Into the adventure zone: an evening with BCS Women Scotland

BCSW_col_logoThe second BCS Women Scotland event was a lively and well-attended evening meeting last Tuesday at IBM’s Edinburgh offices in St Andrew Square. Delegates came from a range of business organisations including Amazon, HSBC, IBM, TescoBank, Toshiba, and UBS. There was also good representation of female staff and students from the computing departments of Abertay, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier, and Heriot Watt universities.

There was a large turn-out, yet the format of the evening gave ample opportunity to mix with many of the others and learn about their work in computing. I spoke to other academics, project managers, business analysts, optimisation experts, reseachers, programmers and change managers, as well as budding computing and IT professionals still at university. Chair for the evening Kate Ho (Director of Interface 3) set the ball rolling for this networking element of the evening by inviting us all to give our names and say a few words about ourselves to the whole gathering.

I went first and explained that I had come along primarily in my role as Edinburgh Napier University School of Computing’s Academic Champion for the work of the Scottish Resource Centre for Women in Science Engineering and Technology (SRC for short). The goal of the SRC, which is based at Edinburgh Napier University, is to create sustainable change for women in science engineering and technology (SET) sectors throughout Scotland. It is the Scottish Government’s delivery partner for projects to increase the participation of women in SET education and employment in Scotland. My role within the SRC is to help support the participation of women in the School of Computing at Napier, for example by encouraging girls to apply for our computing courses and by supporting those within the School. I’m pleased to report that some of the Napier’s female computing students that I have come to know through this role were supported to come to this BCS Women Scotland event, including first year undergraduate Tracey Binnie whose blog Diary of a Female Computing Student includes the excellent tag line “No, YOU make ME a sandwich; I’m busy setting up your router”!

The more formal part of the evening was structured around two presentations with a break between them for a buffet supper. The theme of the first presentation was women in leadership. Sharon Wallace took the stage and led us through a career that started in computing, but is now based around a highly successful leadership role in direct sales for the Pampered Chef. One of the key turning points in Sharon’s career came following maternity leave when her old employer (in computing) decided that her role was not suited to part-time working. She switched to contract work until 2005 when she discovered the opportunity of combining three of her passions – people, food and talking – by running her own business as a Pampered Chef consultant. These days Sharon’s work focuses on coaching, inspiring and motivating others to achieve their goals, and to train, support and develop new leaders. It was easy to see why Sharon is so successful in these roles. In her short talk she gave some excellent advice to the all-female audience on how to reach their potential by drawing on female strengths such as blending roles, developing and inspiring others, and by actively seeking opportunities to lead. She also recommended a couple of resources to further explore the themes of her talk:

The second talk of the evening was presented by our host for the evening, Sharon Moore, who works as an Industry Architect at IBM. Sharon spoke about IBM’s involvement in the development of technology to support smart cities in a project that has focused on alleviating fuel poverty (or ensuring “affordable warmth”) in Glasgow. She explained how hard it is to reach those who are fuel poor, particularly when general demographic data is used to identify areas of deprivation. For example, a fuel poor middle class widow might be missed because she lives in a generally affluent area. Another issue is low literacy levels amongst those who are in greatest need. A range of technologies have been deployed to address the problems of fuel poverty from applications for mobile telephones (ubiqitous amongst most of the population) to sophisticated visualisation software. With the recently announced £24 million investment in Glasgow to host the Technology Strategy Board’s ‘Future Cities Demonstrator’, it is hoped that the living conditions of 10-year old Paige in the YouTube video that Sharon played for us will improve.

All in all it was an excellent evening and I am sure that its success will guarantee even bigger numbers at the next event.

(And if you are wondering about the “adventure zone” noted in this post’s title, we learnt at the meeting that this is a more exciting place than “out of your comfort zone”.)

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