New Ada Scotland Festival sets out to address gender imbalance in tech

A new festival named after a pioneering 19th century woman mathematician aims to tackle the gender imbalance in computer science education in Scotland.

The inaugural Ada Scotland Festival, which launches online today is named after Ada Lovelace, widely considered one of the world’s first computer programmers.

The Ada Scotland team are looking to encourage female interest in the tech sector from primary right the way through secondary school to university and on into careers.

The Festival’s organisers, Dr Matthew Barr from the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Computing Science Education, Dr Ella Taylor-Smith from Edinburgh Napier University, and dressCode’s Toni Scullion were compelled to act by the glaring gender imbalance in Scotland’s digital technologies sector.

Dr Matthew Barr said: “It is immensely disappointing that nearly 170 years after Ada Lovelace’s death, women are still vastly under-represented in the tech sector.

“Fewer than one in five jobs in the sector are held by women. This gap can also be seen in secondary schools where the proportion of girls choosing to study computing science has fallen steadily from 35 per cent in 1995 to just 20 per cent in recent years.”

Barr continued: “We need to inspire young girls and we need to improve engagement from a young age and to change the perception of computing subjects.

“The tech world is in dire need of girls’ and young women’s drive and enthusiasm and we want to show them how they can be supported to turn their talents into a fulfilling, fun career.”

Despite girls outperforming boys in ‘male-dominated’ subjects, girls appear to be put off STEM subjects as they progress from primary into secondary school. Academics and industry representatives have consistently raised concerns that if nothing is done, Scotland risks missing out on a huge pool of potential talent.

Ada Scotland co-founder Toni Scullion is a computing science teacher and the founder of dressCode, a charity which aims to encourage female tech talent. She said:

“There is such an incredible tech sector in Scotland. We want pupils, especially girls, to not only know about the opportunities available but choose to become part of the country’s tech industry.  Ultimately, we want to close Scotland’s computing science gender gap completely.

“The uptake of computing science among girls in Scotland continues to decline at every level from National 5 to Advanced Higher. This is a really concerning trend – but not unique to Scotland. It’s one we’re also seeing in countries across the world.”

Ketty Lawrence from partner organisation Skills Development Scotland, observed: “Women who work in technology say that they really enjoy it and wish they had found it sooner. We need to now help those young females find that career pathway sooner and so they benefit from the really exciting world of technology that they can work in.”

“I think women bring a different point of view. We see things from a different angle – maybe. It’s good to get all points of view because that’s when you get the best overall product,” added Megan Gallagher, Graduate Apprentice in Software Engineering, Leidos.

Open to pupils, teachers, parents, and anyone else with an interest in addressing gender imbalance in Computing Science education, and the tech sector more widely, the Ada Scotland Festival features a week-long series of online workshops, videos, activities and competitions compiled by academics, teachers, the Scottish Government and private sector organisations.

While largely aimed at school-age girls, content has been designed with teachers and parents in mind, too.

Included among the events on offer:

  • A cybersecurity treasure hunt organised by dressCode
  • A live online advice and networking session from women in tech, organised by Equate Scotland
  • A video presentation and live Q&A with a group of successful young women in tech, organised by SmartSTEMS
  • Q&A with a panel of female Software Engineering Graduate Apprentices at Barclays
  • Game design session from My World of Work Live by Skills Development Scotland
  • Talk by ScotlandIS CEO, Jane Morrison-Ross

“We know that inspiring girls from a young age and getting them excited about computing science helps them be more engaged in the subject at secondary school. We hope that wide range of inspiring women who are taking part in the Ada Scotland Festival, from university students to entrepreneurs to employees of some major tech companies, will help provide role models to inspire girls into the tech sector,” concluded Scullion.

The Ada Scotland Festival has attracted support from leading organisations across the public, private and third sectors and is supported by funding from the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance (SICSA) and VeryConnect. For more details visit: https://ada.scot/