4 barriers to getting underrepresented people into tech – Debbie Forster

Jump to 12.34 to hear what the 4 barriers to getting underrepresented people into tech are.

Debbie is the CEO at Tech Talent Charter.

Originally an English teacher Debbie was an early adopter of computers in the classroom. This quickly saw Debbie becoming in charge of the schools IT department. Working her way up the school career ladder she saw tech as a great enabler. For some of the children, she was teaching she saw how tech could become a way into careers they might not be able to consider otherwise.

As a head teacher, her school piloted and championed a new scheme called Computer Club for Girls. After a career as a teacher, Debbie joined E-skills UK. She was the Head of Education which meant she was working with policymakers like IBM & Microsoft trying to figure out how they could make a tech curriculum fit for purpose.

Having a hand in policy was very important for instigating change, but it wasn’t Debbie’s first love. While she was at E Skills she came across a company called Apps for Good. Which teaches students digital skills via an app. Debbie took the company from two schools and 41 students to reaching around 75000 kids. Debbie saw again how this app caught the eyes of girls and she was drawn back into discussions about diversity in tech.

As time went on Debbie was heading to more and more diversity based events. Evidence was showing more diverse workforces were better for business. Whilst she was still at Apps for Good, Debbie was approached by Sinead Bunting with an offer of creating a group that’s focused on increasing diversity in tech. This was the beginning at the Tech Talent Charter.


4 barriers to getting underrepresented people into tech

As the CEO of Tech Talent Charter, Debbie’s core mission is to address and tackle the lack of diversity in the tech sector. As a former school headmaster, she knows a lot of this problem stems from the school curriculum. Below are the 4 areas Debbie has identified that are blocking underrepresented groups to a career in tech.

Marketing a career in tech

In schools especially we get pre-occupied with trying to get children excited for tech itself. A lot of young people aren’t excited by tech and we don’t do a very good job of stressing what tech can be used for. We instead shout about how tech is cutting edge and ‘forward-thinking’. If people don’t see the practical solutions tech can solve it remains an aloof and uninteresting career.

Instead of this approach, we should be championing the outcomes and the things you can build with tech. We should be asking children what problems they are having and then tell them to overcome them with technology. This approach is great as it shows young people that tech isn’t just being sat at a computer but that it affects aspects of their lives they didn’t even realise. If you get them to understand the why, the how is fine. By framing technology as a problem solver we can get a lot more young people using it too.

No dedicated teachers

Technology as a discipline exploded out of nowhere about 20 years ago. As was often the case in school there was no dedicated IT teacher. If we look at Debbie as an example, she was an English teacher that was thrust into a role as the head of IT.

A lot of teachers were very quickly expected to become experts in a subject they knew nothing in. As well as this, unlike many other subjects, like English or History, the fundamental knowledge you need to be proficient at coding is always changing. This meant a lot of the lessons given were behind the times or of substandard quality.   

Confidence issues around tech

We know from research that there is a confidence issue around technology. This is for girls in particular but also for underrepresented groups. There is a fear of making mistakes, getting things wrong. We may shy away from things that are challenging. There’s a lot of societal and educational ways we have re-enforced that.   

But if you want to work in tech you can’t be afraid of making mistakes. The only way you learn in tech is by making mistakes. When you’re coding you need to read over your code and you’re always de-bugging things but that’s how you learn.

We need to find ways to build the confidence of our young coders and we need to re-define what failure is.   

No role models

The last big barrier for underrepresented groups in tech is the lack of diverse role models. If you look at the images of tech professional online or on the TV, they are predominantly white males. It is difficult to aspire to a role that you cannot visualise yourself in.  

When Debbie was at Apps for Good they had experts from tech that would skype children to tutor them on code. Debbie pushed to make sure 40% of their experts were women as a way to combat the disproportionate amount of men at the front and center of the tech industry.

 

If we start overcoming these problems we can begin to readdress the unbalances in the tech industry and create a sector that encourages a diverse range of thoughts, genders, faiths, and abilities.


Show Notes:

00.59 Debbie’s background, career, and accolades.   

09.00 Changing tech education at a grassroots level.

18.09 The diversity board from the Institute of coding.

24.49 How do we market tech as a desirable career.

28.07 The benefits of a diverse company culture.

31.50 Diversity shouldn’t be a quota led project.

34.10 Everyone wants contractors.

38.16 What is success for the Tech Talent Charter.