In this weekly series we introduce you to members of the Tech North team, and let them tell you more about their roles and their views about tech in the North of England.
This week we hear from our Talent & Skills Programme Lead, Kirsty Styles.
Tell us about your role at Tech North
I look after all of our ‘talent and skills’ work at Tech North, which means it’s my job to help us establish what our ‘digital skills crisis’ looks like in the region, and work with others to do something about it.
One of my pilot programmes, Northern Voices, trained 28 women working in digital for public speaking and media opportunities, followed by six months helping them secure bookings.
The idea was to help these women use existing platforms to highlight the digital industry as an attractive option for more people, while eradicating ‘all-male panels’ and the business culture that implies they are acceptable.
By bringing together technical and non-technical women of all ages and backgrounds, I wanted to make it clear that you don’t have to be a ‘techie’ to be in tech. So far, the women have almost 200 appearances done or in the pipeline.
We were really pleased to see that diversity was one of the key challenges outlined in the government’s Digital Strategy, and the Minister of State for Digital Matt Hancock was so impressed with Northern Voices he attended one of the training days.
My latest programme, Upskill, is an accelerator for digital skills providers in the North, helping them scale, diversify and pitch their alternative skills provision.
With the Upskill cohort, we are about to launch a first-of-its-kind digital skills benchmark, in collaboration with The Tech Partnership, to help learners and employers better understand the provision they’re buying.
What’s your background, and what attracted you to working at Tech North?
After working as a technology journalist in East London, I joined Tech North to use the passion I’d got for promoting social, political and economic issues in our industry to make my home turf the best place to get a digital job.
As a journalist, I was pretty sick of writing headlines about the ‘digital skills crisis,’ the ‘north-south divide,’ and the diversity issues we now see constantly hitting the headlines, and I wanted to do something about it.
I finally made my decision to move back just after the Brexit vote, as I wasn’t sure my skills and experience were as needed in London as they were back ‘up north.’
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about tech in the North since you joined Tech North?
It perhaps wasn’t too surprising, but we now know from research done at Tech City UK that Northern founders are very committed to building sustainable business that benefit the local community.
But when it comes to diversity in the workplace, it almost doesn’t matter where you’re from, we still have lots of changes to make if we want our companies to be as good as they can be.
Diversity should be important for the North because, aside from there being more people to choose from, the data says diverse companies are more sustainable, enter more markets and build better products.
But it’s not just about ‘getting more women in.’ Diversity extends to ethnicity, ability, class, gender, age, religion, nationality and is as much about ensuring people feel included, as much as it’s about them being in the room.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
My job is all about meeting people, understanding their issues, creating connections between them and building networks. Often, it’s not a brand new thing that needs to be done, just a piece of information shared, a contact to be made.
With Northern Voices, we created a humble WhatsApp group as a place for us to share opportunities, but this quickly became the backbone of the programme. The Northern Voices are now getting heaps of opportunities for each other, sharing platforms in groups like Ladies That UX Manchester and Liverpool Girl Geeks, as well as spotting external opportunities to get on the stage. It’s been wonderful to see.
When I was a journalist, I got tired of writing about great things that other people were doing. Now I get to actually help!
If there’s one thing you’d like people to do after reading this interview, what would it be?
I’d really like people to commit to making the tech industry in the North the most collaborative, sustainable and inclusive ecosystem around.
Think about what time you decide to host events – are you excluding parents if you have it in the morning or at night? Think about your work culture – does your after work culture exclude your apprentices or those who don’t drink? Look at who talks in meetings – is everyone getting heard?
I hope the North can become the best place for anyone, no matter who they are, to work in tech. Our region kickstarted the industrial revolution, is the home of cooperative business, led the women’s suffrage movement and created the first computer – we should be able to do this too.