Girl Geek Scotland launches mentoring programme

Careers in digital technology have rarely been straightforward. In my working life we have seen the arrival
of the home PC; the domination of the web by Google; the rise of cloud-based software and social media, and more recently, real time data analysis in the internet of things. When I started out The Agile Manifesto (sounding every bit like a call to political activists) had just been written. It is now so mainstream that it is used by big corporates and banks. We would all like to pretend that we planned things this way, but that is seldom true of this fast-paced world.

Many people who got into digital at the same time as me did not study computing. Some jumped on board, excited by the prospect of what this technology could bring to the world, others were ‘accidental developers’ doing a job that had to be done, because nobody else in the office knew how. They developed an opportunistic approach to career, as nobody really knew the shape of things to come.

At least in digital the way forward is clearer. You can study a range of different subjects in computing at university, and there are clear steps you can take as your career progresses. Even so, Scotland has a skills deficit in technology, and as the demand from industry increases, this deficit poses a serious threat to our economy.

It is well know that there are far fewer females entering technology careers than men. There are issues in the pipeline which mean that women do not choose STEM-based careers, and there are also big drop-out points during university, and then again after childbirth. What is clear is that 50% of the population is facing bias, which prevents them from having successful careers in this area.

Women tend to socialise differently from men, and this has been the findings of many social and cultural linguistic studies. This means they follow different patterns of behaviour, word choices and even present the same information differently.

It may be those communication differences that leads to women being mentored differently from men. The research doesn’t tell us why. What we do know is that men are more likely to be given constructive criticism such as what skills and qualifications they need, what experience they need and what relationships to pursue, while women are blandly told that they need “more confidence”.

It is also not clear how much of this difference in response to women is conscious. My own anecdotal experience tells me that men (more often the mentors) can be afraid to give criticism of any type to women. They can be afraid of tears, and somewhat ironically, afraid of accusations of sexism. We also mustn’t forget that many men have simply been brought up to treat women gently.

Thankfully we are now seeing more and more women in these promoted positions… and I’ve rarely met a man in a senior position who did not fully understand and support the need for equality in the workplace.

Within the Girl Geek Scotland community there is a feeling that mentoring could have a huge impact on the gender balance in technology – and if we are going to create change, support is needed on both sides. We must support people starting out in their careers to get access to advice, and we must support mentors to offer better and more structured feedback. On both sides there is a need to understand the pitfalls of unconscious bias, and how to navigate them.

Girl Geek Scotland launched its mentoring programme on June 4 this year, as part of the ScotlandJS International Conference. The event was well received with 98 people registering for a ‘serious game’ run by The InclusIQ Institute. As with all our events it was open to people of all gender identities, physical abilities, neurotypical or atypical people, religions and ethnicities.

We will be holding our first net- working event for this programme in August, where we expect a lot of attendees to be both mentors and mentees. Registration will be ongoing – so please do pass the word around your networks. Girl Geek Scotland will run the events, but it will be our sponsors in leading technology businesses and recruitment agencies that will match mentees with experienced people in the industry.

For people in every age group working in technology, it is an opportunity to both give back and to receive. We hope it will make the path a little more straightforward for the coming generations.

A huge thanks goes to our sponsors for this ongoing commitment: Edinburgh Napier, Bright Red Triangle, Engima People Solutions, Spring Personnel, Cathcart Associates, Administrate, Amazon Development Centre Scotland, Informatic Ventures and SICSA.

We are still exploring how best to run a mentoring programme and would welcome input from the wider community. More information on joining our community and sponsoring the network is available on our website Events also announced on @girlgeekscot

Follow Morna Simpson on Twitter @girlgeeks