Tag Archives: diversity

Part 2: Not in the IT crowd (and that can be a good thing)

 

 

Sara Henderson
Graduate Intern (Student Champion),
Student Systems Project (Corporate Information and Computer Services)
University of Sheffield

UCISA SSG17: Reflections from a bursary scheme winner

This is the moment of truth.  I take to the stage to speak on my first ever conference panel session, an extremely popular fixture at UCISA-SSG .  As I meet my fellow panellists, I’m half-waiting for someone to yell “INTRUDER” and haul me off the stage, but before I know it my name flashes up on the screen and all eyes are on us.

The questions roll in, some wackier than others, and I do my best to answer them honestly, but with many falling outside of my remit, I find it difficult to feel completely at ease.  I’m in the strange position of being a recent student and new staff member, meaning I have a slightly diluted experience of both roles.

Nevertheless, the panel really coloured my reflections of the conference and beyond.  It also tied together some themes which came out of the week – that people come before technology, services need to be user-focused and the tech industry ought to be a collaborative space.

To borrow Francesca Spencer’s poignant acronym DISC (Dave, Ian, Steve and Chris), alluding to the lack of diversity in IT (which she affectionately Room 101-ed), it was difficult not to contemplate this reality as the only woman panel member at a conference of mostly men.  This is not to bash the conference or its attendees, but simply to acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do.

So if you’re yet to be a believer in the power of diversifying IT, let’s call this my manifesto.

  1. It’s good for business

Beyond a moral impetus, crudely speaking, a diverse team is a more effective one.  Looking at the demography of the industry, we are only making use of a limited cross-section of society within our teams, leading to a major skill-shortage despite growing demand.  So – diversify, or get left behind.

  1. Challenge is good

A homogenous group is less likely to be critical of each other because of their shared experiences. Imagine asking two identical job candidates to critique each other – it would be a bit like playing spot the difference.  But by broadening your team’s demography, you embed the opportunity for challenge in its make-up.  The right kind of challenge drives success.

  1. Stop! in the name of users

Perhaps you’re with me so far, and you’re wondering “what does this have to do with me and my team’s work”?  But there is another, more nuanced point to be made for the case of diversity within IT, regarding the diversity of users’ experiences with technology.  Asking an IT expert about an IT question is going to get you a professional answer.  But asking a “layman” might get you a more interesting one. Take the example of me sitting onstage at the panel session and feeling like an imposter – maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to have someone there who was agnostic to the cause.

  1. Students know what they want (and they’re not afraid to say it)

 That the panel got such a positive and enthusiastic reception is just a reminder of how keen university staff are to hear the “student voice”.  So if you’re aching to hear how to provide the best support services to students – just ask them!  You can only ‘put yourself in their shoes’ so many times before you hit a dead end, and it’s dangerous to make assumptions.  As Kerry Pinny so passionately expressed, there is no such thing as a digital native: being a millennial doesn’t mean you come out of the womb holding an iPhone, and students have a diverse range of experiences to offer you.  So maybe I wasn’t the best user for that panel, or maybe there isn’t such a thing.

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(Presentations and video catalogue are available on the conference website)

(Further information on Sheffield’s Graduate internship scheme, can be found at: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/hr/recruitment/graduateinternship)