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We can’t allow tech sector troubles to derail inclusion and education efforts

Hilary Stephenson

More still needs to be done to increase the accessibility and inclusion efforts of events for people from underrepresented groups.

We can’t let the current economic uncertainly and volatile conditions set back the progress that has been made in providing access to events, networking and education opportunities, writes Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Nexer Digital.

Research shows there is still a gender imbalance in the tech industry – just one in five (19%) tech workers are women, while almost half (49%) of people in employment are women highlighting a big disparity in the industry. This difference is also reflected in the boardroom where less than a quarter (22%) of tech directors are women.

This problem can be traced back to inequality within further education. According to UCAS figures, only one in three (35%) STEM students in higher education are women.

Research by Wiley Edge shows encouragement from schools is the biggest motivator in students choosing a career in tech, with women more likely to be influenced by role models than their male counterparts. Therefore, introducing role models to students at an early stage and increasing opportunities to hear from inspirational people in the industry, can encourage students, particularly those from underrepresented demographics, to pursue a career in the tech sector.

Each year we consider how we can play our part in improving the current status quo in the tech industry, not just for women but all underrepresented groups.

Diversity and inclusion in the tech sector

At Camp Digital 2023, we have introduced two programmes aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion in the tech sector. The Rising Star scheme offers fifty free in-person and fifty live-stream tickets to students from institutions including universities, colleges and bootcamps on courses relating to digital. The North of England is well-served by further education establishments so building links with them and their engaged community of students is a positive step for inclusion.

The Pay it Forward programme enables attendees to buy tickets at a discounted price and nominate another person or organisation to receive the ticket, with a focus on gifting to underserved groups who might otherwise miss out on joining the event. This initiative has been driven by generous people in the industry who have requested to support fellow people in the sector that they mentor or would like to bring along.

As well as increasing access to events, it is an organiser’s duty to make sure the contributors are diverse and can share different experiences. We have partnered with 300 Seconds which will run short lightning talks, to give people new to speaking in public an opportunity to gain confidence and experience.

Supportive environment

Often conference organisers will choose speakers that have spoken at other events for their own, meaning there is an impenetrable circuit of people who appear on the line-up at most conferences. Allowing others to speak and build their confidence goes some way toward increasing inclusion. Providing a supportive environment for new speakers to build their confidence and profile introduces diversity and new ideas to learn from.

We will also have representation from Diverse & Equal, a tech for good organisation that provides experiential learning opportunities to underrepresented groups. Its recent cohort of graduates will take part in the 300 Seconds sessions and Rising Stars scheme following our recently sponsored bootcamp.

While no one can profess to be perfect, constantly reassessing how an event is run and its barriers to entry mean that progress can be made to increasing inclusion in the sector. If other organisers also incorporated some of our learnings and initiatives into their own events, we can start to shift the disparity in the sector and benefit from a diverse group of people.

Camp Digital is a UK design conference, bringing together the digital, design and UX communities to share and explore new ideas, innovation and best practices in the industry. The event will be held at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on 13th July 2023.

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