I work in Technology but I’d had never noticed my being female as any kind of barrier. Sure, I was often mistaken for “Mr Wildman’s Secretary” when I’d go and collect my guests from reception, and I had chaired my fair share of terrifyingly intimidating meetings full of older men, but at the time I’d thought that was just a normal rite of passage. I’m not a stereotypical female by any stretch and being competitive, ambitious and self confident by nature, I wasn’t going to let any nonsense about my sex hold me back. I’d pretty much ignored the gender imbalance issue all together.
My lightbulb moment came when I was recruiting a couple of new Technologists for my team. I suddenly realised that I hadn’t seen a single female CV, in fact, I realised that the vast vast majority of CVs I ever received were from males. I started investigating the problem. It went all the way back to kids and it was about so much more than my pile of male CVs. It was more than women in STEM. It was domestic violence, prisons full of men, boys with special educational needs. It was about eating disorders, the media’s horrible portrayal of women. It was rape, victim blaming, stereotypes infecting countless TV shows, books, clothing…everything. It was porn addictions, bullying, filters, body dysmorphia, young girls buying prescription slimming drugs online. It was kids killing themselves. It was the horrible statistics on young male depression and suicide. It was the leadership, in every single area, of our country being in no way reflective of the population it was leading. I was horrified and activated.
I started reading everything I could get my hands on and researching into the early hours of the morning. I was mortified that I’d had my head buried in the sand for so many years and as a young mum myself, I was completely obsessed with finding a solution. I entered the world of Social Media and was further astounded by the vitriol with which comments, from people trying to speak up about the issue, were met. A woman posted a picture of a pair of pyjamas with dinosaurs on them asking why they had to have “boys” written on the label. The comments she received made my jaw drop. People were seriously angry and I couldn’t understand why. Time and time I again I was seeing the comment “I don’t see the problem”, “I fail to see the problem”; it made me so angry and frustrated. How was anyone supposed to stand up and ask for change when they were met with this terrifying reaction?
I created a Facebook group and collected people I found speaking out and ushered them into it so they could talk freely, without fear.
I wrote an article, more to get it all out of my head and onto paper than anything else, and posted a link to it on Twitter. A group of like minded people ushered me into their group headed up by the wonderful Graham Andre and that’s where I met the tour du force that is my cofounder Nic Ponsford. I floated an idea to them about a platform that could solve the problem and if you are ever lucky enough to meet Nic you will know that it was then down to her boundless energy and sheer determinedness that The GEC was born.
It can be a scary place out there and all the brave people sticking their head above the parapet, I applaud you. It’s people like you who change the world.
Please join us, let’s do this together.
If you’d like a chat you can email me cat@theGEC.org.
You can follow my quest to “do” gender equal parenting on Instagram @gendercharter.
I also Tweet @catwildman2000.
After over a decade of being a teacher, specialising in digital subjects and supporting schools around new technologies, I’ve now worked for nearly seven years at educational charity, Achievement for All - initially as an Achievement Coach for Primary and Secondary schools, but now as the Digital Education Lead. I am both proud and privileged to be part of this team who are making a real difference in the UK. The approach we have is one of complete inclusion for all - achievement for all - and as an educator I have always been passionate about smashing barriers and creating opportunities for young people (which is why I won a Teaching Award in 2005).
And although I love this work - my time outside of the classroom has shown me that there are really no limits on what you can try to achieve.
Since my first maternity leave in 2010, I’ve worked freelance as an educational coach, writer, editor and digital content producer. This was mainly as I was unable to return to work in school leadership ‘part-time’. My son had a range of medical needs and appointments in his first few years. I knew I wanted something for me but I had no idea where to start. Therefore I did what I know best - and I turned to the internet (which it turns out can be a pretty inspirational place).
In 2014 my first book, TechnoTeaching, was published by Harvard - this was written during nap-times and all remotely - with another woman. (I have yet to meet my co-author American Dr Julie M Wood!). It is based on practical solutions to integrate new technologies in the most inclusive way we can. It was a huge personal achievement and it gave me the confidence to just ‘go for things’ - especially working online to achieve my goals. Collaboration is key.
I now have three children; a Primary aged son, and boy/girl toddler twins. Although as an educator, and as a new mum, I was aware of the barriers that my family seemed to have around us - I was keen to create solutions. It is kind of my thing.
It really all came to a head when the twins were 2.
Coming back to work, after having the twins, I was struck by the lack of gender equality in the UK. As a parent of girl / boy twins it was incredible to see how they were treated differently by some people. I was then asked to speak at BETT - in the midst of Gove’s year of computing (Jan 2017), and wondered where on earth all the women were. I wrote about it and loads of people from the edtech world got in touch. I realised I was not alone and was determined to do something practical to change this. There seemed a lot of voices talking about it - but no-one was joining the dots.
Then I met Cat. We met (on Twitter), put our heads together - and we decided it was time to get things sorted - as professionals and parents. The GEC is our solution. As two female founders with tech backgrounds and based on our roles (Cat in business and me in education) and as parents, we have one BIG idea. We worried it was too big - but went for it anyway.
In a weird parallel life to that of being a mum on the school run - endlessly worried about snacks and sniffles - the last year has been very surreal. I have been made a Fellow at the RSA and am listed in the EDTech50 (for my work in gender equality) and even been to the House of Lords twice!
In my ‘free time’, I am working on a Doctorate, again online and part-time. I am studying for a Doctorate in Education and Creative Media at Bournemouth University - and my focus is on how to close digital gender gaps in the UK.
Whilst we wait to get investment for our digital platform, we have now launched our first practical project, which I am really excited about - GECFutures - as a means of celebrating and inspiring women and girls with digital futures. We have just launched a Twitter handle, have an extraordinary group of female leaders and are now even getting some partnership work. It is all happening.
My hope is that we can move the conversation away from depressing gender stats - and actually make changes to ensure that ‘equality’ and ‘inclusion’ are the ‘new normal’ for all. I would love you to help us do this together.
If you’d like a chat you can email me nic@theGEC.org or I also Tweet @nicoleponsford.
I run both @gendercharter and @GECFutures so pls join in. See you there!