Starting on October 13th, Ada Lovelace Day, the Ada Scotland Festival brought together a series of live panels to raise awareness of the role of women in STEM and computing.
The virtual event series covered a range of topics, but at its heart, the festival focused heavily on sharing women’s experiences in the digital technology industry and passing on skills and advice to aspiring female techies. There were workshops designed to introduce key ideas for people looking to enter the tech industry, including programming concepts and game design.
The festival was designed to help rectify a major gender imbalance in the tech industry. Across all STEM subjects, women still account for only around 35% of students. This drops off to under 20% for computing science and engineering.
“A perception that computing and related subjects are only for boys is limiting opportunities for young women, as well as limiting the talent available to the tech industry in Scotland,” said Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science Richard Lochhead during the festival’s launch address.
“We really need a diversity of talent. With around 100,000 people now employed in digital roles across Scotland, and a need for 13,000 new entrants every year to meet replacement and growth demand, greater gender balance will help us meet the growing demands of the digital economy.”
With technology being such an integral part of the global economy, the range of roles in the industry is vast. This means that almost no matter the skillset, most traditional roles can become involved in tech. There is no one road into it, and for people with other passions, or who might not think they were suited for tech roles, there are still opportunities to work in the industry.
True to this, the Ada Scotland Festival brought together a diverse range of speakers, with each highlighting their unique route into the tech industry. The speakers came from a variety of roles, including engineers, coders, and developers, as well as more creative roles, such as designers, or problem-solving architects, or even lawyers.
However, having the right skills is still a major part of succeeding in tech. While there were live courses designed to help introduce new skills and hone existing ones, a common theme among the speakers was not to let missing skills temper ambition. For some, they retrained later in their careers or after university to help develop any skills they were missing before starting their tech career. Others talked about how they gained new skills on the job.
The speakers also discussed important areas worth studying – machine learning and AI featured heavily, as well as data-driven science courses. They mentioned some of the free resources that allow everyone to gain the skills needed to start or develop a career in programming, coding, or other tech subjects.
Ultimately, skills are more important than previous work experience. For those whose career and background do not include tech roles, so long as the skills are there, the tech industry can provide a home.
For those well established in the industry, the speakers talked about the importance of being a role model and mentor for other women. This includes vouching for other women and being prepared to discuss the challenges facing women in the sector.
On a practical level, helping and connecting with other women also helps build up a business network. For everyone, having people in the industry to support you is one of the most vital factors for succeeding.
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As the world experiences an accelerated digital transformation, the need for talented people to help implement and develop new technologies is more important than ever.
Getting more women into tech creates benefits for companies across multiple industries. In a recent interview with DIGIT, Priya Guha, Venture Partner at Merian Ventures, pointed out how more diverse companies are more likely to succeed.
However, joining the tech industry is only part of the challenge – staying in it is the other. Even when they study and graduate, they are less likely to find jobs in the industry than men and more likely to change their career path.
The importance of creating a skilled workforce for the tech industry is pressing issue, especially as the world’s digital transformation accelerates. This will be one of the issues discussed at DIGIT’s 5th Annual Digital Transformation Virtual Summit on October 28th.