Anne-Marie Imafidon is a computer scientist (and past Turing Lecturer) who is passionate about addressing the underrepresentation of women in science and tech. In 2013, she co-founded Stemettes, a social enterprise that encourages girls and young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Now, she has published her first book, She’s In CTRL, and it is a brilliant guide to why a more inclusive and diverse tech industry will benefit us all.

Don’t have time to read the book? Here are my four key learnings:

1. Lack of diversity in STEM hurts us all

Despite playing a key role in the field of computing since its earliest days, women today make up only 26% of people working in tech in the UK, and 27% of people working in STEM professions.

When certain groups, such as women or people of colour, are underrepresented in the STEM workforce, we lose out on information that can help everyone. In the context of biology and health, for example, Imafidon argues that, because female biomedical researchers receive less funding than male researchers, health conditions that disproportionately affect women can be under-researched. This means that men who suffer from those conditions also lose out. A better understanding of female health would give us a better understanding of everyone’s bodies.

Portrait photograph of Anne-Marie Imafidon
Anne-Marie Imafidon gave a Turing Lecture about the future of work in February 2020 (image: Sam and Simon Photography)

We have seen from the COVID-19 pandemic how women and people from ethnic minorities can be disproportionately impacted by biases in technology, such as medical devices that have not been designed for them. Inequity in medical devices is an area that my team (the Ethics Theme in the Turing’s public policy programme) is keenly trying to unpack as part of the Department of Health and Social Care’s independent review into this problem.

2. Technology is not neutral

Imafidon makes it clear that all technologies have positive and negative aspects. Where there are opportunities, there are also vulnerabilities, and we must consider both sides of the coin. These vulnerabilities can manifest in many ways, such as loss of sensitive data, exclusion due to lack of accessibility, and exacerbated societal biases.

In addition to regulation and designing human-centred technologies, ethics also plays an important role in limiting the potential harms of technology. In her book, Imafidon cites the Turing and the Ada Lovelace Institute as places that engage well with data and AI ethics. Within my team at the Turing, for example, we have worked with the Information Commissioner’s Office to help organisations explain decisions made with AI, created a guide on understanding AI ethics and safety in the public sector, and started a project examining children’s perspectives on AI to inform child-centred AI policy-making.

3. Digital literacy is a great way to step up your career

A 2019 report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport found that, in the UK, at least 82% of jobs advertised online require some level of digital skills. Technological advances are bringing disruptive changes to business models and the way we work. Whether it is mastering the art of creating an effective spreadsheet, teaching yourself how to code in a new language, or simply tinkering with gadgets, increasing your digital literacy is a great way to upskill and prepare for the next stage of your career.

Imafidon’s book contains plenty more ideas on getting started with boosting your digital literacy, such as finding local or online meet-ups to discuss tech developments in your sector, carving out ten minutes of your day to watch a tech-related YouTube video, or taking part in a hackathon (an event at which people collaboratively solve problems using computer programming). Tech skills are transferable, and increasing your digital skills can help in whatever sector you work in.

4. Anyone can be part of the technology sector

People working in the tech sector come from a diverse array of backgrounds, but, as Imafidon says, employers need to do better. It is important that those working in tech recognise and welcome different kinds of technical skills, experiences and backgrounds when recruiting (this is something that’s reflected in the Turing’s equality, diversity and inclusion philosophy).

There are limitless possible career paths into tech. Speaking from my own experience, I studied law for my undergraduate degree as I was interested in understanding the regulatory logic that underpins society. Little did I know then that a similar logic can be found within computing. Through free resources offered by non-profit organisations such as Stemettes and Code First Girls, I started my journey into the tech sector. My curiosity and interest grew, ultimately leading me to obtain a PhD in computer science (on data protection and governance) by combining my legal knowledge with technical know-how.

It’s all about making that first step. As Imafidon eloquently puts it, when it comes to engaging with technology, the overall journey is one of comfort, competence and understanding. No one is an expert when they start, but building up your technical literacy will give you agency and allow you to use technology to your advantage. She’s In CTRL is an inspiring book that encourages the underrepresented to develop their curiosity for tech in a practical, proactive and passionate way.

 

Top image: #WOCinTech Chat