At a time when technology is transforming the world at an astounding pace, it’s easy for parents to feel as if they’re running to “keep up with the kids”. From a young age, children are immersed in technology. At school, digital skills are starting to be seen as “the fourth literacy”, alongside reading, writing and maths. But digital literacy is just as important for adults, especially as we become more reliant on technology in our personal and professional lives.

Recent research published by the social enterprise #techmums shows that this digital skills gap can be especially challenging for women who are mothers. The research suggests that stronger digital skills could improve maternal mental health and help mums in the workplace.

By developing their digital skills, mums could better support their children with homework, and help them to safely navigate the digital world. While this research points to the transformative potential of tech, it also highlights the need for investment to equip mums with digital literacy.

In November 2018 we were delighted to welcome Professor Sue Black OBE and #techmums to Newcastle for a special event and Turing Lecture. Around 70 women and girls came together to hear Sue’s inspirational account of how she has transformed her life through tech to bring her family out of poverty, build a successful career, and become one of Europe’s top 50 women in tech. The group then took part in a hands-on app design workshop run by #techmums.

Newcastle University has been working with The Alan Turing Institute, Sue Black, and #techmums to provide digital skills support for women in the North East of England. The North East is home to the UK’s fastest growing tech cluster outside of London, presenting opportunities for people in the region. But, as women are under-represented in the tech sector across the UK, these opportunities might not seem accessible to them. We set out to connect mums with tech by developing digital skills and raising awareness of opportunities in the tech sector and beyond.

After the successful event, in 2019 Newcastle University teamed up with #techmums to launch the North East’s first #techmumsClub: a free digital skills programme for mums who want to develop their skills in this area. The course covered topics like the cloud, social media, blogging, app design, digital careers and coding.

"I jumped at the chance to start the course, knowing that I needed to become more tech savvy after some time out of the workplace...I’ve learnt loads and feel much more confident now when ‘talking tech’."

Newcastle #techmum

By connecting mums who were at different stages in their lives, careers, and motherhood, we could draw on a rich well of experience in discussions. We worked together to explore challenges and concerns collaboratively.

"[The facilitators] created a supportive atmosphere of ideas-sharing and learning together so that everyone felt relaxed about asking questions, voicing opinions and encouraging each other."

Newcastle #techmum

One of the highlights of the course was a tech design sprint facilitated on-site by hedgehog lab: a Newcastle-based global digital product consultancy. With expert guidance from Lead Designer Luke Medlock, the group produced a prototype app that they downloaded onto their phones to show their families (see the video below).

"I’ve really enjoyed the structure of the course, the combination of classroom work and experience at hedgehog lab. It’s really broken down some barriers being able to see what actually happens in a tech company."

Newcastle #techmum

We’re thrilled to see how many doors have opened for Newcastle’s #techmums. As a direct result of the course, participants attended the Dynamo North East conference, joined a winning team in a hackathon hosted by Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival and secured places on TechUP to retrain in tech.

The course has given me the confidence to go along to a tech conference and talk to data analysts and experts, when I previously wouldn’t have felt confident doing so (Newcastle #techmum)

The #techmumsClub has had a wider impact with discussions spilling out of the classroom and into the home. Newcastle’s #techmums have been sharing their excitement for tech and modelling digital literacy with their families. They have also been involving their children when coding at home.   

As a mum, I think the course has raised my credibility in the eyes of my teenage son (no mean feat!) and, on another level, it’s been a game-changing opportunity work-wise providing the pathway for me to apply for and secure a place on the pilot of TechUP 2019 (Newcastle #techmum)

Our experience of running Newcastle’s #techmumsClub has shown us that supporting mums to develop digital skills can open up exciting and unexpected opportunities, and create new connections. We look forward to seeing where these opportunities will lead the #techmums graduates!

"We are so delighted with the success of #techmums in Newcastle which is giving  women in the North East the chance to fulfil their potential taking up the myriad of opportunities that technology can bring to our lives. We are so excited to see our mums pursue digital careers, run their own businesses, and share their excitement for technology with their children and so much more."

Sue Black, currently Professor of Computer Science and Technology Evangelist at Durham University

Newcastle’s #techmumsClub was led by Kate Court, Justine Carrion-Weiss, Elena Gorman and Libby Wood. We are extremely grateful to our collaborators and sponsors: #techmums, The Alan Turing Institute (especially Jessie Wand), Atom Bank, CYBG, Virgin Money, and Newcastle University. We’d also like to give a special thanks to Altogether Creative, hedgehog lab, and Michael Page Recruitment.

Conclusion

Editor’s Note: To attend a future Turing Lecture or workshop, join our mailing list to receive updates about events and opportunities. Photography above by Tynesight Photographic Services.

Professor Sue Black

Founder of Techmums, Professor in Computer Science and Technology Evangelist at Durham University