woman and man looking at a computer screen with coding, carving a career in tech, digital exclusion

Upskilling communities to eliminate digital exclusion

woman and man looking at a computer screen with coding, carving a career in tech, digital exclusion

Digital exclusion remains a growing issue all around the world and the pandemic has brought the problem into even sharper focus.

The past year has demonstrated how a lack of digital skills or connectivity can create an additional layer of social exclusion and exacerbate social and economic problems for communities.

Last month, local councils in the UK announced a collaboration to build a stronger data picture of digital exclusion in their areas, as part of the CCIN Policy Lab Understanding the Digital Divide project. But it’s not just the responsibility of the public sector to address the issue of digital exclusion.

Technology companies have a large role to play in helping to upskill communities and equip them with the ability to be successful in their digital lives. This will also be crucial for addressing the widening STEM skills gap, which is affecting society and industry more broadly. According to a new report from the Institute of Engineering and Technology, 93% of engineering firms do not have the right skills to meet 2050 climate targets.

Here, WeAreTechWomen speak to Sarah Atkinson, director, corporate social responsibility at global software company, Micro Focus, on the role of technology companies in helping to upskill communities and eliminate digital exclusion.

Can you provide us with a brief overview of your career and how you got into running CSR programmes?

I’m a former news journalist, with over 20 years of experience with organisations such as Cisco, BEA and most recently, ten years as Vice President, Communications & Social Responsibility at CA Technologies. Purpose has always been important to me and around 2008, I felt that I wanted to make more of a difference, not just in terms of the workplace but more broadly regarding inclusion at all levels.

I took on my first non-exec role at techUK (a member organisation representing the IT industry in government on topics ranging from economic policy to skills and diversity). Here, I worked closely with the government on various digital skills and I&D initiatives, such as Gender Pay Gap reporting, Returners Programs. I was a founding supporter of the WISE Campaign’s People Like Me Digital, which aims to influence 200,000 11-15-year-old girls to consider a career in STEM. I also had an amazing opportunity to collaborate with Girlguiding to help incorporate STEM subjects into their badges and attended Camp CEO as a role model for Girl Guides.

I joined Micro Focus in 2019 to establish and lead their CSR program globally. Today, I am also a board director at the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Chair of the Nominations & Governance Committee and a member of its Skills, Education & Employment Advisory Panel as well as the LEP’s I&D Champion. I am also a long-standing member of techUK’s Skills & Diversity Council and a trustee at Berkshire Youth, a social enterprise that works to support, empower and inspire young people.

Why is addressing the problem of digital exclusion so important?

Today every business is a digital business. As more and more services move online as digital transformation becomes more pervasive, it is important that nobody is left behind. Industry must continue to play a key role in helping to address this issue, as digital exclusion can also widen inequalities on many levels, including health, social and economic mobility. It spans all aspects of society – whether it’s a school child not being about to submit homework or take part in online lessons. Or those in the community not having the right skills to access important government services, or missing out on competitive energy tariffs. It can impact in many ways.

How has the last year exacerbated the issue of digital exclusion?

Overnight our lives went digital – schooling, socialising, shopping , staying in touch with each other and working from home (where possible) meant that those who did not have access whether broadband, devices or the skills were marginalised even further. We also changed our approach as we quickly transitioned from delivering in person workshops at schools to virtual workshops, where employees were able to connect with hundreds of students in the classroom virtually.

What is the role of technology companies in helping upskill communities and eliminating digital exclusion?

Tech firms can and do play a major role in helping, on many levels.  The Micro Focus INSPIRE program is focused on helping equip communities with the right skills to be successful in their digital lives.  Every employee has four days a year to volunteer and through a number of our non-profit/charity partnerships we have been able to help multiple communities around the world. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, volunteers in Bulgaria and Italy used their volunteering days to help upskills teachers to get online to deliver lessons.

What are the specific steps technology companies can take to address this issue?

Engaging your employees is a great first step. Tapping into the talent and passion you have in your organisation can provide you with an army of volunteers and role models – whatever the size of your business. Secondly, empowering and enable employees to take time in work hours to volunteer. And thirdly, supporting educational organisations/non-profits/charities who are working in this space.

What skills do we need to equip people with to help them be more successful in their digital futures? How does this relate to closing the widening STEM skills gap?

Today every job requires some level of digital skills. Therefore, it’s important to help young people understand that whatever career choices they make, digital skills will be required along the way. In terms of the skills gap, yes there remains a chronic STEM skills shortage in the UK. While improvements are being made, we still have a long way to go.  The issue must be addressed from the classroom to the boardroom – over coming stereotypes, biases and providing more role models as a starting point.  Engaging young people to study STEM subjects and pursue jobs in tech is important. However, we cannot rely solely on the next generation to solve the problem. Reskilling existing workforces for the jobs of tomorrow is critical, as many low-digitally-skilled workers will be impacted by automation and AI, leaving them without the right skills to be successful in the future.

Employers can play a key role in helping to keep their workforce up to date through investments in ongoing learning and development, amongst other things. Attracting a diverse pool of talent also remains an issue. Tech needs talent from all backgrounds. Research has shown time and time again, that to drive innovation we need diverse thinking, ideas and problem solving.  Let’s not forget it is also about equality and fairness. Not all talent gets the same opportunity so we need to help create opportunities for all but also then ensure we have inclusive environments where all talent can thrive.

Sarah AtkinsonAbout Sarah

An experienced leader and former news journalist, Sarah Atkinson has over 20 years of experience in multinational organizations including Cisco, 3Com and most recently spent ten years as Vice President, Communications & Social Responsibility, EMEA at CA Technologies. A member of the company’s leadership team, she also led Create Tomorrow, a program designed to inspire and excite young people, particularly girls, about careers in STEM, as well as the company’s Diversity & Inclusion strategy in EMEA.

From 2015 to 2018, she served on the main board of techUK, a non-profit representing the companies and technologies that are defining today, the world that we will live in tomorrow.

Today, she is the Vice Chair of the Diversity & Skills Council at techUK and is actively involved in several Diversity & Inclusion programs including Gender Pay Gap reporting, Returners Programs and is a founding supporter of the WISE Campaign’s People Like Me Digital which aims to influence 200,000 11-15-year-old girls in the UK to consider a career in STEM. In 2018, she also worked with Girlguiding to incorporate STEM into their badges and attended 2018 Camp CEO as a role model for Girl Guides.

She was listed in Cranfield University’s School of Management 100 Women to Watch report – a supplement to the Female FTSE Board Report 2018 and in the Computer Weekly 100 Most Influential Women in Technology in 2017 & 2018.

A regular commentator on STEM, equality and inclusion topics, she has appeared on BBC News, BBC World and in various publications.

Macbook laptop computer

Why upskilling in marketing automation can empower your brand

Macbook laptop computer, marketing automation, upskilling

Article by Diana Rowatt, operations director at Leeds-based marketing automation platform Force24

For business leaders and their workforces, there are always opportunities to learn new tech skills – not least because of how rapidly it evolves.

And for brands that are keen to simplify a customer’s purchasing experience, complete conversions quicker and free up employee time – to focus on innovation – marketing automation could be the answer.

Why? Because the statistics evidence how this advanced technology can empower organisations. Customer optimisation specialist invesp reports how automation can drive up to a 14.5% increase in sales productivity and a 12.2% reduction in marketing overheads. Furthermore, 80% of marketing automation users saw an increase in the number of leads, and 77% experienced an uplift in conversions.

What’s stopping the adoption of marketing automation?

So, why might some leaders still be slow to learn and adopt this technology? Maybe it’s because they don’t know enough about it? If that’s the case, now is the time to develop critical skills that could transform their firm’s commercial activity and customer loyalty, when they need it most.

By its very definition, marketing automation should make life simple. It should liberate marketing campaigns, not restrict them, and make strategies agile, rather than sluggish. It’s technology that is super-personalised and delivers humanised communications to recipients via email, SMS, direct mail, social and more – in only a couple of simple clicks.

But with an extensive portfolio of channels to leverage and greater opportunities to target through data, understanding a new platform to deliver the insight an enterprise needs, might seem like a scary, time-consuming prospect.

In fact, it’s anything but! However, for an organisation to start maximising its customer opportunities and making things slicker, quicker, smarter and easier for their workforces as a whole, learning how it works is the first step towards potentially exploring a ‘new way of working’.

Where to begin with marketing automation

A great starting point on the learning journey is to look at the current systems in place within the organisation – and to understand where automation can both help achieve better results, save time and provide customer value.

Upon identifying that more needs to be done in terms of interacting with a target audience, leaders should want to develop the knowledge in how marketing automation can provide the effective touch points that will maintain – if not improve – online engagement. Learning about how a simple click can deliver crucial comms – that are sent to the right people, at the right time and when they’re most digitally active – can prove to be critical to the bottom line.

And as relationships become deeper between an organisation and a consumer, the data gleaned from automation needs to be interrogated and communicated to other parts of the organisation – such as sales and marketing – so that more conversions can then be made.

Always think about the end user

It’s also vital for leaders and their workforces to continue putting the customer first – ensuring that each recipient is enjoying a personalised experience via their chosen method of comms. Knowing how time-consuming this can be when done manually may appear to be a stumbling block for many, but those wanting to learn the ropes with marketing automation can actually tailor each piece of content in a matter of minutes. These time burdens are exactly the type of thing that automation technology should alleviate.

For the individuals keen to upskill themselves, a critical attribute is having the tenacity and eagerness to understand a new way of delivering comms and making the tech work in a seamless way that takes on the strain of laborious jobs and engages customers throughout.

Managers can utilise tech effectively to lead by example

Additionally, for automation to effectively operate – and produce positive results on the business’s bottom line – there needs to be a strong leader and engaged workforce that knows exactly what value such technology is bringing to the company. Being able to communicate how it can personalise customer emails, increase conversion rates and engage audiences are all as critical as upskilling in the platform itself.

In truth, when it comes to marketing automation it’s more about developing an understanding in how to adapt to a different way of working. Of course, there needs to be training in how the platform works and the process of creating customer email journeys, landing pages and more, but above all else, it’s about evolving with an agile mindset when embracing change.

To learn something new, leaders must embrace fresh technology and build a team that wants to develop its skillsets. A willingness to ignite key attributes that empower innovative thinking, reduce overheads and reinvigorate teams can help enterprises to work faster, smarter and harder. And that recipe is more crucial now than ever.

About the author

Di RowattDiana Rowatt is a highly driven and experienced operations director with key responsibilities throughout the running of marketing automation platform Force24. Having been part of the team’s journey for nearly a decade, Diana is known as the company’s ‘go to’ person when any advice or support is required. Leading and nurturing the services team – and ensuring operations are of premium quality throughout – Diana ensures the Yorkshire firm provides the highest levels of support and achieves the best possible results for B2B and B2C brands and their customers.

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


How upskilling opportunities can encourage diversity amongst tech teams

DiversityWe all know by now how crucial diversity is to tackling the growing skills gap that looms large over the tech industry.

Demand for skilled tech professionals is booming across the UK, and there aren’t enough people in the field to fill the new roles being created.

The consequences of vital positions sitting vacant are astronomical. Our economy, our capacity to take advantage of new technology, our ability to innovate and compete in global markets will suffer drastically if we don’t have the talent we need to help us realise our digital vision.

We sorely need to bring new blood into the sector to address this burgeoning skills gap—and with just 17% of tech roles currently filled by women, where we should be looking for this new talent seems obvious.

The needle has barely shifted on the number of women working in the UK’s tech space in more than a decade. And with the number of young people taking IT and computing-related subjects at GCSE dropping, we need to be looking at different solutions to tackle this issue; solutions such as upskilling.

Upskilling could be the answer to not one but two of the tech sector’s most pressing issues, creating a substantial tech workforce that’s both highly skilled and diverse.

Organised drives to help employees learn new skills massively benefit companies, particularly in the face of such stiff competition to hire tech staff. Taking advantage of existing resource and committing to creating talent rather than sourcing it not only puts businesses at an advantage in terms of the skills they’ll have on their teams, it also nurtures a more diverse workforce, which brings a whole swathe of benefits in itself.

There are clearly systemic issues at play that are turning girls and young women away from the tech sector early on in their academic careers, and though steps are being taken to address this disparity, it’ll take time to fix. This is time that businesses don’t have if they want to utilise the latest tech products and digitally transform their operations.

Training, reskilling and supported job transitioning hold open the door for today’s working women to enter what can be an intimidating sector within a supported and familiar environment.

Upskilling internally also means women can develop their careers without quitting their jobs, forking out for degrees, or fitting extra-curricular learning into their schedules; lifestyle changes they may not be in a position to make. Upskilling on the job gives women a path and a space to learn new skills that they might otherwise not have access to.

Initiatives like returnships, in which professionals who’ve taken a career break re-enter the workforce through a structured, paid retraining programme, are hugely appealing to women, who disproportionately leave the workforce to care for children or family members.

Offering upskilling shows that you’re willing to invest in your employees; demonstrating this commitment to supporting your staff sends out a clear and inclusive message, and lets potential future hires from diverse backgrounds know that you have an encouraging environment where they’ll be valued and able to thrive.

Having a robust upskilling programme in place in your organisation can also significantly broaden your access to a more diverse candidate pool. When talent is in short supply, and job-seekers who tick all your boxes are hard to find, knowing you have a pathway in place that can fill in the gaps means you can hire for potential.

And given that women don’t often tend to apply for jobs where they don’t meet 100% of the specification, ditching some of your requirements, safe in the knowledge they can be developed in-house, will boost your choice of candidates and attract enthusiastic, malleable tech talent who may not have much experience yet.

The first step toward reaping the dual rewards of upskilling is to perform a skills gap analysis across your business: What tech skills do you need to succeed? What are you currently missing? Who in your organisation has the talent and the drive to become your next tech superstar?

Once you start levelling the playing field and offering upskilling opportunities to your own staff, not only will you change the face of your workforce for the better, but you’ll be imbued with the skills to carry your business into tomorrow.

Nabila Salem - President - Revolent GroupAbout the author

Nabila Salem is President at world-leading cloud talent creation firm Revolent Group. Nabila has 15 years of leadership experience in professional services, marketing and technology recruitment. She plays an active role in encouraging, supporting, and promoting diversity in the workplace and was recognised in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 List 2019.