Inspiring the next generation of female tech pioneers - Ada Lovelace Day 2014

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This is a guest blog by Catherine Scutt, head of creative teaching & learning at the Girls' Day School Trust (GDST)

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was a bona fide 'game changer'. Her work on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the 'Analytical Engine', includes what is commonly recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. For this reason, she is often described as the world's first computer programmer. Now, over 160 years after her death, Streatham & Clapham High School, part of the Girls' Day School Trust (GDST) network of schools, is taking part in a nationwide celebration of Ada Lovelace's pioneering spirit with a series of events designed to encourage more girls to pursue careers in technology.

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On Tuesday 14 October 2014, an impressive line-up of speakers, including, Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of the Stemettes project; Emma Mulqueeny, founder of Rewired State and Young Rewired State; Debbie Forster, UK Managing Director of Apps for Good and Cristiana Camisotti, co-founder of Silicon Milkroundabout, will deliver a series of interactive workshops designed to inspire a lifelong passion among girls for all things tech. From coding and web design to coaching and collaboration, this is an opportunity for girls to be see first-hand how they can become the tech pioneers of the future.

The Government's decision to replace ICT with Computing from September 2014 clearly demonstrates the priority being given to skills which have previously been shrouded in a somewhat male-dominated air of mystery. The proliferation of smartphones, tablets and roaming technology mean that, like it or not, we are all subliminal consumers of technology. Whether for communication, work or leisure, the opportunities to engage as end-users are multitudinous and multiplying. Just as our appetite for all things 'new' shows no sign of abating, neither does the relentless pace of change in the tech industry.

How we choose to engage with technology as adults has a lot to do with our experiences as children, particularly those orchestrated and directed by teaching staff. From early adopters to passive participants, exposure to the potential benefits and pitfalls of modern technology can inspire, excite and potentially discourage in equal measure. In a world where knowledge is power, a lack of digital literacy can no longer be cited as an excuse for non-participation. The consequences if this issue isn't addressed are far-reaching and significant, particularly when it comes to furthering economic growth.

Equally worrying is the unquestioning acceptance of the norms and values of the major tech-players - manifested in their software, games and applications - which can quickly become an accepted version of their commercially-driven reality. We can't imagine life without it but if Ada Lovelace had accepted the status quo, who knows when the algorithm would have seen the light of day? How satisfying would it be if rather than buying into the next gaming trend, today's young tech pioneers could take what was out there and build their own version, on their terms and run according to their rules?

Just as new technology replaces old, so a gradual acceptance of the importance of tech-based skills must permeate the collective consciousness of those responsible for educating the next generation. A lack of numeric competence is rightly identified as a cause for concern among school-leavers. The time has now come for us to give the same level of priority to digital literacy, for the simple reason that we, as a nation and as individuals, can't afford not to.

Biography:

Catherine is passionate about education, technology, and what can be achieved when the two are combined. Her career has included learning technology consultancy and teaching across the state and independent sectors, as well as in corporate environments. Focusing on learning outside the boundaries of the traditional classroom, Catherine believes strongly in the power of digital technology to offer personalised and personally meaningful learning experiences. She is dedicated to helping schools harness this power, both within and beyond the curriculum. In her current role as Head of Creative Teaching and Learning at the Girls' Day School Trust, Catherine defines and manages the strategy for learning with digital technologies across 26 leading girls' independent schools and academies. She is also currently working on a PhD at the Institute of Education, looking at the use of digital technologies and simulation games in leadership development programmes.

Inspiring the next generation of women to blaze trails & embrace STEM careers

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This is a guest blog by Jill King, vice president of marketing at Adaptive Computing

 

I recently returned from vacation in Orlando, Fla. where I had the opportunity to visit the Kennedy Space Center for the first time. It was exciting to see our customers and partners' logos lining the walls as reminders of what HPC has helped create. As I toured the launch sites and walked the halls of the exhibits, I was also filled with immense pride for the countless contributions of the women who served as trailblazers in space exploration.

 

August 26 is Women's Equality Day, which commemorates the day in 1920 when women were granted the right to vote. Nearly 100 years later, we as women have come a long way and pushed many frontiers. But while women have broken through to the cosmos, on Earth we are still being left in the dust, specifically in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields -- better known as STEM.

 

Although women make up about half of the workforce overall, we are severely underrepresented in STEM professions: In 2011, only about a quarter of workers in STEM fields were women. What can be done to close that gap?

 

A Need to Inspire Early On

 

Unlike the right to vote, the gender imbalance in STEM jobs is not a black-and-white case of oppression. Certainly gender stereotypes and the education system at large are significant factors contributing to this discrepancy, but there is also a dearth of inspiration pushing women into these careers.

 

I have no doubt that each woman whose picture was displayed in the Kennedy Space Center was inspired by someone along the way. A parent, a teacher, a friend. I also think it's safe to say that these moments of inspiration occurred when they were young. Christianne Corbett, co-author of the report "Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math," notes that "very early in childhood -- around age 4 -- gender roles in occupations appear to be formed."

 

This underscores the importance of having female role models in STEM fields that give girls someone to look up to. You can't force an interest in STEM professions, but you can expose young women to them and see if anything sticks. Bring them to museums that explore the wonders of math and science or show how the smart devices they love are a marvel of engineering and technology.

 

All women in STEM have a remarkable sphere of influence. Together we can encourage and inspire the next generation to follow in our footsteps.

 

Why STEM?

 

Even in our technologically advanced world, there are still so many innovations to be conceived, developed and brought to market. We have an unprecedented opportunity to create, not just consume. Often, more so than in other fields, STEM provides an opportunity to be on the bleeding edge of what's next.

 

I have been fortunate enough to play a role in launching three new industries as a marketer: VoIP, VPN and most recently Big Workflow, a new solution pioneered by Adaptive Computing, that streamlines big data workflows to deliver valuable insights more rapidly, accurately and cost effectively. With each launch, it was thrilling to be a part of a team that was making a significant impact on the world through technology.

 

Beyond the satisfaction of shaping the future, there are also significant financial gains to be had: Women in STEM jobs earn on average 33 percent more than their counterparts in other fields.

 

Inspirational Women in STEM

 

Inspiration is best drawn from others, which is why I asked a few of my fellow colleagues in the HPC industry about their experiences. Here are three pieces of advice that emerged from these wonder women:

 

Find a mentor. Rhonda Dias, vice president, global systems engineering at SGI, who has been in STEM for 27 years, offers these words to women beginning a career in STEM: "Believe in yourself and don't let anyone question your chosen field. The most important thing is to find a mentor. Having someone to share experiences with and seek advice will go a long way."

 

Be curious. Dr. Maria Iordache, who previously worked for IBM and now serves as the product management director at Cray, recounted how she was the only female in her Ph.D. class, which was humorously accentuated by her professor's greeting: "Good morning, lady and gentlemen." She advises women to spend time with people that they admire by asking for a half-hour of their time for a quick chat or coffee. It provides a great platform to learn what steps they can take to prepare for a career in STEM.

 

Be accountable. Sue Kelly, a distinguished member of technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, has been working in STEM for nearly four decades. She advises, "When completing a task, if your best wasn't good enough, that's the end of the sentence. Don't look for another excuse. You can only improve yourself."

 

The Future for Women in STEM

 

The beauty of STEM is it is constantly evolving. New positions, such as data scientists or sales engineers, are continuously being created, and they do not carry the precedent of being considered "male" and provide a blank canvas for women. New ventures are also always emerging, many of which will rely on HPC. With the renewed interest in space exploration, HPC will play a critical role in performing simulations and finding minor mistakes in advance to prevent major catastrophes.

 

I am optimistic for the future of women in these fields. The education system is dedicated to promoting STEM proficiency. Many of the largest technology companies are getting on board, such as Google's $50 million commitment to Made with Code to expose girls to women who utilize coding in film, music and fashion. Certain STEM fields have less of a gender gap, and even more women than men in some cases.

 

It only takes one person to see something in someone else that inspires her. For me, that individual was my father. He imparted several words of wisdom that still stick with me today, my favorite being: "Always question. Question with boldness. There's nothing in the world that you can't do, so go for it."


Two new categories for FDM everywoman in Technology Awards 2015

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The FDM everywoman in Technology Awards launched today, with two new categories: The One to Watch and International Leader of the Year.

 

The fifth annual FDM everywoman in Technology Awards aim to drive awareness of the IT sector's career opportunities for females and to encourage more women to join the industry.

 

Free to enter, the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards 2015 categories are:

 

  • Entrepreneur of the Year - sponsored by ARM
  • Inspiration of the Year - sponsored by VMware
  • Leader of the Year - sponsored by BP
  • Rising Star of the Year - sponsored by American Express
  • Start-up Founder of the Year - sponsored by salesforce.com
  • Innovator of the Year
  • Team Leader of the Year
  • The One to Watch
  • International Leader of the Year

The awards are open to women at all stages of their careers.

Maxine Benson, co-founder of everywoman, said: "Previous winners have shared with us the impact their award win has had on their business and their careers with many being promoted on the back of the recognition it has brought.

 

"The awards have grown exponentially since launch five years ago and have uncovered dozens of role models that will inspire future female tech stars to follow in their footsteps."

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Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer of title sponsor FDM Group, said, "FDM is delighted to continue sponsoring the everywoman in Technology Awards, allowing us to recognise and reward outstanding women and their achievements in the industry. Gender balance in the workplace is vital to the UK's economy; it improves communication, accelerates productivity and drives innovation. It is inspiring to see more women taking on high powered positions and becoming role models to females at the beginning of their IT careers.

 

"At FDM, we are committed to supporting our workforce regardless of gender and recognise the lack of women in the industry as a whole. This is why we launched our global Women in IT campaign, which is already encouraging and supporting more women to enjoy a long-lasting and rewarding career in IT."

 

Awards winners will be announced at a ceremony on 17 March 2015 at the Hilton park Lane preceded by an all-day conference covering issue that are affecting women in technology.

 

Entries are open until 3 November 2014 and full details are available online.

 

Computer Weekly is once again Media Partner for the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards, so you can find all the awards coverage here on WITsend and Computerweekly.com.


Closing the gender gap

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This is a guest blog from Matthew Bell, global strategic partnerships manager at Autodesk

 

The gender gap within the engineering, design and IT industries has been highlighted once again. Recently, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) released its annual Skills & Demand in Industry survey following interviews with 400 engineering and IT companies on their recruitment plans, skills and women in the workforce. The results are hugely disappointing, if a little unsurprising.  The survey revealed that the proportion of female engineers across all industries stands at just six percent, a figure that has not increased since 2008. With these findings in mind, what more can be done to encourage more women into the field?

Where does the problem lie?

Education.jpegIt would seem that we're still in a mind-set where roles in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) industries are stereotypically considered a "boy's choice". It is evident that more needs to be done by the government and education institutions to show girls that such professions are a worthy choice. The reality is that it is a really exciting time for the industry, with disruptive technologies such as 3D printing changing the design, engineering and IT professions as we know them. These developments will hopefully change perceptions and, in turn, inspire the youth of today as well as creating a more diverse workforce for the future.

There is also still a fairly common attitude where all young people are programmed to pursue A-Levels, followed by a degree and finally, finding a job. But there should also be more visibility of the engineering apprenticeships available. Vocational education across the globe is raising its profile, especially through organisations such as WorldSkills which allow young people to compete on a global stage in areas such as engineering, construction and creative arts. The continued support for apprenticeships in the UK in recent years hints that the visibility of vocational opportunities will increase year on year. I myself began my career as an apprentice and it's a path that has certainly served me well.

How is the industry responding to this issue?

Despite the gender imbalance continuing to make headlines, it would appear that not much is being done within the industry to rectify this issue, with the survey suggesting that 43 percent of employers are not taking any specific action to improve workplace diversity. While it is disappointing to think that not enough is being done from the top down, more could also be done at the grass roots level. 

Throughout my time at Autodesk, I have found that the right education is integral to creating excitement around the industry, and opening girls' eyes to possible careers in engineering.  We work closely with a number of schools and education institutions, providing free software and curriculum materials across the UK. In East Barnet School, they introduced robotics into the curriculum as a way to engage students with tech and engineering. While initially it proved to be an uphill struggle to get the girls engaged with the lessons, the teaching of the subject eventually changed their perceptions of the industry.

 Advice to the industry

The main advice I'd give is that the industry has to become far better at communicating to girls the benefits of working in engineering, or any STEM career. Equally, more needs to be done to get the younger generation enrolled into apprenticeships and other vocational careers. The significant skills gap that we're seeing in the UK means that there is a very good chance of this resulting in a challenging and well paid job in an exciting industry. 

 

From my experience working with young people across the country, I have noticed just how a student's career path can change when eyes are opened to new possibilities, but more needs to be done to communicate these opportunities available to all young people, whether girls or boys.


A journey where IT chose me

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This is a guest blog from Nabila Aydin, vice president of global marketing operations at FDM Group.

I never really considered working in the IT industry growing up. I suppose that's because I'm not technical. I've always been the creative type who likes to work with people, which is why I consciously chose to pursue a career in Marketing. My impression of IT was one of lonely geeks with large glasses sitting in back-office rooms coding all day - hardly exciting stuff in my mind. I believed in the stereotype, which did and still does put people off working in IT even in this generation.

Nabila.jpgIf I knew what I do now then I would have consciously chosen to work in IT. But the truth is I didn't; IT chose me. It has been an extraordinary journey so far and I would recommend working in the industry to anyone, whether you are technical or not, because one thing is certain - IT is going beyond the cloud.

My first job in the industry was a summer job working in an internet café during university break. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jamil El-Imad, who owned the café which was run by his wife Sandra, in the south of Spain.

Jamil is a well-known entrepreneur and pioneering computer scientist. His career has spanned over 30 years from design and development of Operating Systems and teleprocessing code, to the design and rollout of 3D MMOG media systems. Jamil won awards for his code developed in 1989, designed to improve IBM's teleprocessing system, which was used in numerous IBM installations worldwide. He is also the author of 'Technology In Business', a book that I am lucky enough to have a signed copy of. If you haven't read it, you should! Lesson learned from Jamil: "Your achievements are only limited by your imagination."

That year I started applying for placements, which were increasingly competitive in the UK. I applied to all sorts of companies and really wanted to work at L'Oreal, because I thought it would be fun plus lots of great freebies. To my surprise I got an offer from IBM. This was one of the toughest placements to get and I couldn't believe I had secured a spot in Internal Communications. The assessment day took place over a whole day, covering all sorts of activities and tests which were quite intense. Most of my computer science friends dreamed about working at IBM and didn't get a placement offer unfortunately. This made me feel quite guilty, because unlike them I didn't dream of working for IBM.

My first day at IBM was extraordinary in so many ways and not at all what I typically expected. For starters, there were no lonely geeks with large glasses sitting in back-office rooms coding all day. The developers were more often than not part of front-office teams and very much at the fore of business, working in teams.

I remember plucking up the courage to speak to Larry Hirst, CEO of IBM EMEA at the time. He progressed from trainee in 1977 to Chairman in 2008, a real inspiration to anyone who has the pleasure to meet him. Not only is he a technical and creative 'genius', he introduced some excellent diversity initiatives into IBM as well as flexible working, which was really beneficial for working mothers. I remember women being the minority at IBM like all tech companies, but there were still a lot more than I expected to see. Under Larry, IBM EMEA revenues grew to $35bn and 110,000 people at the time. Lesson learned from Larry: "Don't be afraid to make mistakes. If you're not failing once in a while you're setting your sights too low."

In 2007 I joined FDM Group in the UK, a much smaller IT services provider compared to IBM, as employee 301. I still remember this because I missed out on the personalised iPad that employee 300 got at the time. I started as Marketing Assistant and quickly progressed up the ranks into Marketing Manager. Seven years later, FDM Group is a multi award-winning company operating from 13 countries with 1500+ employees.

Rod Flavell, CEO and Founder of FDM still leads the business today. He is the most passionate person I've ever met, because this business is his creation. He started FDM in the attic of his house 23 years ago and has his entire life invested in it. If I had to define him in three words it would be passion, energy and determination. My lesson learned from him would be: "You get what you put in".

Over 50% of the management team at FDM are female and we are seeing female employee numbers rise month on month. FDM's global Women in IT initiative, spearheaded by COO Sheila Flavell, has helped the business lead by example with a workforce made up of 25% women, which is much higher than the 17% industry average. There is still a long way to go, but FDM is taking steps in the right direction. Lesson learned from Sheila: "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got".

I am still working at FDM Group today, based in NYC and leading the marketing team globally. The point of telling you about my journey is to inform you of the amazing opportunities in the IT industry for both technical and non-technical people - whether you are a man or a woman.

The industry continues to grow and those who join it will only grow and progress with it. There is a severe lack of technically skilled graduates in the industry, so for those with a STEM degree it should be a no brainer. But for those of you who are like me, not so technical - there are also opportunities in various roles throughout all organisations in the industry. More women are needed, so hopefully we will continue to see growth in this area. The typical stereotype of the IT geek is honestly a myth more than anything; so don't let it put you off.

The IT industry allows you to meet extraordinary people just like I have; inventors, founders, geniuses and beyond. I'm glad IT chose me and I'm looking forward to where the industry takes me in the next decade and beyond.

 

Nabila is the VP of Global Marketing Operations at FDM Group, responsible for marketing planning, strategy and budget control, as well as heading up FDM's Women in IT initiative. Nabila has a BA in Marketing from the University of Brighton and is an MCIM Chartered Marketer. In addition, Nabila oversees all FDM marketing activities worldwide including: PR, advertising, internal comms, corporate branding and event management.






A call for culture change in tech

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Nora Zeidan, senior software engineer and young mother, works at Thomsons Online Benefits and discusses how a concerted effort needs to be made by educational institutions and industry leading organisations to bridge the talent gap in the tech sector. 

There seems to be little dispute that employers across sectors are crying out for technology talent. According to the latest KPMG/Markit Tech Monitor UK report, nearly 44% of UK tech firms plan to hire more staff in the forthcoming year. Supply can simply not meet demand, and with recent research indicating that the UK IT skills shortage could be placing our economic growth at risk, the urgency with which this problem must be addressed cannot be denied.
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To avoid suffering as a result of this talent shortage, tech companies will need to mine untapped demographic resources - and by this, I mean women. At present women only make up 19.1% of the total employed in IT related roles. In a scenario where the gender gap disappears and women help fill empty IT roles, the net benefit to the UK economy is estimated at £2.6 billion.

Which brings us on to the critical question: Why are there not more women in tech? Research indicates that, up until GCSEs, the numbers of boys and girls studying STEM subjects are roughly equal. However, reach A-levels, and the number of girls that continue significantly decreases. This year, only one in ten students taking A-level computing were female.

There have been a number of suggestions as to why this is the case, with perhaps one of the most persuasive being that there is a stigma attached to STEM subjects - that they are somehow seen as 'male'. During mid-teens, when young women are already acutely self-aware, this can act as a significant deterrent to them taking these subjects. Furthermore, research undertaken by female tech agency, Lady Geek, specifically demonstrates the negative connotations of working in the tech industry to GCSE age individuals. The study, which asked participants to draw and describe what a person in gaming looks like, generated descriptions including 'slightly overweight', 'boring' and perhaps most critically 'man'. Mostly negative terms, and unlikely to be qualities a 15 year old female is desperate to emulate.

This research indicates that students have a negative perception of those working in tech but also (and perhaps more critically), that even for those of school age, industry image can have significant influence on their subject - and by default career choice. School-age sterotyping may be easy to dismiss, but technology companies should do so at their peril. After all, these individuals are potentially their workforce of the future. The challenge is that there's often a prevailing masculine culture that needs to be addressed if organisations are to make the tech industry attractive to school girls and skilled female graduates alike. 

Ironically, it is in their well-intentioned drive to attract talent that I see tech organisations making the biggest faux pas. With the competition for talent so fierce, it's unsurprising that companies are pulling out all the stops to fashion a fun, creative, youthful brand image. We've seen high profile tech companies such as Facebook, Groupon and Skype, acting as very public advocates of the 'cool' office movement. Employees have Guitar Hero and Xbox 360, for example. However, while these certainly create a new type of workplace, my concern is that it's one overly masculine in style.

This could be completely unintentional, or simply representative of the fact that more men work in technology. Meanwhile, the influence these organisations wield means that where they go, many smaller firms will follow. As a consequence, technological wizardry seems to come hand-in-hand with a pool table, hammock, and obligatory slide.

Our recent Global Employee Benefits Watch report surveying HR professionals in large firms across 48 different industries including tech found that 38% of businesses cited difficulty in providing a flexible global benefits strategy for different demographics. Only 4% of respondents offered on-site facilities such as changing stations and on-site child care. Meanwhile flexible working was only offered across all locations in one third (37%) of businesses polled.   If tech companies want to solve the skills shortage through increasing the number of women working in IT, they need to start seriously considering what their brand looks like to prospective female employees - of all ages. For the percentage of females working in IT to increase, there needs to be a culture change led from the top down - starting with industry leading organisations.


Part of the reason I'm so passionate about this is that, as a senior software engineer at Thomsons Online Benefits, I know that tech companies can be fantastic places for women to work. On a day-to-day basis I liaise with my team and product owners to make visions into virtual reality. Beyond this, working in and with technology has allowed me to work flexibly and become a young mother whilst still progressing my career. I also know that a diverse workforce can contribute real business value. Take Norway as an example, and the improvements many of its organisations have seen, in terms of better risk management and increased profits, following the legal requirement that at least 40 percent of listed company board members are women.

I, personally, have always wanted a career in technology and nothing is going to change that. However, if all firms - large and small - are serious about accommodating my ambition and those of other women, some do have to consider their proposition and flexible benefits package from a female perspective. This is not just a question of creating a more diverse workforce for the sake of it, but one of engaging a demographic with the potential to make a significant positive impact on the UK economy - now, and in the future. 

Recognising, celebrating and encouraging female talent: everywoman academy

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The second everywoman in technology leadership academy, to take place this year, will focus on recognising, celebrating and encouraging the female talent currently within the technology sector.

 

It is imperative that we continue to encourage more females into the tech sector, but also that we work to retain those already a part of it.

 

The October academy aims to explore and uncover the new opportunities becoming available to women in the sector.

 

Gong beyond the notion of driving linear career progression, the workshop will delve into the concept of "restless reinvention" ensuring that attendees' careers are evolving in-line with the sector, in addition to making sure they are able to adapt to whatever opportunities may come their way.  

 

The Academies are aimed at:

·         Women with aspirations to develop their career in technology

·         Future leaders in an organisation

·         Middle managers who wants to move up to an executive level

·         Women managing a small team

 

The academy will take place 23 October - 9:30-17:00 at Deloitte, 2 New Street Square, London EC4A 3BZ.

 

For more information on how to book your place click here.

 

Read Computer Weekly's coverage of the last everywoman in technology academy.

Women in STEM: The root of the problem

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This is a guest blog from Michelle Perkins, director of Schools Outreach Programme at Capgemini

 

I blame the Dentists! Truly my work encouraging young people, especially girls, to consider an IT career has shown me that the root cause of the problem is dentists.

 

I've never been that keen on dentists, so perhaps I'm being a little harsh?  But so often when I meet the parents (primarily the mothers - sorry girls!) of smart, determined and STEM aware young ladies they tell me their ambition for their daughter is dentistry.  Putting aside any possible Simon Cowell fetishes - what on earth are the attractions of dentistry?

 

One of the main points I hear is..."You'll always need dentists". Yes, absolutely.  And with so many young unemployed people in the UK, as parents we have a duty to encourage career choices of the future. However, the dependence on IT in our society is staggering, and while I would say there are a finite number of teeth to be drilled, there are endless uses of technology.  It's an industry just waiting for a bright spark to create the next big thing. 

 

"It's a global job," which is indeed true, but technologists are also in demand the world over. The opportunities to work globally in a company like mine are fantastic. 

 

"It's flexible so good for working mothers?" This is probably where technology as a career beats pretty much anything else into second place - after all its technology solutions that are enabling dynamic and flexible working.

 

It seems to me that what dentists have over IT is a more positive perception amongst parents, despite fantastic role models such as Tim Berners Lee. It is therefore up to us, as an industry, to improve this perception and encourage parents to support their children's ambition to enter a career in STEM. 

 

The true scale of this task was laid bare recently with new research by O2 zeroing in on the 'parental factor' when it comes to influencing young people's initial career directions. Surprisingly, almost a quarter (23%) of the 2,000 parents surveyed deemed key skills, like web design and coding to be "irrelevant", whilst 38 per cent said they would urge them to follow a career in law or medicine.

 

An eye opener indeed. Yet, however surprising these findings may be, it's hard to overestimate their effect as parents' views of possible career choices are very influential with young people, especially during the formative years. It just goes to show how deeply attitudes are entrenched across society and any engagement has to focus not only on young people but with parents too.

 

At Capgemini, we've been working closely with schools to help nurture the talent, skills and creativity of young people through our Schools Programme. The experience it offers allows young people to see technology as a solution to problems - not simply an end in itself. If we're going to beat the likes of dentistry for the best students we need to show them how they are impacting the future.

The technology industry continues to drive the UK's economic future - the sector will generate over £4bn this year alone and we're the already the largest tech hub in Europe. Just imagine what more we could achieve if we unlocked all that potential.

 

With this in mind, Capgemini has also devised a series of initiatives designed to reach out to parents including our Insight Events which invite parents to attend interactive workshops alongside their children at our offices, giving a taste of the life working in IT and business.

 

Capgemini also supports Apps for Good, an open-source technology education movement that partners with educators in schools to deliver our course to young people 10-18 years of age.  Apps for Good showcases how technology can provide a great solution from pocket money budgets to issues around sexuality and bullying  - it fits well with Capgemini's own philosophy.

 

Attitudes by their nature take time to shift and we should be under no illusions that we'll be in this for the long-haul. My message is let's all get behind this goal of encouraging young people and in particular girls into STEM careers.


Not failing to recruit but failing to attract women to the IT sector

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This is a guest blog from Nancy Hammervik, senior vice president, Industry Relations, at CompTIA.

With the recent IET survey showing that just 3% of IT engineers are women, many commentators will predictably place the blame on technology companies for failing to recruit enough women.Nancy Hammervik, CompTIA.jpg

This is not getting to the root of the problem.  It's not that IT industry dinosaurs do not want to recruit women. It's that we are collectively failing to attract enough women to embark on IT careers in the first place. In a recent CompTIA survey only 15% of 12-15 year old girls said they wanted to have a career in IT.

The principle barrier is a false image of what the IT profession is like. Many girls still perceive IT as too 'male' and too maths and science-oriented; a dull, desk-bound world of keyboards, codes and algorithms, embodied by the stereotype of the IT professional as a 'geek in a basement'.

The IT industry has to do a better job of articulating what a career in IT really entails. Many young women have no idea that there are an array of exciting people-focused careers in IT, from project coordinators and managers to marketing consultants and trainers. 

You can combine your interest in technology with another passion - entertainment, fashion, sports, education, government, retail and many other industries. IT careers are often about managing people, communicating your work and its business impact to stakeholders and engaging new customers. Even in cybersecurity, one of the roles that instantly conjures up an image of geeky hackers staring at lines of code, many companies are now looking for people with degrees in psychology rather than computing, because getting inside the mind of a hacker can be as important as cracking a code. In a 'connected world' where we are communicating with more people online than ever before, IT is now much more about people than about programmes.

Stereotypes begin early and we need to reach girls at school age with the message that IT is an exciting career for women. The industry needs to champion successful women as positive role models to publicise the achievements of women in technology and raise awareness of the wide variety of opportunities open to women.

CompTIA's Advancing Women in IT Community, made up of IT industry leaders both women and men, is helping to improve the image of IT as an exciting career for young women and providing the know-how and skills to pursue it.

We recently launched a new set of resources as part of our 'Dream IT' initiative, equipping supporters to go into their communities and schools and speak directly with women and girls about careers in technology. Through our networking events, workshops, school outreach and free educational tools, we aim to reach 10,000 young women with the message that IT is a great career by the end of 2014.

With recent reports highlighting a growing talent shortfall across the industry, we urgently need to shake off the old stereotypes. The global 'IT skills gap' and the lack of women entering the profession shows that the industry may have done a great job of selling its technology but it has yet to do a great job of selling itself. By working together we can change that.

All Aboard?

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This is a guest blog by Ann Brown, senior vice president HR, Capgemini UK

 

Patrice Merrin's appointment to Glencore's board last week was cause for celebration, as now every FTSE 100 Board has at least one women member. Whilst this is a momentous occasion for UK business, it's hard to believe that it has taken us until 2014 to reach this milestone. In fact, if it wasn't for Lord Davies' target, set three years ago, for women to make up 25 per cent of FTSE 100 directors, we may not have even reached this. Back in 2011 when his target was set, as many as 21 companies had all-male boards.

 Ann Brown 5 -WITsend.JPG

We are edging closer to hitting the target, with the Women on Boards report by Lord Davies earlier this year showing that women now make up just over a fifth of all FTSE 100 directors (20.7 per cent). But it's still a paltry sum considering the wealth of female talent that exists at senior levels.

 

The good news is that things are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. The number of women in decision-making roles is up from 17.3 per cent in 2013 and 12.5 per cent in 2011.  

 

We must bear in mind that genuine equality, isn't necessarily about precise proportions in every field. Things are rarely evenly split 50/50 in life and as a pragmatist, I wouldn't expect any boardroom to be able to achieve that unless some kind of positive discrimination was at play. Equality should be a level playing field for women when it comes to assessing their skills, not just by the person doing the assessing but by the candidate so she feels confident that she has the same chance as everyone else to progress.  

 

In my own company, one of our core values is freedom of opportunity for everyone, regardless of gender, to go out and expand their horizons. Our apprenticeship schemes and other initiatives are expanding rapidly too as it's in our long term interest to drive more balance in our team, from IT consultants to apprentices, management and the board. A focus on senior-led targeted commitment, unconscious bias training in recruitment and equal pay audits are correlating to greater parity in recruitment and progression of women in the workplace.

 

Boardroom level roles invariably require extensive travel abroad and being away from home, which often puts additional pressure on women who may find it difficult or who may not want to juggle their career with childcare. We must be able to shift the spotlight on having a purposeful debate about measures that can help mitigate these obstacles. For instance, focusing on opportunities to invest and encourage the use of smart and mobile technology - and not just for women. Increasingly families share careers and childcare responsibilities, meaning international travel is not a sustainable option.

 

At the end of the day, if we don't make strides to further address boardroom inequality, UK PLC will be choked of its international competitiveness. Having diversity of thought and diversity in decision making is not just politically correct but makes good business sense and is essential if we are to exploit opportunities domestically and abroad. Women board members offer fresh perspective and unique insights into a company's target market and combining the differing strengths of men and women will deliver competitive advantages and help companies expand.

 

Lord Davies' target of 25 per cent is achievable - we would need only another 50 new female appointments to FTSE 100 boards to meet this benchmark. But neither should we be complacent - although we have seen some progress and the beginnings of a real cultural shift, there's still a long road ahead.  

 








Q&A with Claire Darley, head of O2's Women in Leadership Programme

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What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the tech sector?Claire Darley 2.jpg

In my view, the biggest hurdle women face in the tech sector is stubborn stereotypes. For too long, the tech sector has been viewed as a 'boys club', while careers with 'softer skill' requirements were assumed to be better suited to women's 'tender sensibilities'. With women now leading some of the world's biggest tech companies - Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! and Joanna Shields at Tech City - it's clear that the doors to this 'boys club' are finally opening up, but there's still a way to go before we can claim total equality in the sector.

There are a number of great initiatives already going on, all designed to show the opportunities available to young women in the tech sector, but we need more of them. It's up to everyone - parents, teachers, businesses and the Government - to be showing young girls, right from primary school, that the tech sector is not just open to them, but is an exciting and rewarding career.

 

What could companies be doing to help reverse the shortage of females in the profession?

There are a number of different ways British businesses can help to increase the number of women in technology. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to this, but whether it's going into schools and educating girls on careers in digital, or offering quality apprenticeship programmes and mentoring schemes, all companies - big and small - can and should be doing their bit to encourage young women into the tech sector.

At O2, for example, one of our own graduates recently launched a fantastic initiative designed to get girls as young as 10 into coding. This has been a great success already, with some of the young girls involved already signing up for weekly coding classes as a result!  

 

How could tech companies benefit from more female staff and board members?

At O2, we really believe that a diverse and inclusive culture isn't just morally right, but it actually makes complete business sense.  We serve over 23 million customers every single day - if we're to support the needs of each and every one of these customers as best we can, we have to have a workforce that truly understands them. After all, how could a workforce made up of white, male 30-somethings understand the pressures of a young single mum buying a product from one of our stores?

We employ thousands of women at O2, and it's up to us to ensure that they feel supported, challenged and encouraged at every level of the business - whether they're an apprentice or a member of the board - so they can continue to add value to our business. That's why we run our own Women's Network, O2's own initiative designed to support women at all levels of our business, addressing the issues relevant to them and helping them fulfil their own ambition and potential.

 

Capability Jane webinar on part time and flexible senior roles in tech this Tuesday

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If you attended Computer Weekly's Top 25 Most Influential Women IT event this year, you will be well aware of one of great speakers Sara Hill from Capability Jane.

Capability Jane are holding a free webinar: working part-time in senior roles in technology this coming Tuesday.

Join Sara and the Capability Jane team online, Tuesday 15th at 12.30pm, where they will be discussing working part-time and flexibly in senior roles in technology.

The practical webinar is aimed at individuals interested in moving to or currently working in a part-time or flexible role in technology.

The 45 minutes will focus on the importance of being able to work part-time and flexibly in senior technology roles. It will look at real examples and practical ways that this can be made to work effectively.

About the webinar Capability Jane says: "The world of work is changing. For many the standard model of working nine to five is becoming less realistic. Increasingly people want to work more flexibly in order to fit in with other life commitments. Our research shows that 80% of women in senior technology roles want the ability to work part-time at some point in their careers and 52% of men consider the ability to work flexibly or part-time critical factors when considering the next career move.

"Capability Jane are driving the take up of part-time and flexible working in senior technology roles. The team help organisations to implement flexible, part-time and job share arrangements in senior roles, recruit high calibre talent for flexible and part-time positions and supporting individuals to design or find high quality part-time roles in technology."

 If you are interested in this webinar you can REGISTER HERE.

Techpreneur of the Year Awards winners

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Winners of the Techpreneur of the Year Awards have been announced. During a ceremony at the University Women's Club, the winners of two main categories were unveiled.

The awards are designed to encourage women to get involved in tech-related start-ups and to recognise the success of those already underway.

The categories and winners were:

Conceptual: For women involved in enterprises that have not yet started actively trading

WINNER: Laura Willoughby founder of Club Soda was honoured with the conceptual award. Elaborating on Laura's success, the judges stated that Laura was able to edge out the competition because Club Soda was a unique idea that could be applied to a traditional space or industry. There was also a large potential market with the possibility of scaling up internationally as well. Laura, in short, was able to demonstrate that she was not only entrepreneurial but clearly a visionary as well.

Also highly commended in the category were:

Emma Coles - Adlet

Nathalie Richards - Edukit

Sinead MacManus - Fluency

Karoline Gross - Smartzer

Victoria Thomas - Trigah

Veterans: For women who play a definitive role in an existing company which has been trading for less than five years, and has a turnover of less than £10m
 
WINNER: Rosemary Francis MD and Director of Technology at Ellexus took home the veterans award. Commenting further, the judges attributed her victory to a key consideration; Ellexus was a purely technological business unlike most others nominated for the award. Demonstrating a high level of entrepreneurship as well as being a STEM role model, Rosemary not only founded the company but also created a scalable business and grown it successfully.

Also highly commended were:
Lucy Yu at Swiftkey
Irina Turcan at Arti:i:curate
Kal di Paola at BuyMyWardrobe
Kelley Klein at Student@Home

Victoria Johnson at VetCT

Fiona Scott Lazareff, Judging Panel Chair, said, "This has been an incredible first year for the awards, which has allowed us to finally reward and acknowledge the exceptional women within the tech industry. New innovations and advances in technology continue to change dramatically but this group of finalists has not only embraced these developments, but is genuinely creating a path for the next generation of female professionals.

"These awards are designed to honour these female leaders and start-ups for their unrivalled potential, talent and success in the industry and to be an advocate for women in technology at all levels. The word "tech" and the idea of starting a business need no longer be stereotyped to males - and we hope the success of these awards will enable more women to start their own businesses and apply for next years' awards."

Do you know an inspirational woman running a technology business? DEADLINE TODAY

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The NatWest everywoman Awards close for entries today (July 7), so this is your last chance to enter yourself or someone you know who you think deserves to be a winner this year.

 

The awards are aimed at inspirational women, and role models who inspire their fellow female entrepreneurs.

 

The Iris Award - just one category included in the awards - is given to the most inspirational and successful female entrepreneur who runs a business that uses technology in an innovative and disruptive way.  

 

Previous winners of this award include the founder of Therapy Box and the founder of Blippar.

The use of technology should comply with one or more of the following categories:

  • Where technology is being used to create a competitive advantage with a creative use of data
  • Where cloud technology is transforming business processes
  • Where technology is empowering clients - or the business itself - with knowledge derived from the use of social business, mobile and data innovation

Nominate and find out more at www.everywoman.com/ewawards

Cisco hosts "Dragon's Den" App Challenge for Girls in IT Day

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This is a guest blog from Hannah Wright,head of security at Cisco Systems, and App Challenge Dragon @CiscoNetAcad

 

Last month I had the honour to be a judge of our Dragon's Den themed challenge for local year 8 (aged 12-13) school girls at our south-west London HQ in Feltham.

 

The event was part of Cisco's international Girls in IT Day, held simultaneously at a number of our offices around the world - including Lebanon, Kenya, the Netherlands and Portugal. The day was hosted and run by myself and fellow Cisco employees, from all levels, inside work hours, with the aim of helping encourage more girls to consider a career in IT.

After a talk from senior Cisco spokespeople and an interactive tour of Cisco's office, including a sneak peak at some futuristic technology, the school girls were asked a specific question to challenge their tech and entrepreneurial minds - 'what would you connect to the internet and why?'

Inspired by a day learning about Cisco's take on the 'Internet of Everything', a hyper-connected world of devices in an internet-like structure, the students were split in to five teams. Each group was given 20 minutes to plan, and five minutes to present their ideas to a panel of Dragons - including how much money they needed, and for what percentage of the business!

Considering the short time frame and the openness of the question, the quality of the ideas produced was remarkable. App ideas included:

·         The E-mirror - an internet-connected mirror - which allows you to virtually try on clothes before buying, or a new hair style before visiting the barbers 

·         The MotoChair 3000 - which allows doctors and teachers to send information (and control the whereabouts!) of patients or pupils

·         Track-e - a mouldable, internet connected house or car key that allows you to track its whereabouts at all time and change its shape should it be stolen or lost

After an intense pitch-off, the five-strong dragon panel consisting of myself, fellow Cisco executives and a representative from Dell, took a break to discuss the ideas - knowing they could only invest in one. The winning idea, a unanimous decision by the Dragons, was:

Neck-ring -an internet-connected necklace that plays music through your body, making headphones redundant, saving you from the hassle of carrying them around or regularly replacing them. The e-jewellery can also be connected and controlled using your mobile phone. The judges were particularly impressed by the team's marketing plan - including celebrity partners and a limited edition diamond version! 

The level of ingenuity and creativity was so impressive. The girls across all the teams really brought the business and technology sides of the challenge together - showing an understanding of not just how the technology might work, but also how they could take it to market.

Most importantly, a great time was had by all throughout the day and clear progress was made. Most of the school girls started the day by declaring they'd never considered technology as a future career. However, many finished it saying they'd now be interested in furthering their IT education, either at school, university or via tech training initiatives. Interested students were given access to further information via Facebook and other relevant opportunities, such as the Cisco Networking Academy which they learnt about during the course of the day.

The success of Girls in IT Day shows that by opening their doors and investing the time to educate, tech companies have the power to inspire the next generation by displaying the industry's exciting and ever-expanding opportunities.






Dame Wendy Hall shares experience as a female computer scientist during BCS Karen Spärck Jones Lecture

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I went to see Dame Wendy Hall, professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton speak at the BCS Karen Spärck Jones Lecture recently and I was so interested to hear about her experiences as a woman in the industry.  

The Karen Spärck Jones lecture is an annual event that honours women in computing research.

During her presentation on 'How to enjoy a career in computing: the power of networks' Hall said: "Karen was a mentor of mine and just an amazing woman. Women are often the hidden strength behind computing."

Hall said discussing womens' issues, in terms of employment and career progression, is not always useful and can sometimes hinder instead of help. She told of the time she was a female panelist during a debate about the lack of women in technology and felt that every woman at the conference had attended the session, whilst the men spoke about business.

She feels it almost isn't fair that she has to stand up and talk about women issues all the time, but believes it is still an important topic to highlight as long as women are careful with how much time they spend on the issue.

She explained how her gender was the reason for missing out on a job after her PhD: "I couldn't get a job in Maths so went for a job teaching male engineers. I had the interview with the male candidates and a male got the job. After the interview I was taken to the office and told they wanted to give me the job but could not because I was a woman. They didn't think I could handle a class of male engineers.

She also touched upon the new computing curriculum due to kick off this September, saying: "The curriculum previously did not have programming at the heart, so it's important that we don't repeat history and ensure it is inclusive this time.

 "Just adding technology to classrooms is useless. It's like putting a pencil in each classroom - how does that enrich the learning experience?"

Is there a social biasness towards female entrepreneurs? TLA Women's Group event

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Tech London Advocates (TLA) Women's Group and Pivotal Innovations are holding an event to discuss whether there is a social biasness towards female entrepreneurs and to highlight the funding opportunities for them in London.

Based at Level39 on 18 June (18:00-20:00) the 'Finance for Female Entrepreneurs: Challenges and Opportunities' event will focus on some of the complexities and challenges women entrepreneurs face when raising capital shedding light on how to gain access to finance, avoid "pitch falls" and explore the social and cultural biases when sourcing funding.

The evening will include a panel discussion with Dale Murray, Bindi Karia from Silicon Valley Bank and Helene Panzarino from Grant Thornton LLP. 

If you're interested in attending you can register here: http://bit.ly/1lMmd2f

You will not believe what happens at the London Hopper Colloquium!

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This is a guest blog by Bedour Alshaigy, a 2nd year PhD student from Oxford Brookes

I got you to click.

But don't worry, unlike other click bait articles, your curiosity will be rewarded by reading about my personal experience attending my first ever "colloquium".

A little bit of background information for those of you who are not familiar with the event:

The London Hopper Colloquium is a free 1 day event celebrating the achievements of women in the field of computer science and technology. It aims to bring together researchers and students from different areas of the discipline to discuss their research, exchange ideas and inspire the next generation of women to hopper pic 3.pngjoin their league. The day also features a competition with cash prizes.

The event came to my attention last year during my 1st year as PhD student. I have never been to a colloquium before (I had to look that word up) and have never been particularly keen on discussing my research with people that I am not on a first name basis with. In my defence I was still in my first year, buried knee high in research papers (literature review stage anyone?) and did not have a "clear" direction of where my PhD was going.

But I thought "I have to start attending conferences at one point, there's no better time than the present, I've got nothing to lose, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger..". Let us just say that there was a lot of pep talk to myself that day. Also the prospect of winning a cash prize didn't hurt.

The day of the event kicked off with a welcome speech and introduction to the day's activities, followed by talks from leading women speakers in academia and industry discussing their latest research in their respective areas. They have also provided an insider's perspective on what is it like to work within each field.

The competition was next, each participant had to present her research work within 2 minutes aided by a poster. That poster will be then on display in the conference area where you get to discuss it with the audience. The first prize is awarded to the best poster. As I looked around the room, I was overcome with feelings of dread. There were professionally designed posters packed with computer jargon that I thought I should be familiar with given my area of study, supported by graphs with statistical analysis and results, while my poster didn't even have a chart.

Nevertheless, I stood by my poster and started talking about my work to inquisitive people passing by, and then out of nowhere I realised that the more people I have spoken to, the more confident I have become and was proud of my work.

I started walking around the conference area and asking people about their posters. It was a very friendly environment, people Hopper pic 1.pngwere interested in my work and I was fascinated by theirs. There was an incredible range of computing projects that can only be described as awe-inspiring and innovative. The presenters spoke with such passion that demonstrated their level of skill and creativity.

Not even once was I intimidated about asking questions out of fear of looking stupid, on the contrary, I was encouraged, supported, and even got nuggets of wisdom from students studying in the years above me on how to survive my first year. I felt like I was part of a sorority and I just got accepted. I was very happy.

To my surprise, I won 1st prize, and was invited back to this year's 10th London Hopper Colloquium as a speaker to present my research in addition to being on the judging panel of the research spotlight competition. I was impressed by this year's entries, the competition was fierce, and it was very difficult to select the final winners.

Looking back on my experience, I am happy to report that I have made great strides since then, and in turn, would like to share with you my reasons on why you should attend the 11th London Hopper Colloquium:

1.       It is an excellent networking opportunity to connect with other researchers in computer science and industry professionals (don't forget to update your LinkedIn account!).

2.       You get to learn about the latest cutting edge research in computing which makes you stay ahead of the game.

3.       It's a great social platform where you get to showcase your research, discover what others are working on, and bounce some ideas off of each other. It really gets your creative juices running!

4.       It also provides a chance to become part of a research community and perhaps collaborating with others in the same area.

5.       The conference is a great place to refuel yourself, regain your focus, and boost your concentration and motivation levels to help you with your research.

6.       You can participate in the competition, there is always a chance you could win cash prizes.

7.       A good experience to brag about on your CV. It demonstrates your presentation and interpersonal skills.

8.       Meet old friends, make new ones, have fun.

See you next year!

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Tech businesses must take initiative to get more girls excited about IT

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This is a guest blog by Monique Morrow, CTO Cisco Services and supporter of Cisco Networking Academy

 

Having worked in the IT industry for over 20 years, and been the only female in the room on many occasions, I can say with some certainty that we haven't yet resolved the challenge of attracting an equal balance of men and women into the industry. So how can we, as members of the technology industry, help address this?Monique profile picture.jpg

 

Image-conscious

 

When I speak to young women about their future careers, I'm convinced that there is still a cultural perception of IT as "uncool". The more of us sharing our enthusiasm and letting young people know that IT is actually fun, the better for the industry, particularly if we want to see more girls enter the profession.


Attending local schools to give presentations, volunteering at youth centres to help with computer courses or blogging about the technology you love and encouraging your own kids to go down the IT route can all help towards an image overhaul. 

 

The value of role models is enormously important. I became interested in technology because of my curiosity and encouragement from wonderful individuals who helped pave the way for me.  I wouldn't have got there without the help and support of mentors, both male and female, and neither will the next generation.

 

Teach first

 

By getting directly involved at a grassroots level we can also help address a key concern for governments, which is the lack of teachers qualified in ICT.  A recent survey by social enterprise company MyKindaCrowd found 54 per cent of UK teachers felt their students knew more about ICT than they did. It's no great surprise that most teachers aren't experts in computing and it seems natural that they should turn to the industry itself for guidance and additional training. By supporting them, an even broader range of IT skills can be introduced at a younger age.

 

You can get involved with industry initiatives such as Cisco Networking Academy, a non-commercial ICT training programme which has trained more than four million people to date through over 9,000 academies worldwide, running entry-level courses via schools, universities, technical colleges, community bodies and even prisons.

 

The future's bright

 

At the same time, we must not forget that often job security is not at the top of a young person's agenda when looking for a career. Many set out with a desire to change the world or explore their true passion.  It is our duty to inspire them, not only about the current jobs available but also the exciting future possibilities of IT and the prospect of a hyper-connected world or, as Cisco calls it, The Internet of Everything. By 2020 there will be approximately 50 billion things connected to the Internet and I believe that many more girls would pursue careers in ICT if we could help them see just how relevant it will be to all areas of their lives.

 

My message to the industry is this: let's make sure that we're all behind this goal of encouraging diversity by inspiring the next generation, through training, advice and input to the curriculum, so young women and men are well-placed to take on the incredible IT career opportunities available. And to any young women out there, I would say that if you enjoy using technology, imagine the fun you could have creating it! This is your time; you can shape the world. Do you accept the challenge to do so?

 

Monique is supporting Cisco Networking Academy, a non-commercial ICT training programme that equips people with the skills to succeed in today and tomorrow's increasingly connected world. @cisconetacad

 

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Using robot wars to teach robotics

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How do you get girls fired up about a subject that they consider masculine and geeky? Get them competing in a 'Robot Wars' style battle, explains Ian Jenkins, head of design & technology (D&T) at East Barnet School.

 

"I used to want to be a dancer, now I want to be an engineer," professed one teenage girl, fresh from taking part in a national robotics competition.

EBS Robotics.jpg 

Anyone working in technology and engineering will understand the true value of this statement.  In spite of high demand for fresh young talent, there is a lack of young people leaving school and entering into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) related careers.

 

A recent survey found that 59 per cent of business leaders believe there are not enough suitable candidates leaving education to meet industry's employment requirements. It is clear then that improving the way these subjects are taught and getting pupils engaged in this sector is what's needed to help bridge this skills gap.

 

How we made STEM exciting

At East Barnet School, one way in which we've been getting our pupils actively involved in technology is through the design and building of robots.  When we first introduced it into the curriculum, it was a real uphill struggle getting our female students on board with the lessons. They considered it a geeky activity and one better suited to boys so the first challenge was to change their perception of the subject. We also found that the initial phase of lessons revolved around the students assembling robotics kits which only appealed to a few limited skill sets and didn't help in encouraging the students to warm to the subject.

 

The bottom line was that we needed to try something different. In the end, we decided to set up a 'knockout challenge', inspired by the TV programme Robot Wars to get our students working together as a team and show them how fun robotics can be.

 

During EEE lessons (time set aside for Enhancement, Enrichment and Engagement activities)we started with simple kits called Jitter Bugs and the students had fantastic fun building and decorating them; trying to out-do one another.

 

Once we had the basics down, we then progressed onto E-bots with the help of two of our former students, who both excelled in robotics. They helped us plan a scheme of six lessons for our students around a self-build kit, which included programming and physically building the robots. Using Flowino, a flow chart based programming system they demonstrated how to do this using the materials provided and with help from 3D design software. They were careful to point out that robots don't have to walk on two legs as they usually do in films and that the students could be as creative as they wanted in their designs. Once we set them the challenge of getting their robot up and running before the other teams, this really kick-started their creativity. 

 

This was a real learning curve for me. Our former students had a better grasp of the robot design and programming process than us teachers, but the students really enjoyed explaining to us how their robots worked, adding to our knowledge base all the time. They used Computer Aided Design (CAD) to help the students engineer and develop a whole robot in virtual reality and test it, then went on to make it in the workshop and programme it in ICT.

 

Robotics was becoming popular and we decided to enter for the VEX UK Robotics Championships. We gave an assembly on what skills and characteristics were needed in a team then the students split themselves into four teams. One team of girls who had initially been very reluctant to engage in robotics tasks really got on board when they all realised their individual roles within the team. One focused on building, one on CAD, one on programming and one worked on a brand identity for their team. Once each team member had established a role that played to their strengths, they really got fired up about the task. It was also great to see how they worked together as a team to get the job done and to beat their competitors.

 

We found that this element of competition was key in exciting and engaging the students, especially the girls. They all learned a huge amount through trial and error and made excellent progress when they realised where tasks had gone wrong, and worked out how to correct their mistakes.

 

The crowning glory of our robotics lessons

A few months after this programme, a team from East Barnet School went on to win the VEX National Robotics Championship, a feat repeated this year by VEX Impact, a team of Year 9 girls. Both teams went on to represent the UK in the World Championships, competing in California with teams from around the world.  We won the UK robotics championship for the third year in succession in March. Some of the girls used to want to be dancers; now they want to be engineers. The feedback from the students has been brilliant and they all really look forward to putting their hard work to the test in these competitions.

 

We are all thrilled with these results and how much robotics lessons have taken off at East Barnet - particularly with how many of our female students have found a passion for the subject. Now we know that competition is key to engaging the students, we make sure that they are working towards an end goal that will allow them to compete against their contemporaries. It gives them something to focus on and allows them to enjoy the fruits of their hand work at the end of the process. Our students have come away with a huge range of new skills in IT, programming and engineering as well as project management and team work. Our Year 7 classes are really taking to robotics and are able to build and design using the right IT tools and materials. 

 

Not a lot of teachers know that free design software is available to all schools from 3D design software manufacturers like Autodesk, for example. It's really worthwhile to take advantage of it though, as it has been a massive help to us. We installed the software for free and all students were also able to download it onto their machines at home and access tutorials, which meant we could teach ourselves how to use it in a matter of days. The software has a direct link to VEX robotics and includes a parts library and simulations. Being able to design the robots in 3D before starting to build them was great as it meant we knew exactly which hardware to invest in. This has really benefitted the school budget as well as the students! 

 

There is a strong network of support for robotics from VEX, LEGO and Mindsets as well as from schools and students already involved in the teaching of robotics. It can be delivered at low cost, for example our Ebot costs £50 - £60 and includes programming software, and robots can be easily disassembled and used again. If you are considering competitive robotics, I would recommend seeking sponsorship and support as early as possible.

 

Teachers reading this may shy away from the idea of introducing robotics into the classroom because it's beyond their experience. I must admit I found some of the technical aspects challenging but through perseverance and continuous evaluation and development of our classes, we've gone from introducing internal competitions to winning world championships. Our school is now is encouraging other local schools into robotics and hoping to spread the word further. My advice: Keep at it and take advantage of the free resources available!


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