice from your teachers, family and friends so that the subject choices you make at school, college and Uni can help you on your way.
In this guest blog post, student Abi Pearson describes how her work experience at industry body techUK made her consider a career in tech for the first time.
I am a sixteen-year-old woman and I’m nervously awaiting my GCSE results! This feels like a pretty important moment in life. Time to start thinking about life beyond school and what I could do for a career. Fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last week doing work experience at techUK where everyone has told me that tech is a great career option for young women like me. Sounds great, but if that is true how come there are so few women working in tech? The techUK team sent me off to find out.
During my work experience I had the opportunity to meet some amazing women in tech who have really opened my eyes to the opportunity. But they have also had some very interesting things to say about why there still aren’t enough women entering and staying in the sector.
Before my time at techUK, I really didn’t know much about tech or the kinds of tech jobs that exist. Like many young women of my age, school has not really equipped me with much understanding of the types of jobs that will be available in the future. But I have discovered the IT and technology industry is one of the fastest growing sectors for employment. However, women account for less than 25% of the workforce and, according to a PwC survey, only 27% of female A-level students say they would consider a career in technology, compared to 61% of males.
So why is this? Well, before work experience my perception of tech was that it was all about sitting in an office, stuck behind a computer, surrounded by men. Beyond that, I didn’t really know what tech meant. But what I have found out is that tech is incredibly relevant to modern life, it is a sector where people are doing and learning new things every day and that there are all sorts of jobs that aren’t necessarily technical. It is definitely not all about coding, but it is generally well paid. And there is a big demand for skills. So girls are definitely missing out by not considering a career in tech.
So why don’t more girls like me go into tech? Well they say perception is reality and all the women I met this week agreed that too often young women don’t see tech as an exciting and relevant sector where they can thrive. This is partly because no one tells them about the opportunity and partly because people like me don’t see many female role models. I come from the North East and before working with techUK I hadn’t met any women who work in tech. So how are we meant to know about what we are missing out on?
I think it is time we fixed this. I would like to see more female role models made visible to young girls so that they see that tech isn’t just for men. Girls will be interested in the sector when they are inspired by women who have been successful and who obviously love their jobs.
It does work because it has happened to me during my work experience. I was blown away by the passion of entrepreneur Elizabeth Vega from Informed Solutions. I met Melissa Gourlay and Cagill Sonmez at CognitionX who said they loved their jobs working on Artificial Intelligence. I met Doniya Soni who leads the Mayor of London’s work on tech skills and thought I want to be like her. I met Sarah Atkinson from CA Technologies who made me feel like I could achieve my goals. I met Carmina Lees, MD for financial services at Accenture who was just amazing. She didn’t go to university but she is a woman who has reached the top of the tree. And finally I met Maggie Philbin, CEO of TeenTech – what an incredible woman. How lucky have I been? Thanks techUK and the wonderful India Lucas in particular!
But we won’t fix this one girl at a time. Not everyone gets the chances that I’ve had. The good news is that organisations such as WISE with its People Like Me programme are working hard to develop practical scale solutions to show girls the kind of jobs and role models that exist in the sector. But I am already 16 and no-one has ever reached out to my school and I am worried about my peers who are missing out.
I have also noticed that teachers are really not aware of the kind of jobs that exist in the tech sector. It is not their fault. They work hard under incredible pressure and I don’t get the feeling that tech businesses reach out to them enough. But if teachers don’t know, how are their pupils going to find out? It amazes me is that parents don’t understand how many well-paid jobs there are in tech and how demand for skilled people is only going to increase in the next few years. If parents understood this, they would be encouraging their children down the science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) route which is what the companies I met said is what we need. I can’t help thinking that tech businesses themselves need to show a clear pathway into tech jobs for young people and especially girls.
But as Maggie Philbin said, the problem isn’t just women coming into the sector it is also the problem of women leaving the sector. She thought that businesses need to do much more to encourage women to stay in the sector throughout their careers or return after taking time out. Talking to Carmina Lees at Accenture, this certainly seems to be an issue that her company takes very seriously. If I was looking to start my career in tech, I would definitely want to understand how my future employer supports women in their careers.
So what am I going to tell my friends when I go home? After this interesting week, meeting so many successful and inspiring women in tech I have definitely learnt one thing: if you want to have a career that is not 9-5, where you are getting out and meeting people, working on issues that are relevant to everyday life and where you are constantly learning new things and “every day is a school day” then a career in tech really could be just what you are looking for. After a week at techUK I have definitely been inspired and have realised that this could definitely be a sector for me.