Employers could do more to retrain employees in tech skills, particularly those who have taken time out after having children.
Employers should do more to offer returning mums tech updates to boost their confidence, a #techmums event heard last week.
Professor Sue Black, founder of #techmums, said employers needed to offer retraining opportunities in tech to those who had been out of the workforce for a while. So often women who had taken career breaks were anxious about how technology had moved on in their absence and this undermined their self confidence, she said. Offering short courses to bring them up to date and ease them back to work would help.
Professor Black, who is a computer scientist at Durham University, also mentioned that TechUP which is led by Durham University, had just received funding from the Institute of Coding to retrain 100 women from the underrepresented backgrounds in the Midlands and the North so they could take up tech jobs. “It is crazy that there are so many talented women who cannot get back into the workplace,” she said.
The event, to launch #techmums survey on digital literacy, included a panel discussion with Professor Black, entrepreneur Sharmadean Reid, Rob Harding, Chief Operations and Technology Officer at Capital One UK, and Gifty Assana, a graduate of a #techmums course.
Each spoke about their tech journey and how tech had helped them in their lives. Professor Black spoke of the different way she was treated as an academic compared to as a mum living on a council estate in Brixton. “I will never forget that,” she said.
Reid said thinking about how you are perceived – in her case as a girl from a Wolverhampton council estate – took up unnecessary mental space that could be focused on work. She added that equal parenting was also important.“How can you have time to be Shakesepare if you are thinking about the chores all day,” she said. “Lifting that cognitive load from women is very important.” She added that men needed to be encouraged to take paternity leave more and all those on parental leave should be offered updates so they could choose to stay in touch with what was happening in the business, meaning the return to work would be less difficult.
Rob Harding said Capital One, which has just become #techmums’ first corporate partner, had created its own tech school programme. He felt it was important to create judgement-free, inclusive environments where people can access learning and where students could ask questions and students and faculty could build confidence and great content together. Part of the solution was to create a network of alumni and use their success stories to spread the word and get alumni to be mentors.
Assana said that on her course there were women who were at different stages of their tech journey. Some, for instance, had never used Facebook. The 10-week course worked on many levels, for instance, introducing mums to apps that could make their lives easier, helping them to support their children with their homework or to make friends as well as helping them in their working lives.
Reid added that it was good for business to bring together tech and non-tech people. “Amazing ideas come from the people who use the products we are building,” she said, adding that it was “audacious” to build products for women without including them in discussions about them, not just in focus groups but as consultants or as workers. “They are not just consumers,” she said. “The more women there are who are building the tech the better it is for everyone,” she said.
Professor Black recalled a woman who was scared of the computer keyboard when she started on the #techmums course. She was a businesswoman and ran a school uniform shop. Within weeks she was able to use technology to improve her business. She has increased her customers 10 fold and is now taking on staff. “She is an amazing entrepreneur and with tech skills look what she can do,” said Professor Black. “She told me that technology had changed her life.”
There was discussion about how the tech literacy gap began very early with gender stereotyping. #techmums was undoing years of that tech literacy gap.
Asked what could be done to address this, Professor Black pointed out that every job is now a tech job and said it is important to highlight this. She added that things were improving, there were a lot of initiatives for women in tech and good role models and things were moving towards a tipping point, but much more needed to be done.
Assana said tech courses were important for new mothers to help them rebuild their confidence and information on them needed to made accessible in the kind of places new mums visit, such as libraries. Reid said a campaign was needed to turn libraries into affordable co-working spaces for mums and childcare needed to be cheaper.
Harding said so many employers had skills shortages. They needed to work with organisations like #techmums to help offer more learning opportunities for a wider range of people.