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‘Crossing the Great Divide’: Attracting more Women into Tech

Chloe Henderson

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geek girl scotland

Girl Geek Scotland held an event on Tuesday September 5th on how to encourage more women into the digital technology sector. Here are the highlights.

Over half of all female graduates in the digital technology sector come from a non-tech background, with degrees or experience in fields like the creative arts, social sciences, and business studies. For those looking for a career change, taking the sideways step into tech can seem like a difficult and daunting process.

Girl Geek Scotland sought to address this at their mentoring event, Crossing the Great Divide. Using a range of case studies from the industry, the event showcased initiatives designed to help women move into the tech sector, and develop the skills needed for a digital technology career. Held in association with Craneware, a Girl Geek Scotland sponsor, it featured a panel of industry experts that led open discussions and workshops addressing the different routes into technology including; professional training, graduate schemes, and re-entry programmes for industry leavers.

“I think there are a lot of people who are looking for a way into digital technology but don’t know what the options are,” Morna Simpson, founder of Girl Geek Scotland told DIGIT. “Being able to provide them with those options helps people to think clearly and strategically about their career choices going forward. What we got a lot of on the night, from discussion, is that there are a lot of people from softer sciences who are trying to make their way into the sector. There are a number of different options for this, and people should be looking at all of them.

“At Girl Geek Scotland we’ve realised that running mentoring one-to-one takes quite a lot of effort, but there is a huge demand for it. We have a short term plan of delivering high-quality events where the content is based on research and best-practice from industry. In that way we think we can have a greater impact in the short term than individual mentoring.”

girl geek scotland

Here are some of the highlights from the event…

Transitioning to a Career in Digital Technology

girl geek scotlandClaire Hilditch from Craneware delivered a seminar offering advice to prospective techies on how to make the transition to a career in the digital industries. Regardless of your background, there is ample opportunity to equip yourself with the skills necessary for the tech sector – the first step is simply knowing that you want to make a change.

Here are her key insights:

  • DON’T BE AFRAID of taking the leap
  • Consider what kind of learning works for you. Classroom or online? Part-time or full-time? What does your budget allow for?
  • Prepare for a new environment. No two industries are the same
  • Don’t pigeonhole yourself, regardless of your background
  • Identify and recognise your transferable skills
  • Get the basic technical grounding, and find a company that recognises your ability to learn
  • Anyone can overcome a lack of knowledge, whether than be technical knowledge or an understanding of the tech industry
  • Reflect on and talk through your plan with others

Inclusivity and Diversity 

girl geek scotlandRonnie Corse, Head of Technology and Future Talent at Sky, delivered a talk advising employers on how to promote meaningful inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. He also spoke in depth about schemes to encourage women back into the workplace particularly with regard to balancing family and work life. His most important advice was:

  • Men and women react differently to different terminology
  • Rewrite your job descriptions to appeal to both
  • Aim for equality from the beggining
  • Family pressures and workplace biases can put women off careers in STEM. Counteract this with initiatives including free training for those without a tech background
  • Offer course formats that fit into the lives of families
  • Set a goal aiming for 50/50 equality at a leadership level
  • Encourage senior execs to work closely with potential talent
  • support parents with their transition to parenthood with workshops on aspects such as ‘coping with school holidays’
  • Offer emergency care sessions to both men and women, to encourage sharing of home care responsibilities
  • Provide childcare vouchers as a tax-efficient way to fund childcare through benefits
  • Focus on flexible working

Getting Students into Tech 

girl geek scotlandGirl Geek Scotland mentor Jane Ballantine delivered a seminar exploring the value of graduate schemes in encouraging greater diversity in the digital technology sector. She also spoke at length on the value of graduate programmes for graduates and employers alike, what a good graduate scheme should look like, and how to successfully run one.

How to attract participants, with a particular emphasis on diversity:

  • Consider applicants with non-tech backgrounds. Building visibility of the different routes into a digital tech career is essential
  • Introduce work experience programmes for schools to encourage students into STEM fields
  • Visit schools to create a young audience for the company
  • Talk to schools about the gender issue to ensure a good balance of students, and to let girls know that they are welcome

How to run a good graduate scheme:

  • Allow new graduates to discover their professional interests and hone their skills
  • Plan a structured timetable of activities for students and graduates, and respond to feedback
  • Let students and graduates experiment with multiple roles, so that they can work out what best suits them
  • Provide time for employees who are supporting the programme. Consider including initiatives in Corporate Social Responsibilities budgets
  • Treat your participants as adults, but also provide the support to help them understand how to work and act in a professional manner in business
  • Organise icebreakers and social events
  • Create an in-house women’s network to support women in the workplace

Commenting on the event, Issy Urquhart, Chief People Officer at Craneware, told DIGIT:

“Craneware is privileged to declare its ongoing support to promoting women in technology and being able to do this through Girl Geek Scotland in particular. We were delighted to host this mentoring event where the topic of Crossing The Great Divide and the challenges in doing this for women were enthusiastically debated and discussed.

“It provided an invaluable opportunity for attendees to gain insights into what some companies in Scotland and beyond are doing to facilitate this, and what women who want to move into the digital technology sector can do to maximise their success in achieving their career goals.”

Sam Rhynas, Girl Geek Scotland Mentoring Community: Relationship Management, added: “The feedback we got from the attendees to this event shows us how important it is that we continue to provide high quality information, education and networking opportunities to promote, engage and support women whose goal it is to work in the digital technology sector.
“Those who had questions about it as a viable way forward came away enthused and with a better understanding of how they personally might continue, or indeed get started, on that journey.”

Chloe Henderson

Staff Writer - DIGIT

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