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Using digital to help young peoples' mental health

By Eleanor Bradley, MD, Registry Solutions & Public Benefit, Nominet

The NHS has labelled the issue of addressing mental health among young people as ‘in crisis’, as the support available fails to keep pace with the alarming increase in demand for it.

According to the Nuffield Trust, the number of 4-24 year olds reporting a longstanding mental health issue has increased six fold in the last 20 years.

What else has changed in the last 20 years? In less than a lifetime, digital devices and the internet have infiltrated every corner of our lives. Young people today are growing up in a digital world; their lives have been changed by it, for better or worse.

While some have tried to combine these two facts as cause and effect – and there is some evidence of internet addiction and its harmful consequences – what is more productive is to accept that technology can’t be removed from our lives but can be used as a solution rather than merely a (potential) problem. After all, tech is neither good nor bad – we must use it as the great enabler it can be.

Digital is the medium by which most young people conduct their lives, and is an ideal way to integrate additional support with existing offline support as 99% of 12-25 year olds are spending more than an hour a day on their smartphones and online. They are familiar with digital tools and know their way around them, plus some of the characteristics of the online world – anonymity and privacy – make it easier to talk about sensitive, potentially embarrassing subjects like their own mental health.

It is well accepted that the NHS has limited resources and is struggling to meet the needs of the young when it comes to mental health. It is a space charities can step into, using digital to refine their offering and better reach the young people they seek to help. Of course, this presents various challenges that must be overcome, not least having the right expertise to create digital solutions and having the money behind them to support this work.

Digital mental health services can also serve the NHS by allowing tools to be created at scale that are easily accessible and get support to those in need quicker than the average waiting time for care. It can also create opportunities for self-care and integrated care, creating complementary packages that combine appointments with a practitioner with a digital service that provides reassurance in moments of isolation or vulnerability.

At Nominet, we get excited about finding opportunities for which technology can be harnessed for good – it’s something that guides our public benefit work and helps us meet our target of impacting the lives of one million young people a year. We have recently entered a partnership with the Samaritans, helping to create the technology tools that will ensure they can connect with people online – notably the many young people who indicated the internet as a place they would most like initial support.

This topic – the symbiosis between mental health, young people and digital services – is a topic we have delved into more deeply as we seek to identify the areas of potential, the need, but also the associated challenges. To that end, we have commissioned a new report, Charities, Young People and Digital Mental Health Services, through which we have started to identify some areas in which charities, who naturally try to fill gaps left by the NHS, could further refine their work in order to access young people and support young people in a way that will be even more effective.

The findings have been interesting and insightful in how we can refine the existing processes of care for young people. For example, our report found an interest in creating a mental health passport for young people to improve the continuity of the care they receive, and a need for better signposting so that young people know where to find the support they want. We also need to ensure that services are offered at scale, which again is the ideal challenge for digital to meet – a multitude of apps can be created and accessed far and wide. We also recognise that charities face challenges such as funding and a lack of technical expertise, but solutions can be found with the proper understanding of what resources can help and where. For example, the Samaritans needed digital tools but needed funding, support and technical expertise to create them, so Nominet was able to help fill that gap.

It is not enough to simply wring our hands at the worrying rise in mental health issues among young people. We must understand the challenges and identify opportunities to overcome them, using technology to support them in the best way we can. Let’s meet an age-old problem with new tools and technologies to finally start to turn the dial.

Eleanor Bradley mid 1About the author

Eleanor Bradley is MD of Registry Services & Public Benefit at Nominet, the technology company known for running the .UK internet infrastructure. Eleanor has over 20 years’ experience in the internet industry and in her current role leads the teams responsible for commercial activity related to Nominet’s registry business as well as the company’s public benefit initiatives.

The coronavirus crisis throws the spotlight on our urgent need for digital skills

Article by Eleanor Bradley, MD Registry and Public Benefit, Nominet

Team of young coworkers working together at night office.Young woman using mobile laptop at the table.Horizontal.Blurred backgroundThe current pandemic has catalysed a digital transformation in the world of work.

Businesses worldwide are embracing technology in a way they never have before, moving complete companies online and maintaining business-as-usual (where possible) via digital channels.

It’s no overstatement to say that COVID-19 will transform working life as we know it, rushing in the changes that would have otherwise taken years. Unfortunately, it also makes the issues that undermine our digital society become ever more critical, or we risk letting too many fall between the cracks.

Spare a thought for the younger generation. Even outside of the current pandemic, it’s never been harder to make career decisions and plan for a future that is challenging to predict. The rise of digital and the rapid rate of technological change are transforming our jobs market at pace: research from the World Economic Forum reveals that 65% of children entering primary school today will take up jobs that don’t exist yet. We also already inhabit a world in which 82% of advertised roles require digital skills, a percentage which could be increased in the years post-COVID. This means that, even if we can’t guide young people on the specifics of the jobs available when they enter the working world, we can give them every chance of success by equipping them with the digital skills required for their future.

Digital skills training doesn’t only matter to the young people themselves. The UK economy could lose as much as £141.5bn of GDP growth if we don’t narrow the skills gap which already exists and ensure that the future working generation has the necessary skills for – and interest in – the plethora of digital roles available.

We also need to move the dial when it comes to gender diversity in crucial industries like the tech sector: today, just 17% of employees are female. The pipeline is no more encouraging. In STEM higher education, 69% of undergraduates are male. Diversity matters in our sector because we need a variety of different people, perspectives and ideas at the table if we are to build the devices and solutions that work for the populace as a whole. Celebrating – and providing training in – digital skills from a young age could make all the difference in helping both genders become equally inspired by STEM subjects and the potential careers that could follow.

Another issue in need of attention is the current mismatch between supply and demand for newly qualified STEM students. A recent study from Geek Talent  found that 1,000 people studying courses related to computer games development or design in the North East had just 29 relevant roles open to them. The vast majority of graduates will be qualified for roles they don’t secure and may struggle to find other jobs without the knowledge of how their newly acquired skills can be transferable.

Such an abundance of digitally-capable graduates must be guided on how to adapt and apply their new skills to other roles in the sector. We also need to ensure colleges and universities offer courses that provide specific skills for specific roles where there is an industry need.  With more people working in growing sectors like machine learning, digital transformation and AI than ever before, it’s paramount to help our young people understand the market growth and opportunities, then seek the right skills required to fulfil roles in this exciting area.

This is an area that Nominet has been tackling for some time via our public benefit activity, using profits made from managing and running the .UK domain registry for this purpose. We are determined to make a positive and sustainable impact on the lives of young people, with a specific mission to improve a million lives a year through our outreach.

One of the various ways we do this seems appropriate to highlight here as an example of how we can prepare young people for their future. In partnership with Livity, Nominet has spearheaded This Is How, a digital learning platform and podcast that features individuals working in digital jobs in the creative sector. On the podcast, our guests explain what they do and how they secured their role, giving our listeners an insight into the jobs available and what skills they might need to find their way to them. We also share resources on a learning platform to guide the inspired on next steps, aiding them in making productive movement towards a career they might want.

Simple tech solutions like This is How can help us to reach a demographic who spend a lot of time online, plus the form is dynamic enough to reflect the changing nature of jobs today. It may just be a podcast, but it’s a small step towards bringing about the change our society and our economy needs and a means of guiding those making crucial decisions about the part they will play.

As we marvel at how the internet and technology have kept us afloat (mentally and professionally) during this pandemic, we must also be reminded of how crucial it has become to ensure the future generation can cope with a digital world and find their roles within it. Digital skills have become life skills, and we owe it to young people to equip them with what they need – perhaps this is the lesson we can all take from the COVID-19 experience.

If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here


Achieving gender parity in the tech sector starts with education

Eleanor Bradley, MD of Registry Services and Public Benefit, Nominet

gender equalityWhile most of us are many years beyond our own summer exam result nerves, each August is still a moment of interest.

Not only do the annual GCSE and A Level results shine a light on the UK’s endlessly evolving education system, they also provide early indications of what we might expect from the workers of tomorrow.

Although we can never predict the career path of a student based on their exam subjects, those of us working in the tech sector are always hoping to see more young women taking STEM subjects at school as a first step towards a tech career. At A Level this year, the number of entries in STEM subjects increased by 1.7% in England, yet the all-important gender gap continues to worsen. Computing, ICT, and Maths all saw a wider gender gap than 2018, with less females to males. It was positive to see that the gender gap in physics improved this year, but it remains significant.

At GCSE level, the number of girls taking computing rose this year, with entries up 14%. Unfortunately, women still only made up 21.4% of the total student numbers. With girls outperforming their male counterparts in both A-level computing and ICT – and in GCSE computing – the proficiency for these subjects is clearly there, but girls are lacking the interest or appropriate encouragement to consider careers in what is an incredibly rewarding sector.

What is turning our female students away from tech? A PWC report can offer some insight: A survey of over 2,000 A Level and university students found that only 27% of women would consider a career in tech and a mere 3% think of it as a first choice. A lack of visible role models is a major issue; only 22% of all students could name a famous woman working in tech. There is also gender discrimination in career guidance, with only 16% of female students having had a role in tech suggested to them, compared to a third of males. We know that parents also have a role to play, and Nominet’s own research found that British parents are steering their daughters away from a career in tech, favouring a career as a doctor or teacher for their girls.

While parents and teachers have an opportunity to widen the career choices of young women, tech industry workplaces must also strive to create an environment that is appropriate and welcoming to females as much as males. We don’t want women to be dissuaded by what they may perceive as a ‘male’ environment, where progression could be hindered. As a woman in tech myself I strive to ensure Nominet as a company is open and attractive to both genders equally.  We are signed up to the Tech Talent Charter, a great organisation that is raising awareness of the need for diversity in business and providing a space for tech companies to share knowledge and best practice. Simple changes like targeted advertising can be crucial to capture the interest of a diverse range of candidates and encourage them to consider joining a company.

Other efforts Nominet is undertaking include helping to increase the number of young people considering careers in tech through our programmes such as Nominet Digital Neighbourhood and our work with the Micro:bit Foundation. We also regularly create ‘women in tech’ profiles on our blog to highlight some of the great women we have working at Nominet, as well as women working across the industry. These articles help to demonstrate the breadth of roles and career paths for the women working in technology, and we hope they serve to make these roles seem interesting and attractive – and not out of reach. Personally, I try to write articles that promote my own positive journey through tech and take up invitations to speak at events. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.

Ultimately, getting anywhere close to gender parity in the tech industry will require wide scale social change, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. We can all make changes in our spheres of influence, whether as parents, teachers, career advisors, or tech sector employees. We can all contribute to a wider cultural discourse that will open up this exciting industry to the many girls who are discounting it and encourage them to bring their skill set to enhance the industry and the future it is shaping.

About the author

Eleanor Bradley Eleanor Bradley is MD of Registry Services & Public Benefit at Nominet, the profit-for-a-purpose company known for running the .UK internet infrastructure. She has over 20 years’ experience in the internet industry and in her current role leads the teams responsible for commercial activity related to Nominet’s registry business as well as the company’s corporate services.

 In 2016, she was named as a role model in the category of Board Level & Senior Executive of the Year at the Women in Business awards and is a keen champion of women in IT and advocate of encouraging more girls to explore STEM subjects. She sees the internet as a force for good and, as Nominet is a public benefit company, is developing a number of projects designed to empower and upskill young people to help future-proof the hiring pool of the UK’s digital economy.

encouraging girls in to tech, STEM featured

Bring the women back to tech

encouraging girls in to tech, STEM

Eleanor Bradley, Managing Director Registry & Public Benefit

At Nominet, we talk a lot about the Domain Name System (DNS), or the ‘telephone directory’ of the internet.

This system allows users to type in memorable words that link them to the corresponding IP address, avoiding the need to remember a long and complicated string of numbers. The DNS is critical and underpins the whole of the internet, but did you know that, in the early days, the domain names were largely managed by a woman?

Elizabeth Feinler, an American information scientist, led the Network Information System Centre at Stanford Research Institute from 1972 to 1989, the place that managed the use of domain names in the years before registrars. In her time, women represented a far greater percentage of the technology workforce than we see today. In the US for example – something of a global hub for early technology – the number of women in computing tripled from 1971 to 1985 to become 38 per cent of the labour force.

So where have all those women gone? Today, technology is a male-dominated environment. Women make up just 17 per cent of the technology workforce in the UK, with similarly uninspiring percentages across the world. More worrying is that too few girls are studying STEM to offer any hope of a future pipeline; just 31 per cent of STEM undergraduates are female, many of whom do not specialise in technology.

What is turning girls away from studying STEM, and from technology in particular? Recent PwC research, that surveyed over 2,000 A Level and university students, found that only 27% of women would consider a career in tech and a mere 3% think of it as a first choice. This is despite there being no evidence that females lack the appropriate skills for a role in the tech sector or appetite for the healthy salaries available to them.

There are various theories for the lack of interest, from the ‘macho culture’ that has grown up around technology roles putting women off, to the proliferation of video games that mostly appeal to boys, shutting girls out from an early age. Jacqueline de Rojas, president of techUK and a vocal supporter of diversity, recently mused on Desert Island Discs that the marketing of computers to men – and the fact they were designed by men – could have gradually excluded women from the technology revolution. This can even be accurate at a literal level. For example, some research suggests the virtual reality experience tends to make women feel sick, but not the men who largely designed and tested the technology.

Some have spoken about girls’ lack of confidence dissuading them from pursuing school subjects wrongly seen as hard, such as maths, science and technology. Studies have shown that girls start to lose their self-esteem from as young as 12 years old and begin to believe that ‘brilliance’ is a male trait from as young as six. There is also a clear lack of female role models in the technology sector; the PwC research previously mentioned found that only 22 per cent of all students could name a famous woman working in tech.

Thankfully, both industry and Government are now proactively working to turn the tide and tackle all these issues. For example, the National Cyber Security Centre runs a CyberFirst Girls Competition while various organisations – such as Girls Who Code UK – offer programmes that work with school-aged girls to equip them with useful skills and nurture an interest in technology.

Further up the pipeline, the Tech Talent Charter is working with organisations in the technology industry (including Nominet) to promote gender diversity across their businesses. It can be quite easy to make changes, such as considering the wording of job advertisements carefully to attract female talent and trying to create a work culture and environment that is more appealing to women. The organisations who sign the Charter share best practice ideas and support one another to improve their ratios.

Encouragingly, many women working in technology are proactively trying to be more visible too. This is something that Nominet gets involved with: our CISO, Cath Goulding, delivers talks about her work in schools, while we use our corporate blog to tell the stories of the talented women we have in the workforce. These blogs emphasise our employees’ different career paths, backgrounds and skills to demonstrate the diversity of opportunity available in the technology sector.

We have also been involved in a Takeover Challenge during which students ‘take over’ a job for a day to learn more about a potential career. In November, we welcomed 11-year-old Izzy Kenny into Nominet to spend the day with Cath. It was an interesting experience for both, and Izzy was adamant that “more women need to be doing this sort of role”. Events like this are great opportunities to offer young people a glimpse into the realities of a role during their formative years, allowing them to keep their options open and ensure they don’t discount industries such as technology.

While there is no silver bullet, the only way to make progress towards gender parity is to keep it in the public domain while committing to do all we can, in whatever capacity we can, to consciously make a difference.

It is only by working together that we can we have any hope of changing the status quo and unlocking a valuable talent pool that the technology sector sorely needs. It’s time to start bringing the women back into technology to finish the great work they started and continue the legacy of inspiring women like Elizabeth Feinler.

Eleanor Bradley mid 1About the author

Eleanor Bradley is COO of Nominet, the technology company known for running the .UK internet infrastructure and which is also the founder and funder of the charitable foundation Nominet Trust, the UK’s leading social tech funder.

Eleanor has over 20 years’ experience in the internet industry and in her current role leads the teams responsible for commercial activity related to Nominet’s registry business as well as the company’s corporate services.

In 2016, she was named as a role model in the category of Board Level & Senior Executive of the Year at the Women in Business awards, and is a keen champion of women in IT and advocate of encouraging more girls to explore STEM subjects. She sees the internet as a force for good and, as Nominet is a public benefit company, is developing a number of projects designed to empower and upskill young people to help future-proof the hiring pool of the UK’s digital economy.

Female Virtual assistant featured

More work needed to ease digital divide

transgender woman holding mobile phone

Article provided by Eleanor Bradley, COO, Nominet

How many ways have you engaged with digital technology so far today?

These interactions will likely be second nature and largely effortless for many of us, but there are 11.3 million adults in the UK without the basic digital skills to enjoy such accessibility to the digital world.

This isn’t a new issue nor conversation. The importance of training everyone in basic digital skills has long been recognised and impressive efforts are being made to this end. Unfortunately, there seems to be something of a productivity crisis. Despite all the funding, campaigns and initiatives of the past 12 months, only 450,000 people have been helped. That isn’t to diminish the success of helping – likely transforming the lives of – almost half a million people, but it barely scrapes the surface of 11 million. How do we make a bigger impact with the enthusiasm and support available?

Guidance comes annually from the Lloyds Digital Consumer Index 2018, the largest measure of financial and digital capability of people in the UK. It’s an insightful approach to assessing the digital divide and provides us with an accurate summary of the landscape so we can recognise the wins, appraise less successful activities and make informed adjustments to supercharge next year’s efforts. After this annual stocktake, effective plans can be made to create change and respond to the needs of those who need us.

It is becoming clear that we must to refine the way we target people to help them in a way that best suits the individual. One-size does not fit all, as the report shows us. We are making progress with those who actively seek training, but less well with those who struggle to access support in a way that suits their situation and needs.

For example, people with a disability are four times more likely to be offline despite the benefits it could give them. Many of these people may struggle to attend training sessions, or find that the tools and products trying to help them aren’t created in an accessible way. Refining the approach by being led by people with disabilities to find out what would work for them should increase uptake and chip away at the looming figure of 11 million.

The report also showed that those without any basic digital skills benefit from engagement in their own environment, while those looking for a refresh or some additional skills benefit from the outreach projects in spaces facilitated by campaigns and initiatives. Being agile and flexible in the approach to upskilling for the coming year is another way in which we can better serve those in need. Content and context are the cornerstones of meaningful change.

Another key takeaway is the importance of collaboration across public and private sectors. We shouldn’t assume that those in work automatically have basic digital skills: 10% of the workforce lack basic digital skills and only 14% of those using the internet at work have improved digitally through their work in a year. Organisations have a role to play in ensuring they recognise and prioritise digital skills training for their own staff, and more effort in this area is a win-win for all. Investment in digital skills training will bolster performance and productivity for the organisation and allow the workforce to gain key skills and an incentive to stay where they feel valued.

Organisations also need to be aware of how much their customers value privacy and security – we must all take the protection of customers’ data and the clarity of communication seriously. The report found that 80% of people have concerns about online safety, with identity theft a particular concern. With so many data breaches and misuse of personal information stories being splashed across the media, customers live in a climate of fear. They need trusted organisations to meet their concerns and reassure through process and communication.

These are just some of the conclusions to draw from the recent report and will serve as clear guidance for all those committed to helping the population feel included in the digital transformation. At Nominet, we fervently believe that inclusion is one of the three most crucial areas if we are to deliver a vibrant digital future that benefits all. As a company we will continue to refine our outreach and digital skills training programmes to meet those in need, based on the learning from this new index. If we focus on optimal content and context, we can help make the coming year one of real progress and ensure more people begin to find interaction with technology is second nature.

About the author

Eleanor Bradley heads up Nominet’s business continuity and risk management work - key areas of focus in a company operating at the heart of the UK Internet.