politics

From Bletchley to Brexit – an utter disgrace

From 2008-2011 I ran the successful campaign to save Bletchley Park. As part of that campaign I met and got to know several of the codebreakers including Captain Jerry Roberts and Mavis Batey who was only 18 when she made major codebreaking breakthroughs. The work that was done by 10 thousand people at BP, 8000 of them young women shortened WW2 by 2 years saving 22 million lives. 10000 people working around the clock for years making sure that we can enjoy the freedom we have had all of our lives.

Bletchley Park to me epitomises what is best about Britain and the British. People from all different backgrounds coming together around a common cause, working for years, in secret, with no real personal reward or recognition for what they have done. Incredible people in incredible times. 

To me Brexit is the opposite of this. Brexit epitomises the worst of Britain and the British. People from privileged backgrounds seeking to manipulate others, to pit people against each other for their own personal gain. Selfish people creating a selfish atmosphere in selfish times.

At a time when other countries, like China for example are building infrastructure across the world with the Belt and Road programme, buying up land, building roads across Africa and Asia, lending large amounts of money to countries that possibly won’t be able to pay it back, we in the UK are showing the world quite clearly that we are unfit to be incredible pioneers as we once were, working en masse, working in collaboration with other countries, building the alliances that we have enjoyed up until now.

We are now operating in a global marketplace. There has never been so much opportunity in the world for us to create products and services that we can sell around the world. Technology is rapidly changing the way we connect with each other, the way we trade, the way we live our lives. It is creating social change through connecting us together with others that care about making change happen. #blacklivesmatter #metoo it’s incredible that through one word, one hashtag we can create global movements that are changing the world for the better, empowering people who previously had no voice.

Technology brings amazing opportunities for jobs, education, connections with people around the world to solve global challenges, but in the UK we  just look backwards and complain about how it’s taking away jobs.

In less than 100 years we’ve gone from seeing the best of British to the worst of British. I’m utterly ashamed of what’s happening here now with Brexit, to me it feels like the UK at a pivotal time in history with all the amazing opportunities that are out there, is committing suicide in front of the world. At a time when we should be joining together and collaborating with other countries to make the world a better place to live in for us all, we are throwing away opportunity under the lie of making Britain great again. What an utter disgrace.

Me on @BBCWorld news talking about the #Googlememo, #womenintech and #whitemaleprivilege

I was interviewed by Aaron Heslehurst for his Talking Business show on BBC World News channel yesterday about the memo “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” written and shared internally by a Google engineer.

“The author argues that women are underrepresented in tech not because they face bias and discrimination in the workplace, but because of inherent psychological differences between men and women. “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” he writes, going on to argue that Google’s educational programs for young women may be misguided.”

My main points:

  1. He has no idea what he’s talking about, he’s not a woman in tech and is displaying a classic case of #whitemaleprivilege
  2. “For those used to privilege, equality looks like oppression”
  3. It’s wonderful that we can now discuss these issues openly, it’s the first big step towards an equal society that cares about everyone not just the privileged few
  4. It’s great that the media now think of this as an issue, just a few years ago that wouldn’t have been the case, I’ve been in the #womenintech space for 25+ years and even though the change happening is ridiculously slow I’m delighted to see it finally start speeding up
  5. Mainstream media are becoming supportive of equality and feminism
  6. Many people in our society are backward looking and change averse like this engineer (and his country’s president), for us on this planet to have a successful future we need to work together to ensure that EVERYONE has equal opportunity
  7. Our society is misogynist, which is bad for women and men
  8. Engineering and software engineering are about cooperation and people skills as much if not more so than coding. It’s been shown time and again that one of the main reasons IT projects fail is because of the lack of communication in one way or another.
  9. Ada Lovelace invented the very idea of software (did her brain have “biological differences”?) and we have many amazing women in tech pioneers e.g. the incredible Dame Stephanie Shirley who set up F International 300+ women coding from home in the 1960s. They wrote the Concorde black box flight recorder software for example.
  10. We need quotas short term to redress the balance, to create a level playing field.
  11. It’s not about men vs women but about being enlightened and forward thinking rather than change averse and backward thinking white male privilege.
  12. It’s social conditioning, we know that behaviours that are seen as assertive in men can be seen as bossy in women
  13. It not about men vs women its about those that want to create the best products and services and see that change needs to happen for that to be the outcome and those that are change averse and have the privilege of being in the majority.
  14. I’ve been hearing this shit since I got into tech in 1989, it’s time for CHANGE!

Technology was absent from the leaders’ debate – but it is key to the UK’s success

Last night’s election leaders’ debate was notable for the almost complete absence of technology, bar a hesitant reference to “IT” from Ed Miliband. Not one of the seven candidates spoke about technology as an enabler, as a tool that offers us the capability to completely revitalise our economy.

Instead, each debater focused on the small picture, rather than looking outwards to the massive technology-enabled social and economic changes happening globally.

Where was the leadership? Where was the inspiration? Where was the “yes we can” moment? And why was there no talk of the massive digital revolution happening right now, which offers us so many opportunities to solve or alleviate many of our country’s problems?

The UK has a great tradition of creativity, invention and technology from the industrial revolution to the code breakers of Bletchley Park, to ARM, the BBC Micro and the Raspberry Pi.

We are now competing in a global marketplace, in a world that is increasingly driven by technology. The UK should be leading the world with a strong, tech-savvy, tech-enabled workforce, ready to make the most of the huge opportunities a global marketplace opens up. We should be in pole position. Are we? Are we bugger.

Our schools have only just started teaching computer science properly, and the majority of UK adults have almost no practical tech education at all, which harms our future economic success and competitiveness as a nation. Which political party is taking a lead on ensuring that as a country we are ready with 21st century tech skills?

Last night I saw “pale, stale and male” middle-class white men from privileged backgrounds, all focused on either getting into or staying in power. The only candidates to mention cooperation and collaboration were female — the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett and Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party. Organisations across the UK, including government, education and the NHS, need to collaborate more effectively in order to solve problems more swiftly, and tech can help to facilitate this.

For too long we have had a political system built around competition and short termism. If we want our country to be successful we need more focus on cooperation and collaboration, both nationally and globally. In these areas technology is a great enabler.

Today’s politicians simply do not seem to grasp the positive impact tech could have to the nation’s economy, if we can educate the workforce to understand it. From virtual assistants to web designers, and executive coaches to Etsy’s knitters, technology enables entrepreneurs to go global.

The World Economic Review for 2014 ranked the UK just ninth in the world for networked readiness, or having a workforce that is able to use technology. This puts us behind the US, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. At first glance, ninth may not seem all that bad. But things move fast in the tech world and governments that prioritise tech education for adults as well as school children will have the clear advantage.

The candidates last night spoke of the NHS, the economy, jobs, full employment, debts, zero-hours contracts, legislation, public sector contracts and security for working families. These are all important, of course, but what was missing was anything truly inspiring and with a real sense of optimism. One candidate did at least speak of a pride in our nation, and mentioned the global economy. What a shame that was Nigel Farage…

Farage might pay lip service to engaging with the world at large, but stricter immigration policies would do the UK tech industry and the economy in general no good at all.

A recent House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report published in 2014 claims that an “unwelcoming UK” has already led to an “unprecedented fall” in Stem student numbers. Keeping people out of our country means missing opportunities to share skills, to enhance knowledge and develop global networks, all of which are important in the modern workplace.

In the UK we have a rich heritage in technology and engineering that should give us the confidence for leadership at a global level, setting the pace and inspiring other nations to follow our great example – not focusing on how many foreigners there are in the UK. It’s embarrassing. How did we end up here?

Now is the time for a new inspiring vision of the future, from a leader who can not only lead but who is not afraid to connect and collaborate. A leader who understands and can leverage the massive opportunities available, someone that our innovative, inventive and creative population can believe in. We need a leader who understands the capabilities inherent in modern technology and has the ability to use them to solve our problems. We need that leader now.

Where is she?

This article written by me was published in The Guardian on Friday 3 April 2015

Technology was absent from the leaders’ debate – but it is key to the UK’s success