Want more girls in tech? Show them they can make a difference in the world

Last year I organised a Raspberry Pi workshop and competition for 13-year-old girls at Barnwood Park Arts College in Gloucester.  In discussing the events with their Computer Science teacher, Mr. Holland, I mentioned that the original concept was to get the students to create Pi projects that could help vulnerable people or the social workers and family members who look after them.  I offered him the chance to change that objective and do something that he thought would be more interesting to the girls, but he said, “No, that’s it; making it about helping people will get them interested.”

In the months since the competition, I’ve been trying to immerse myself as much as possible in the conversation that has taken off around gender diversity, and, in our industry, particularly, the question, “how do we get more girls interested in STEM?” and one of the things that is emerging for me is that Mr. Holland’s insight into his own students might well apply more generally: many girls want to do things that help others.

In her Entrepreneur.com article entitled “I Belong Here: 3 Ways to Attract More Women to STEM”, Harvard graduate and Head of Business Operations at biotech firm Illumina Merrilyn Datta notes that many of her female colleagues also working in STEM came to it because they saw a problem they wanted to solve and then that science and technology was the route to solving it.  She also points to research that backs this up: the ICRW has found that an effective STEM education programme encouraged girls to use technology to solve problems in their communities, and that University of Pennsylvania researchers found that “altruism has been highly linked to career choice for women.”

There is further support for the theory that women are attracted to careers that enable them to do good in the numbers of women who start social enterprises: according to a 2015 report by Social Enterprise UK, 40% of social enterprises are led by women – twice as many as run small businesses.

Given that women still comprise the vast majority of people undertaking paid and unpaid caregiving roles, from social workers to full-time mothers and carers of elderly parents, it shouldn’t be news that girls and women care about helping others.  In fact, there is an irony in this situation: one of the major reasons why gender disparity persists (e.g. in the form of lower pay, less access to finance, lower representation in leadership positions in business and politics, lower rates of entrepreneurship) is because the burden of caring falls disproportionately on women.

However, I see an opportunity here.  The fact that many girls and women want to make a positive difference in the lives of others is great news for those of us working in the parts of the tech industry that aim to use technology for good.  From fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity, to improving the lives of the elderly and curing disease, there is no shortage of opportunity to use a STEM career to make a positive difference.

So the next question is, “how can we ensure girls know that there is such opportunity?”  We can bring this out more in the outreach work we’re doing as a sector.  We’ve learned a lot in the last decade about the importance of female role models and having higher numbers of other girls in STEM courses so girls can see others like themselves.  Research from the WISE campaign found that girls need to see the context of STEM in the bigger picture, and be shown its application in real life situations and careers.  When we do these things, we have the perfect opportunity to also bring in messages about the careers in tech that have positive impacts.  We should also run our technology workshops for girls with this in mind: can we make these initiatives more exciting and relevant to girls by setting the focus on issues in their community and in their everyday lives?

…which brings me back to Mr. Holland’s students.  When we caught up after the events, Mr. Holland told me that in response to the challenge we set to create a Raspberry Pi project focused on helping vulnerable people all immediately thought of people in their lives their projects could help (usually grandparents).  That got them excited and opened their eyes to the potential of technology to do good.  After a one-day workshop with Sopra Steria mentors, the girls, in teams of four, set to work building Pi projects ranging from alarms that went off when medication hadn’t been taken on time to alerts sent to caregivers if an elderly person living independently had an accident in his or her home.  Many of the students conducted extra research related to the problem they were trying to solve (for example, dementia), so they could improve their Pi solution.  They did this of their own volition, because having been set a challenge they could personally relate to, they were engaged, curious, motivated.

Ensuring girls know about these opportunities is important, but it isn’t the only thing of course.  We also need to continue to contribute to the efforts being made by businesses in all sectors to make work more attractive to people with caring responsibilities, and to welcome people back to work after a career break (a good example of this is the new Returners’ Hub, which is supported by Sopra Steria and being launched on International Women’s Day).  There is a lot of work to be done to ensure more women have equal access to finance so they can start and scale-up new businesses.  As a society, we can do more to ensure both men and women can participate in caring duties, and that we value these duties more highly.

After this year’s International Women’s Day has come and gone, I hope we’ll ride the wave of momentum and redouble our efforts to make our sector more diverse now and in the future by getting out and talking to girls and young women and inviting them to be a part of the movement towards sustainable development in tech.

For more information about the People Like Me initiative that has emerged from the WISE campaign research mentioned above, and the new Returners’ Hub, go to www.techuk.org/returners on or after 8 March.

What are your thoughts about encouraging more girls into STEM careers? leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Photo used with the permission of Barnwood Park Arts College

Lending for social good: supporting women to start a business

On International Women’s Day, we are celebrating and raising loan contributions to support the work of Kiva

In January, we created a team on Kiva as a way of promoting micro-loans across our company. Some people already used Kiva, but for most it was a new experience. So far it has been incredibly rewarding.

Sopra Steria is celebrating International Women’s Day by holding events – open to both men and women – at a number of our UK office locations. At these events, we will promote and support Kiva as an excellent way to offer micro-loans to borrowers to start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realise their potential.

What is Kiva?

Kiva is an international non-profit organisation, founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco, with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. We celebrate and support people looking to create a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.

100% of every dollar you lend on Kiva goes to funding loans. Kiva covers costs primarily through optional donations, as well as through support from grants and sponsors.

Kiva lends in 82 countries, with approximately 1.6m lenders and 2.2m borrowers. Currently there are about $937m of loans funded through Kiva.

Why are we using it?

It’s a loan not a donation. We believe lending alongside thousands of others is one of the most powerful and sustainable ways to create economic and social good. Lending on Kiva creates a partnership of mutual dignity and makes it easy to touch more lives with the same dollar. Fund a loan, get repaid, fund another.

How does it work?

The borrower begins by applying for a loan. This loan request then goes through an underwriting and approval process. Once approved, this request is then posted to Kiva for lenders to support. Lenders crowd-fund the loan in increments of $25 and once it is funded the borrower is then lent the money. Over time, the borrower then repays the loan. Lenders can then use the repayments to fund new loans, donate the money to Kiva, or withdraw the money.

What is the impact?

Since Kiva started in 2005 there have been over 1.1m loans funded through Kiva, with 83% of these going to women.

72k loans have helped people get access to clean energy, 29k loans have been for education, and 765k loans have been to people in the least developed countries.

How do I join in?

Start your own team on Kiva, or join the Sopra Steria team and help us make a difference. We exceeded our goal to fund $250 by the end of March 2017, so we are now working towards a new target!

Are you supporting, or would like to know more about, Kiva? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Inspiring digital skills in the next generation

I recently had the opportunity to go with colleagues on behalf of Sopra Steria to Victoria College in Belfast alongside Digital Shared Service (DSS) to present to fifty teenage girls on Working in IT.  It was a great opportunity for us to give something back to the local community and support Digital NI in promoting STEM subjects and digital technology careers to students.

Sopra Steria has an active role in each of our local communities where we partake in outreach programmes.

We aim to open the student’s eyes to the wonders of IT, the world of digital and its impact on individuals working and personal life.

It was a strange, but nice feeling being back in the classroom, especially being the one talking at the front! I had the challenge of beginning the session, introducing my company and myself to the students and explaining my own journey from a history degree to working in IT as a Graduate Business Analyst. I explained how not all jobs in IT are code based, the unique job roles included within IT and the different skills needed.

We next wanted to highlight the importance of IT within everyday life and introduced “Game Changer” a programme which has the ambition of raising physical fitness and promoting healthy lifestyles in children and that Sopra Steria is working on with Halton CCG and Widnes Vikings Rugby. Through the programme we have developed TRAKKA – a fitness band and associated measurement and monitoring application – and Sopra Steria’s programme lead Louise O’Leary captivated the students, challenging them to think about how simple changes in lifestyle can create big changes in wellbeing. Although the TRAKKA wristband was designed for younger kids they were interested to see how the ecosystem developed from TRAKKA:

Inspire, Inform, Improve

diagram 'trakka' ecosystem - circle of text: Nutrition, Data/Web/Apps, Information, Behaviour & Wellbeing, Academic Improvement, Activity, Content, Ideas - back to Nutrition

Data is at the heart of TRAKKA, highlighting performance and areas for improvement and following on from Louise’s presentation, another of my colleagues Dermot Boyle moved the conversation on to another important topic, data analytics, bringing it to life with real life and familiar examples. This is another emerging IT area where we will see increasing focus over the coming years and where apprentices and graduates will be able to make their mark as they start their careers. Designed to get them involved, we concluded with a quick hands-on session, asking them to answer questions from information in our TRAKKA, Power BI dashboard.

In our work with other schools and colleges across the UK, we’ve been involved in a number of projects providing Raspberry Pi kits helping to building IT and entrepreneurial skills. At the end of our visit we donated a Raspberry Pi to Victoria College to support them in working with the students to develop coding knowledge in a fun and interactive way.

Louise, Dermot and I all really loved being involved in this visit; it was fun and energetic and we really hope the students felt the same. It appears our time was well spent as the school has asked whether some of the children could take up work placements – so we may even see a few of the faces again in and around the Belfast office! It’s a big choice choosing your future career and it would be nice to think that we provided someone with that spark of inspiration to enter the world of IT.

If this is something that you feel interested in or want to know more about, please feel free to get in touch – we would be more than happy to help! You can leave a reply below, or contact me via email.

image of students at Victoria College
Our student audience at Victoria College

Look at how our sustainability programme encourages students to build skills and careers in IT.

Understand more about our vibrant team and work in Northern Ireland.

We offer great training, development and career progression prospects – find out more about our Early Careers opportunities.

Competitive growth driven by sustainability and digital technology

The linear economy

Two centuries ago the first industrial revolution established a linear approach to economic and social growth. This linear economy, still in place today, is based on three different steps: make, use, and dispose.

Its founding principle is that raw materials are copious, easily sourced from Mother Nature and cheap to dispose of.

The linear consumption model fostered significant social and economic improvement around the world. However, natural resources are not infinite and are becoming scarcer and thus more expensive to be sourced.

Trends such as population growth, urbanisation, climate change and pollution, increase pressure on available resources and, combined with the linear economic model, create a significant amount of waste, which is expensive to manage and dispose of.

This waste could actually be a valuable resource, but for that to happen, supply chains, companies and products need to be designed accordingly.

The circular economy

In the last years, a new theory, looking into supplanting the linear economy, has been developed: the circular economy.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the circular economy is “restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times”. The idea is to create “closed loop” systems, where materials are kept in use as long as possible and then, at the end of the life cycle, resources are not disposed, but recovered and reused.

The circular economy is based on industrial systems designed to reduce waste and optimise energy consumption as well. These circular systems need new supply chain networks, new product design and the introduction of new as-a-service business models.

As such, this new approach not only focuses on recycling, but considers the triple bottom line: economic, social, and environmental performance.

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Benefits of the circular economy encompass the reduced cost of remanufacturing goods, the significant savings in terms of energy usage, the mitigation of the risk of raw materials price volatility, and a more resilient local economy which translates into a better social impact on local communities.

An analysis drawn up by McKinsey estimates that by 2025 circular systems could add £1 trillion to the global economy and that the EU manufacturing sector could realise materials cost savings up to £600 billion per year.

Digital technologies: The hub of the circular economy

Digital technologies have been identified as one of the drivers that can enable the shift towards a circular economy.

Information technology can be used to trace materials through the supply chain and create self-regulated systems able to optimise product utilisation. For example, RFID technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) allow the tracking of materials, recording their usage, cost and remaining available life cycle.

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Additionally, IT can be integrated into buildings, making them “smart”. In this way energy and resource usage can be monitored and planned efficiently, providing a positive impact on the environment and significant savings to the user.

Social media platforms and mobile technology can connect users with businesses, giving them access to products and services in ways that were unthinkable only a few years ago.

An example of this is the sharing economy, where resources are shared and used for their entire lifecycle among different users. AirBnb, Zipcar and bike sharing services are great examples of this.

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These services, paired with big data analytics, can provide valuable insights on products’ usage and customer behaviour, allowing companies to design tailored services to users’ needs, such as predictive maintenance and iterative upgrades.                               

IT plays a major role in this circular revolution. Digital Technologies act as the main hub for the circular economy and the sharing economy, from social media, through IoT, to energy consumption platforms and big data analytics.

Sopra Steria is at the forefront of innovation for a sustainable future thanks to our end to end service offering, from consulting to systems integration; our in-depth knowledge of the public, energy and transport sectors; and its expertise in Big Data, Cloud, Mobility, Cyber Security, and Connected Objects. Through our Smart City offering, Sopra Steria aims to create innovative, more efficient and service-oriented cities. This can be translated to company level with specific services and products tailored on your company needs.

What are your thoughts about the circular economy? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.


References

1 https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/Ellen-MacArthur-Foundation-Towards-the-Circular-Economy-vol.1.pdf

2 https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy

Why we need to encourage more women-owned businesses

I recently had the privilege and pleasure of speaking at an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meeting for Women & Enterprise, along with my colleague Graham Roberts. It was exciting and inspiring to be surrounded by so many women leaders and entrepreneurs, even more so because we were brought together to contribute to an important challenge: how to unlock the estimated £10.1bn of economic growth potential in women’s proactive participation in our economy. More on that in a moment. First, a pop quiz:

Name five well-known female entrepreneurs

If you’re like me, you’ll find that difficult. The names we tend to hear about most – Zuckerberg, Musk, Jobs, Gates, Brin, Page – all men. Where are the women?

These men in Tech are inspiring. We admire them. We hold them up, along with sports, movie and rock stars, as aspirational figures in society. And some of us, especially kids and young adults, might be dreaming of becoming like them some day. But what happens if you’re a girl or young woman and you don’t see very many women in business or tech to aspire to? I think it puts you at a disadvantage. People tend to believe they can do things if others like them have already done them.

Of course, women entrepreneurs are out there. Arianna Huffington, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce Knowles…and in our (Tech) industry Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, Ann Budge and Alison Newell (all of who form part of the Sopra Steria story, by the way). We just tend to hear less about them.

Visibility matters

Just as with the number of women in top executive positions, the number of women-owned businesses is still too small, and those that do exist don’t seem to get the same visibility and attention. I love chocolate and have been a fan of Montezuma brand chocolate for a while. But I didn’t know Montezuma was co-founded by a woman, Helen Patterson, until she got up to speak at the APPG reception about her experience starting the company.

Does it matter that my chocolate is made by a company co-founded by a woman? Not when I’m eating it, no; but in the background, somewhere in my subconscious mind, it does. It contributes to the unconscious ideas and beliefs I have about women. The concept of unconscious bias is an area of study that’s getting a lot of attention, and focus from corporate diversity programmes. It suggests that we all develop beliefs about the world we live in that we may not even be aware of on a conscious level: what certain groups of people are like, what people who look like that are like, what people like us and what people who are not like us are capable of. For example, if someone tells you they have been to see their GP, you are likely to imagine that they saw a man, not a woman, even though there are many women GPs. So knowing that my chocolate comes from a woman-owned business might help me chip away at the unconscious biases I have and build up a picture of women running businesses.

Sopra Steria is an example of a company that has seen real business benefits to increasing the number of women in more senior positions, and improving their visibility. In the last few years, the number of women on our UK board has jumped to just under 40%. At the same time, many of our senior women are getting involved in gender equality initiatives within and outside the company, raising awareness of the issue and seeking to improve it. And we have noticed something occurring simultaneously: more women are coming forward, asking for career advice from the women they can now see at the top, and joining in the conversation about diversity in tech and business; many are saying,

“I have something to offer and I’m ready to do more.”

Women entrepreneurs – and would-be entrepreneurs – would benefit from a similar increase in visibility of role models. Right now in the UK, women start new businesses at half the rate that men do, and the gap widens as businesses grow. There are a lot of reasons for this – unequal access to finance, the persistent cultural expectation that women will continue to bear more caring and domestic responsibilities than men are but two. Giving women more entrepreneurial role models that look like them will not solve everything, but it’s worth including it in the mix of initiatives that we need to start on now.

The UK economy is missing out on over £10bn by not addressing the challenges women face in starting their own businesses, according to a recent study by Facebook. We can’t afford to lose out on that growth. Let’s make sure we’re doing everything we can to inspire, encourage and practically support the women who will create new businesses – as well as the next generation, the girls in school and college. Shouting about the examples of successful women entrepreneurs already out there is a good start.

What do you think? Leave a reply below, or contact me  by email.


The meeting of the APPG for Women & Enterprise took place on 12 September 2016.

Sustainability rolls on at Rio 2016 Olympics?

The Olympics has the accolade of bringing nations and cultures together with a backdrop of sporting disciplines. When my home town, London hosted the summer games in 2012, I wanted to be part of the action and celebration, so I volunteered as a Games Maker in the Athletes’ Village. What a great and successful event it turned out to be and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience to the extent that it spurred me on to volunteer again, this time for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Buildup to the Rio 2016 as we all know from the media had been mixed with questions being posed on whether the country could have spent ten plus billions of US$ on more vital infrastructure and services to its citizens and whether the stated legacy would ever be realised. Facilitating Sustainability (Environment, Workplace, Marketplace and Community) for Sopra Steria in the UK meant that my desire was to find out for myself what the locals thought on the ground.

 Rio de Janeiro was somewhat a familiar territory for me. I had travelled through Brazil, Peru and Bolivia in 2014, spending time in the Amazon rainforest. My role for Sopra Steria Group as the Head of Environmental Sustainability had given that trip an added dimension to learn first-hand and share with my colleagues the vital role the largest rainforest making our planet habitable for us and generations to come. I had made friends with several Cariocas (those born and raised in Rio de Janeiro), so I arranged to live with my Carioca friends, walking, taking buses (an experience for the brave) and metros (lines 1, 2 & 4 – does anyone know where is line 3?), eating feijoada (a hearty stew of black beans, sausages and cuts of pork of varying quality – traditionally veering towards the lower end, with trotters, and ears all going into the mix!) and not forgetting my daily dose of Caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça: sugarcane hard liquor with sugar, lime and ice).

It was great to see the first gold medal for Brazil going to a young lady, Rafaela Silva, from the notorious favela, Cidade de Deus or City of God who had to fight inequality, poverty and racism growing up. Perhaps this achievement was a tiny example of a positive outcome to mitigate human rights campaigners’ concern about the impact of the Games on the Brazilian city’s most vulnerable communities. Driving with my Carioca friends through several favelas (too dangerous to walk they say; a black belt in karate is of no value against a gun!) poverty is there to be seen with limited schools and hospitals. Most Cariocas with whom I mingled, spoke (thank you must go to Google Translate for rescuing me in a number of situations) and drank Caipirinha felt that money could have been more wisely spent on infrastructure (hospital and schools), than on transport – which by the way was a big improvement from two years ago – and to ensure planning continues to realise the long term benefits of sports and stadia without the risk of a repeat of Athens 2004.

To conclude on a positive note, my volunteer experience at the Rio Olympic Arena with gymnastics and trampoline was great and I admired the Brazilian skill of thinking on their feet and coming up with successful solutions to issues that develop due to a lack of process and training! I even managed to secure a new Rio 2016 volunteer shirt and trousers to auction at the Sopra Steria Community Matters week in October that champions community involvement and where all employees are encouraged to get involved in community activities, one day’s paid company time to volunteer, matched funds and enabling grants.

As I finish this blog, I gather the Tokyo games in 2020 are planning to use multi-lingual high tech robots. Does this mean my human volunteer skills (underpinned by Google Translate) have had its day?

What do you think?  Leave a reply below or contact me by email.