We were delighted by the response we had from the inaugural Be the Change event and as such we were excited for what the second event could bring. All of the issues covered by Be the Change are significant but 2020 has shined a particular spotlight on the topic of race. People of all different backgrounds are questioning what action they can be taking to make their environment fairer and more inclusive.
Our first speaker, Tolúlọpẹ́ Ògúnrẹ̀mí, has been working tirelessly for a number of years now to change the landscape of the coding industry. Her award winning not for profit organisation, Coders of Colour, works with underrepresented people of colour from a young age to develop interests in a career path that many would never have thought possible. As well as this, she works with Project Hezi, an NGO that has the goal to provide STEM learning materials to some of the least supported communities in Nigeria.
We caught up with Tolúlọpẹ́ after the panel to get some of her thoughts on how the event went:
Firstly, Tolúlọpẹ́, thank you very much for hosting the first panel and showcasing some of the fantastic people who have been supported by Coders of Colour. How do you feel that panel went?
I loved it! Despite the technical ups and downs, it was captivating. I feel as though hearing from young people and parents’, the change we want to see, was very needed.
It seemed from the panel, especially some of the things Aminat was saying, that there is more of a desire to address underrepresentation in the tech industry. However, the issue is not just around hiring people of colour but also making them feel valued and included in the workplace. Do you feel that this issue is being addressed and if so how?
As someone who is not working in the tech industry in that respect, I cannot say whether the issue is being addressed. It was great to hear Aminat’s anecdote on feeling included in her company, but from other anecdotes, I don’t think this is universally the case. Addressing such an issue boils down to accepting all aspects of one's identity and treating each employee with respect.
You and Aminat discuss the important ages to get kids excited in a career in tech being around 14-16. What steps do you think schools, teachers and parents can take to make kids realise that a career in tech could be an option for them, especially those ones in underrepresented communities?
This is a tough one. Computer Science has already been integrated into the curriculum, but having role models come in and share their stories can be extremely beneficial. You can’t be what you can’t see, so having amazing role models like Iman and Aminat go into schools and talk about their experiences will inspire the next generation of young people that resemble them.
It was good to get Nureen’s perspective, not as someone directly in the tech industry but as a parent trying to create the best opportunities for the younger generations of her family. What has been the response from parents and older relatives of the young people who have been supported by Coders of Colour? Have there been any struggles in regards to making older generations view tech as a viable field for their children to enter?
Although the majority of parents aren’t like Nureen, they all enjoy learning about tech from their perspective at our events. The opportunity we give them to talk to Software Engineers proves extremely beneficial to parents’ understanding of the tech sector and what their children will be doing day to day. We’ve even had a couple of parents try out some coding after our sessions!
Obviously Iman and Aminat both took different paths but ended up at similar places. One thing Iman mentioned was the lack of equipment that held her back until she could develop her skills at school. One issue that the pandemic has particularly highlighted is the barriers to learning a lack of access to technology can create. What are some of the most viable ways to bridge this gap amongst underrepresented communities, and is more work needed to put a focus on these early barriers to entry?
The most viable way is direct funding through local or central government. Working with the existing school system is the easiest way to reduce the barrier to entry. If I remember correctly, Iman mentioned initially interacting with computers in an educational setting. Such a setting provides a level playing field whilst upskilling children from all backgrounds simultaneously.
There were a lot of positive responses to Nureen’s suggestion of a show and tell, where a child dresses up as the profession they want to go into and then they get to talk to someone who is in this profession. Do you find that a lot of the people you recruit for your training programmes then go onto become mentors for other younger people from similar backgrounds to their own? Do you feel that it creates a cyclical momentum that can help create long-lasting development.
We do! I think that although it’s great we have young people helping their peers and those younger than them, it shouldn’t be solely their responsibility. It would be great to provide funding to young people in order to compensate them for their time and effort put into inspiring the next generation.
Are there any other parts of the panel discussion that you would like to highlight?
Your questions cover the panel quite well, so no :)
Many thanks to Tolúlọpẹ́ for giving up so much of her time to help make this event a reality. There is still a lot of work to do but we do genuinely believe that Be the Change can make a difference and give underrepresented voices a platform to share their stories. We would like to thank all of our speakers and panelists for their insights and everyone who tuned in with a commitment to educate and inform themselves.
Our next event will be on December 1st and will focus on Disability issues. This event will be supported by Leonard Cheshire, a charity that aims to reduce the barriers that disabled people face to be able to live, learn and work independently as they choose. It will also be sponsored by Microsoft, who are doing some leading work to increase workplace accessibility through technology.
For tickets and more information please visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/be-the-change-disability-1122020-tickets-124993429713