Building gender balance in computing science

In partnership with Edinburgh Napier University and dressCode, a non-profit charity founded with the aim of addressing the gender gap in Computing Science, the University has created the Ada Scotland Festival.

Less than 20% of the technology sector is comprised of women. This trend is set to worsen in the coming years given that girls at school have steadily occupied a lower proportion of places in computing science classes.

Since 2001, the number of girls studying computing at school in Scotland has fallen from 9,825 to 1,895. The Ada Scotland Festival aims to provide young women and girls with role models in the industry, whilst establishing a network of partners working towards this same goal.

Ada Lovelace, a role model for the technology sector

Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician and an associate of Charles Babbage, for whose prototype of a digital computer she created a program, has been called the first computer programmer.

Ada lived in the 19th century and though she died at an early age, her contributions were fundamental in progressing society towards the level of technological advancement seen today. Her legacy has inspired the creation of the Ada Scotland Festival. Honouring Ada’s contribution provides a historical role model for young women and girls considering a career in technology.

“From my own experience as a secondary Computing Science teacher I have seen first-hand the importance and difference role models can make. Ada Scotland really helps to raise awareness of opportunities out there in tech but also provides role models which is so important.” Toni Scullion, founder of dressCode and co-founder of the Ada Scot Festival

The importance of equality and diversity

Dr Matthew Barr, a computing science lecturer at Glasgow and co-founder of the festival, explains that “it’s not about getting balance for the sake of balance, it’s about equity of opportunity”.

Dr Ella Taylor-Smith, a Senior Research Fellow at Edinburgh Napier University, and co-founder of the Festival, has found that working with a team diverse in gender has enriched her career and has created a more rewarding work environment.

She also outlines the importance of improving representation throughout the technology sector for the benefit of the sector itself: “It’s clear that technology needs to be designed and made by women, as well as men, and also people from diverse backgrounds, both ethnic and economic. Otherwise, the tech isn’t good enough.”

Tackling under-representation through collaboration

The festival was founded following a workshop organised by Dr Barr with funding provided by the Scottish Informatic and Computing Science Alliance. Collaborators from industry, education and government created a network to discuss the systemic issues within Computing Science and how they might be addressed.

Dr Barr discusses the importance of collaboration in addressing under-representation: “One of the things that was evident was the need for a more joined-up approach. These little pockets are great, but if you’re a parent that wants to encourage their child into computing science, where do you go? So, to bring everything under one roof is something that we thought would be useful.”

The festival has been a huge success and is now an annual, one week event. Throughout the week, attendees engage in workshops, talks, Q&As, and competitions which give them an insight into what it is like to work in Computing Science and the range of career paths available to them.

The festival provides a space for collaborators to engage with one another, bringing together a vast range of partners from academia, industry, government and the third sector.

 “The list of partners reflects one of the Festival’s goals: to bring together people working in this area. Lots of partners have enthusiasm, resources, and experience. We want to use that - not compete.” Dr Taylor-Smith, co-founder of the Ada Scotland Festival