GUEST BLOG: Raising girls as people

In this guest post Frances Burton, security services group manager at education technology solutions charity, Jisc, explains what it’s like to be a “woman in technology” and why we should be raising people rather than raising girls.

Apparently, I’m a woman in technology, although I’ve never thought of it this way; I think of myself as a person who works in technology. It wasn’t a choice I made from school, either – I’m of an era where you tended to fall into IT rather than choose it as a career, so it kind of chose me.

My journey started when, looking for paid employment after fashion college, I landed an office junior job with the Atomic Energy Authority. The AEA computing division had developed one of the first text-based databases and I was chosen to demonstrate this new technology simply because I could touch type! It turned out I had a bit of an aptitude for this technology and my path was set.

I’m the youngest of four children, with an older sister and two older brothers. Our parents always told us that we could do anything so long as we were prepared to study, and they were very supportive of our choices. They also encouraged us to make the most of the opportunities that came our way and that’s how I’ve continued my career path.

My opportunities led to work in developing databases, finance dashboards and pc support and eventually I gave in and did an BSc in information and communication technology.

I wasn’t raised as a girl as such; I was raised as a person, encouraged to play to my strengths and to make decisions for myself taking account of my likes and dislikes.

Consequently, I didn’t select subjects at school on whether they were more popular with one gender or another. My school was also very forward-thinking for the time and girls and boys all took woodwork, metalwork, cookery and sewing.

From my own experience, I feel that teaching should be about giving people as many opportunities as possible to develop their own strengths and self-awareness so they can recognise and make the most of the opportunities that come their way, to know that learning never stops and that studying can carry on for long as you want.

I’m often asked which women influenced me and, to be perfectly honest, there are many people on the list of influencers, not all women, but the top two women would be:

1. Mo Molam, whose tenacity of character achieved a sea change in Northern Ireland politics that many, many politicians before had failed to do. I believe the difference was that she wasn’t driven by doing a good job in politics, but by truly wanting to end the conflict.

2. Debbie Harry, mainly because she is soooo cool! Also, overcoming addiction is an achievement, but having achieved her fame she gave it up to nurse her boyfriend back to health and then had the strength and security of self to know that the relationship had changed.

I have never experienced prejudice or barriers as a woman in anything. I don’t know if that’s because it doesn’t happen or whether I just never see it, but I certainly have never looked for it.

I hear people talking about how we must make sure that the balance of speakers between men and women should be more towards equal. To me, gender is an irrelevance, if you have a good speaker, addressing a relevant subject it should make no difference if they are male or female any more than if they may be disabled, LGBT or of a particular race, creed or religion. I’m told that this is “positive discrimination”; I’m very clear that I don’t believe there is such thing as positive discrimination, as selection automatically discriminates against someone.

I look forward to the day people are encouraged to follow their own career paths based on their own abilities and aptitude, where their physical attributes and culture are of no consideration.