Helping to drive more women into tech careers

03 February 2020

Ofcom colleagues recently attended a conference organised by Women Driven Development (WDD), a not-for-profit organisation that aims to achieve equal representation within tech sectors.

WDD has previously organised hackathons for women, and this conference was the first WDD event to be attended by Ofcom colleagues Clare Cowie and Farhiya Mohamuud.

Ofcom is committed to helping increase the number of women and girls working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and events like this offer an opportunity to share knowledge and hear about best practice in the field.

Clare is a senior data scientist at Ofcom.

"The day’s presentations were a mix of stories, all given by a diverse group of extraordinary women and non-binary people in technology. There were personal journeys, insight into how people had made a career change, as well as some technical talks. Every single presentation was interesting and by the end of the day we were brimming with inspiration.

“My personal highlight was a presentation on AI in healthcare by Dr Rebecca Pope from KPMG. As a data scientist myself I was particularly interested in her thoughts on ethical use of AI and methods for explaining machine learning models (and, where she got her amazing NASA-stylised t-shirt with ‘Women in STEM’ emblazoned on it!) AI can often be seen as a ‘black box’, and I’m particularly interested in techniques to visualise deep learning algorithms/models so we can understand how the algorithm is working. Explainability and transparency of models is key to ensuring AI is deployed ethically.

"To consider ethics thoroughly, we need to ensure our teams are diverse. We can only consider the implications of a policy through different experiences and viewpoints. This is particularly challenging in technology because women are underrepresented in STEM subjects. At Ofcom we are committed to diversity in our teams, including a programme run by Farhiya to get more women into steering groups.

"At the WDD event panellists and speakers shared their stories of struggling with a lack of confidence that women seem to face. There was a wealth of advice that I will bear in mind when it comes to my professional life. A common theme was a fear of making mistakes and there were plenty mentions of ‘impostor syndrome’ – something I’ve certainly dealt with during my career.

"Another favourite presentation was from the BBC’s Jean Jimbo, entitled ‘No one is born an X’. It encouraged us to consider how nobody is a complete expert in their field from day one. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, ask questions and don’t feel you have to know absolutely everything in your field. I feel fortunate that at Ofcom I am supported in my development; any mistakes I’ve made have been treated as an opportunity to grow and learn."

Farhiya is a technology advisor at Ofcom.

"I loved the wide range of technology disciplines that were highlighted at the event. These included software engineering, cyber security and product development. The event also emphasised the importance of soft skills - this was underlined by Natasha Zayce-Salim, head of technology at Sky, who spoke about the need to develop our human and core skills.

“It was interesting to note the journeys to careers in technology from the women on stage. Quite a number of them went to bootcamps to learn how to code in intensive programmes from the likes of Flatiron school and Makers Academy. I loved the emphasis on not waiting until you’re perfect in each coding language to apply to a job, as no one will ever be proficient in each language. There were also a number of mentions of Codebar , which is a community-run initiative with regular programming workshops where anyone can go to get help with their code or be the one helping others.

"I really enjoyed Sonya Moisett’s talk on how organisations can defend themselves against cyber-attacks. Sonya is the lead security engineer at PhotoBox Group and she touched on the lack of diversity in the cyber security industry. She keeps a list on Medium of women in cyber security, which is a fantastic resource and shows the different paths available for women in the field.  Another highlight for me was Twitter research scientist Ira Ktena’s talk on graph representations in deep learning. Her work is extremely interesting and shows how graph theory (a branch of mathematics) has applications in a wide range of areas from identifying fake news to addressing problems in disease predication and neuroscience.

"Another point touched on by many of the panellists was finding mentors to guide you through your career and was encapsulated by Ira’s list at the end of her presentation with each person who had helped her advance her career and how we should do the same for the people coming up after us."

Overall, the conference proved to be an amazing experience for both of us. Diversity and inclusion is an important topic for Ofcom and the topics discussed throughout the day showed us we’re on the right path.

Woman on stage presenting to an audience at a conference organised by Women Driven Development (WDD)