STEM returner women shouldn’t be relegated to minimum-wage jobs — they are too intelligent and have too much to give
Tell us about your background and journey to your current role?
As the Data Skills and IT Learning and Development Professional in Digital Skills and Training, my main duties over the last year and a half included identifying existing online learning provisions and opportunities, and establishing a programme though which learners engage in online courses for skills development and reflect on their ongoing digital and data skills needs. To this end, I implemented a three-pathway blended learning course, called Developing Your Data Skills, which teaches a multitude of data skills to professional services staff, academic staff and students. Skills taught include introduction to data science, Excel, Python, R, and SQL programming skills, introduction to statistics, data analysis and data mining, visualisation and presentation skills, and data privacy. I run three bi-monthly workshops to complement the online segments in Learn. One hundred and forty staff and students were enrolled in the Programme for the academic year, 2018-19. There were eight cohorts of learners.
After working for ten years as a marketing research programmer for the British Market Research Bureau and IPSOS MORI, I stepped away from the tech world after my son was born and moving to America, though I had worked as a public librarian and school volunteer while raising my son.
I was keen to get back into the data world, so I joined CodeClan to update and learn new coding skills. After four months of intense coding, they recommended the Women’s Returner programme through Equate Scotland. Equate were fantastic, as they arranged my six-month placement (which became a longer term contract) with Digital Skills and Training. Without them, and ISG, I would have found great difficulty getting back into the workforce.
What is your vision for data innovation and the DDI programme?
We all have to think about data ethics and data privacy now. I recently attended a data ethics seminar by Miranda Mowbray, who is a lecturer on data ethics at the University of Bristol. Miranda said, “Everyone who works in the data and AI fields should undertake a data ethics course(s)”. We often forget to look at the bigger picture of what we are doing, when we are tied up in the minutiae of data/AI development.
After Cambridge Analytica, there was a great quote on Twitter saying: “We don’t need more STEM graduates, we need more STEM graduates with a liberal arts background”, meaning someone who understands the implications of what they are doing.
A friend in America, who is a data privacy advocate retweeted: “Maybe Cambridge Analytica will be our ‘Silent Spring’” – Silent Spring is an environmental science book about the indiscriminate use of pesticides and helped make the public aware of man-made environmental disasters.
What are you particularly proud of?
I’m proud of the projects that my learners produce after studying on the Developing Your Data Skills Programme. The quality of their projects is extremely high and my learners are finding that working with data is actually fun. I enjoy the students who now want to change career choices and become data scientists, because of their increased confidence in working with data and their growing interest in the field.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for women and girls in data fields?
The higher paid jobs tend to be in STEM-related disciplines, yet women often find it difficult to break into these traditionally male-dominated fields at school, university and especially as a returner. The jobs of the future are in STEM, yet there is a skills shortage, so anything that can inspire women to enter and stay in their STEM disciplines after raising a family should be encouraged. STEM returner women shouldn’t be relegated to minimum-wage jobs — they are too intelligent and have too much to give!
What would you recommend to women and girls who’d like to do what you’re doing?
Follow your industry trends on Twitter, look to update your C.V., and develop a LinkedIn profile. Look to update your skills in the shortest possible time. There is a free online Open University course, Returning to STEM, which takes eight hours to complete. It gets you thinking and gives you confidence. The course is useful for women, and men as well, wanting to break into STEM fields. Finally, join a women’s returner/student group, if you can, and other relevant professional groups in your area. It can feel lonely and difficult while you are job hunting, as the market is extremely competitive. Make friends with other women (returners) as they can give you emotional support and advice.
Do you have a hero or heroine?
Alan Turing. Who wouldn’t have liked to have worked with him to break ciphers during the Second World War? Margaret Hamilton, without her team of coders man wouldn’t have walked on the moon. Heroes and heroines of my own generation too, who attend work each day and push the boundaries in the AI and data fields. We started with BASIC and have come so far. We live in exciting times.