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Everywoman forum 2019: Closing the divide between science and art

At this 2019 everywoman in tech forum, experts discussed the connection between the artistic and the technical, as well as the importance of role models in encouraging others into the sector

A focus on art and creativity will be vitally important in the creation and distribution of technology as we move towards an automated future, according to experts.

At the everywoman in tech forum 2019, a number of people from both in and outside of the technology industry talked about the human qualities which will continue to be important in the development of technology, especially as we create more artificially intelligent (AI) systems, which will be interacting with people every day.

The day was focused mainly on how ethics and emotional intelligence play into the development and distribution of technology, with an emphasis on how important human traits will be in an AI-driven future.

Momtaza Mehri, young people’s laureate for London, highlighted that in the UK’s education system, humanities subjects and sciences are “disparate” when they need to be used together to reflect “how we harness our creativity in everyday life”.

It has been widely agreed that creativity and the soft skills that come along with it are and will be increasingly important for tech roles as automation reduces the number of more mundane and repetitive jobs throughout most industries.

Mehri encouraged those in the audience to use poetry and language as an “emotional resource” in life to better understand themselves and their position in the world.

But as it currently stands, the creativity needed for the technology industry is not often talked about outside of the industry itself.

Maxine Benson, co-founder of everywoman, said that poems could be used as a way to “connect the dots between science and art”. She also pointed out the younger generation may be more aware of how technology will play a huge part in all sectors in the near future, adding that Generation Z “realise the future is tech” because they’ve “known no world but a digital one”.

Many have argued, however, that the computing curriculum introduced in 2014 to teach subjects such as computational thinking is too focused on code and not enough on the other aspects of a career in tech, such as creativity.

Nicola Millard, head of customer insight and futures at the BT Global Services Innovation Team, said that as well as technology and science, she was really interested in psychology, because she was interested in human nature and how people work.

“People have to use technology – in innovation, the most disruptive part in innovation is not the technology, it’s us,” said Millard.

“We should be looking at Steam rather than Stem,” she added, calling for art to be included in the popular acronym for science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).

“People don’t realise you can do science and art, people don’t realise you can do psychology and technology,” she added.

Having these mixed disciplines can contribute to the diversity of a team, as people from different backgrounds and specialisms have a different way of thinking and contribute a different perspective.  

“There are a lot of questions we need a really diverse team to work on for AI to succeed,” said Millard.

No silver bullet for developing technology

As well as diverse teams, there was a focus on ethics, collaboration and the advantages technology such as AI and automation could bring – as well as what will be needed to develop them in such as way they will be truly beneficial to society.

Sue Daley, head of big data, cloud and mobile services at industry body techUK, asked: “How are these technologies being developed with human values at the core?”

While she admitted there is “so much opportunity” when it comes to developing technology such as blockchain, AI, machine learning, automation and the internet of things (IoT), it is “also scary”, especially if the people behind the tech or using the tech aren’t considered during its conception.

Daley said applying ethical practices when developing technology isn’t just about data protection and privacy, but also when certain technology can be applied.

“What do we all accept, or what do we all think is socially acceptable to be used?” she said. “There’s no silver bullet.”

While the government has invested £9m in a centre for data ethics and innovation, and industry wanting to be “at the heart” of the debate around ethics, Daley believes that firms “all want to do the right thing”, but don’t always know what that is.

Part of developing this sense of right and wrong is trying is to encourage an environment of “collaboration and engagement”. Experts also mentioned the importance of being transparent, as well as considering when a technology is appropriate, regardless of whether or not it could work – the common warning being that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Ultimately, the debate came back to the next generation of talent, as well as the mixture of skills they will need for the tech roles of the future.

“Stem and coding are absolutely important. But let’s remember, it’s not just about Stem, we’re going to need that creative skills as well,” said Daley. “We need to find the balance, and that balance might need to shift and change as tech shifts and changes.”

Providing the talent pipeline

Not only is the UK’s computing curriculum thought to be too focus on coding, it is also thought to be very inflexible. Daley argued that she does not believe the UK’s education system is creating people with skills relevant for the world we’re living in today, as well as the world we’re moving towards.

The growing technology skills gap is likely to continue due to the curriculum’s inflexibility, as well as a lack of knowledge from teachers about the potential careers in technology or what subjects are needed to pursue them.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff, founder of Ness Labs, said collaboration between government, schools and the technology industry is the only way to make sure the skills needed for these empty roles is what’s being taught in schools.

“We can’t keep having the fixed curriculums we have right now, we need to change and adapt,” she said. “We can’t carry on teaching the same things every year.”

Read more about women in tech

It was agreed role models are a hugely important part in encouraging young people, especially young girls, to take an interest in Stem-focused subjects at school and, consequently, relevant careers too.

Everywoman co-founder, Maxine Benson, said: “Women cannot be what they cannot see – I know it’s a mantra you’ve probably heard before, and it’s one we believe in.”

Girls have also stated they want encouragement from women in Stem, and women in the industry are increasingly recommending technology careers.

Elizabeth Babalola, a year 12 student from Harris Academy Bermondsey, and a Modern Muse ambassador, said many her age and throughout school want more of an idea of how subjects “apply to the world around us” to make it easier to choose a path towards the right career.

Babalola helps girls in her school know “a career in tech can be a reality” in her role as a Modern Muse ambassador, but pointed out the role models who make the “greatest impact” are the teachers, peers and parents “in our homes and in our schools”.

“Those are the people who have the greatest impact in our lives,” she said. “Their role is to support – no matter whether the world thinks something is a reality for you.”

While many parents and teachers are unaware of Stem careers, those who are should be doing their best to share their experience with their children – male and female.

Karen Gill, everywoman co-founder, encouraged people to talk about their roles and share stories about their careers to “stamp out” the stereotypes surrounding the industry.

“Technology is no longer seen as non-inclusive to women as it once was, or a geek’s game,” she said, adding that tech is a “highly creative” industry with the “power to change lives”.

“Women really need to be and should be part of it,” she said.

Developing a growth mindset

As part of the everywoman in technology forum 2019, entrepreneur and business strategist Melanie Eusebe aimed to help people determine whether they had a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, and highlighted the dangers of having a fixed perspective.

She began by asking the audience to answer whether or not they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

  • Your intelligence is something you cannot change.
  • Your sporting ability is something you cannot change.
  • Your creative ability is something you cannot change.
  • Your leadership ability is something you cannot change.

She claimed those who agreed these attributes are something you are born with and cannot change or develop are more likely to have a fixed mindset – but why does that matter?

Much like those who have a stereotypical view about what kinds of jobs and people make up the technology industry, those with a fixed mindset are more likely to rule themselves, and others, out of potential careers.

“There are things we disqualify ourselves from because we think we’re not good at them, or we disqualify others,” said Eusebe.

“With the growth mindset, you understand that intelligence” as well as the other attributed listed “can be substantially changed”, she added.

Focusing on women in Stem specifically, Eusebe said women are often steered away from these types of careers because of fixed mindsets about what they can achieve, but those at the everywoman forum were luckily part of a group of people who haven’t been limited by a fixed mindset.

“A majority of women outside of these walls are exposed to the fixed mindset about women in Stem every single day,” she said.

Encouraging people to use a growth mindset is important not just for the benefit of themselves, but those around them. “It begins with you, and it begins at home,” Eusebe concluded.

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