3 min read

If I can do it so can you

I’m reporting from Drupalcamp London 2015, which was held on the 28th of February to 1st of March at City University London.

Sue Black – professor, girl geek, rocking pink hair  – kicked off Drupal Camp London with a wider story of technology and empowerment (to borrow from my girls’ school motto of “empowering young women”). The talk and its title were based on a blog post that she authored of the same name in 2013.

The common strand across Black’s story was empowerment through tech as well as education – be it getting out of being a single mum in a council flat through a computer science degree and eventual PhD, using social media to enlist Stephen Fry to help save Bletchley Park (successfully!) “at that point [in 2009] I was the most retweeted person on Twitter. That would never happen today”

and finally through #techums – helping other mothers in economically deprived areas learn how to use computers to help with their own lives and businesses.

Some of the stories she gave from tech mums were stunning in both their simplicity and impact, such as the mother who through learning how to send attachments via email was able to send picture of fabric samples to her clients rather than having to send her son around town via the buses to show them in-person. There were also some good stats to justify doing it – not only do mothers have the largest single impact of any factor in children’s education and interests, but giving mothers confidence to use technology helps their general confidence.

Black is not only actively involved in the #techmums project, but also has a book coming out on saving Bletchley Park. People in the UK may be aware of the recent series The Bletchley Circle that followed the story of women codebreakers, but before this it was largely unknown that a huge number of the codebreakers at the facility were women. (It didn’t help that the codes were all destroyed after the war, thus destroying evidence, though a recent document from no less than Alan Turing were recently discovered). My favourite story was of the mystery as to why planes kept flying low over one place near the area – it turned out that women went onto the roof to sunbathe topless!

I asked if she’d had any surprises when it came to the tech availability and skills available to mums in economically deprived areas. She said that while most mothers had internet of some sort, this was usually a smartphone, and because of this many had never used a computer keyboard (let alone know things such as what the function keys did).

There were some interesting discussions about gender and tech. One audience member shared that his daughter was the only girl in her school’s GCSE computing course, and what could be done to change this – Black suggested initiatives that have a visible female presence such as Stemettes and the general Rasberry Pi community. She also shared some surprising wider issues that we may have to be aware of – a study of several countries showed that Malaysia broke the mould by having a 50/50 split of males and females in tech (compared the usual 80/20 men and women) … because as a general rule households employed a housekeeper, thus freeing up women from having to do the domestic work as compared to other countries. What can be done to change this is hard to know off the bat, but it is an important reminder that sometimes wider issues are at work (here being the commonly noted issue in Western societies that women tend to pick up the slack on child rearing even if both partners are working full time).