Q&A with Nicole Ponsford, Award-Winning Digital Educator and Founder of The Gender Equality Charter
Nicole Ponsford talks EdTech50, gender stereotypes and The Gender Equality Charter with Empiric.
What was it that interested you about EdTech?
The two have always been tied together for me - education + technology. At my first interview for an English teacher position, I asked if the school ran Media Studies. They hadn’t and this question led to me setting up an incredibly popular and successful A Level course as an NQT (110 students at the start of its second year). Being a new technologies teacher at the same time as the iPad and iPhone hitting the UK meant I was a step ahead of the curve when it came to edtech; I wasn’t afraid to have a ‘play’ with tech and integrate it into my lessons.
Before teaching I worked in marketing and loved the digital arts side. I am a true geek-girl - apps make me ‘appy! As a secondary school teacher I knew how engaging technology was to even the hardest to reach students - and how crucial it was to teacher to upskill in order to support the digital futures of our students.
You were awarded a place on the EdTech50 this year. How did that feel?
Incredible! I am passionate about closing both digital and gender gaps - and being awarded a place was incredible! Having returned from maternity leave after having twins, I am now more keen in ensuring that our students are offered all the opportunities that they can be and schools are as flexible as they can be. It is important that we look and challenge how the education system is supporting the present and future - and learning from past mistakes. The EdTech50 is an important milestone in the UK as we need to integrate technology - from digital arts and media literacy, from assistive technologies to coding - more successfully. My hope is the the EdTech50 has a real voice in joining the dots between education, technology and policy makers.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Outside of the Gender Equality Charter, my main work is for Achievement for All, as Digital Education Project Lead. Achievement for All is a leading not-for-profit organisation that works in partnership with early years settings, schools and colleges, improving outcomes for all children and young people vulnerable to underachievement regardless of background, challenge or need, and I have been working for them for 6 years now. I am proud to be part of this team.
Outside of this, I have several freelance projects. This includes supporting app development, writing advice and agony aunt columns for educational news outlets, teacher CPD and coaching and creating digital products and artwork. I am about to start a Ed.D in Education Creative and Media at Bournemouth University - which I am very excited about! My adventure will be to look more at how we close both digital and gender gaps in the UK. I cannot wait!
You founded The Gender Equality Commission in February 2018. How did this come about and how far have you come?
I founded The Gender Equality Charter with Cat Wildman at the start of the year and I cannot believe the support we've had! We really have launched a social mission which is more like a space mission. We have had two pilots, over 2K followers on Twitter and have created an amazing community which grows every day.
It came about after Graham Andre (now on our Steering Group) from the BAFTA-nominated BBC documentary No More Boys and Girls invited Cat and I into a private Twitter group - knowing that we were both working on small projects to close gender gaps in education, businesses and in homes. Cat and I hit it off and we started talking - then thinking - then more talking… We came up with a series of ideas - and the ultimate was our BIG solution to gender inequality.
We are now looking for real investment to get us out there. The time is now to get our digital product out there and offer practical solutions to close gender gaps in the UK. We know this will do it - and cannot wait to get started.
How do you overcome issues like gender stereotypes in the tech sector?
You have to join the dots - stereotypes are created, which means that they can be deconstructed. We know that bias and stereotypes starts from birth - and can be reinforced by friends, family, places of work, education and in the media. We know that girls in particular need to have a range of skills to help them in the tech sector - taking risks, problem solving, spatial awareness, maths skills, creative and critical thinking etc. Much of this starts with early years play and opportunities in Primary schools. So, we have the long term aims that can help overcome issues but we also need to make the industry ready for these empowered girls - these women. We need flexible job roles for parents, we need more opportunities for both genders and we need to eliminate bias in the workplace. The GEC will allow businesses to assess how successful they are at closing gender gaps - and celebrate the best practice and get signposted help to where they need it. Solutions! This is why the GEC is important - we are offering solutions for homes, schools and businesses - and we are the only ones out there that are willing to pull it all together.
An area that we are passionate about is supporting women in tech. Both Cat and I are women in tech - but we know we are in the minority. This month we launched The GEC Futures Project to shine a light on what is happening out there - and inspire improved take-up of digital opportunities by female teachers, students and #womenintech. I brought together all of the best females in edtech that I know and together we will offer women and girls support. We think you have ‘to see it to be it’ - so we have accessible women who want to help others. We have our first event this Saturday at the EdTech Podcast Festival so hope we will get more people involved too. We will be speaking at events, writing blogs and generally trying to help women in tech. Again support has been incredible.
Where do you think the most important area for change lies?
We believe it is ALL important - inspiring women into tech; encouraging men take paternity leave, levelling out gender inequality with parenting; stamping out pay/promotion inequality - that is why it needs a big approach! There are also so many organisations out there doing excellent work - but people cannot always find it. We want to be a hub - and are creating a community for this called ‘Community of Change’. We want to collaborate and bring the best together to make a real change to society.
What are the practical steps an organisation can take to start to make change?
Invest in us! We need to get started. Once we have the GEC up and running - we will ask people to sign up for the charter or offer their services to the Community of Change. We believe that the discussions and debates around gender equality are key, so if you want to get started pop over to our website and see how you can get involved.
What steps can we take to close the digital gender pay gap?
Again, there are a range of ways to do this - and it is also personal to that business. It might be looking at the existing gaps in your pay structure, or it might be looking at your retention and recruitment figures. The GEC works on being personal to individuals and organisations - because we have learnt that one size does not fit all. We have written a blog post that your readers might find of interest.
Should the educational sector be doing more to encourage young women to look at more diverse careers?
We think so! But we also need to look at boys too. There are a gender gaps when it comes to men and the caring roles - like Early Years teacher or Nurse. Sometimes even finding your feet as a dad is hard. The GEC is about supporting everyone - whatever their gender - to be what they want to be. To be what they can be. To release the awesome for everyone.
NextTechGirls aims to connect girls with tech work experience opportunities to open up career paths and to provide mentors - is there more to be done?
Scaling it up is next - we know that the GEC will be seen as a hub - and we want to ensure that schools and businesses are ‘talking’ to one another. We know that working together with organisations like Next Tech Girls will make this a reality.
What advice would you give to young girls considering a career in tech?
Do it! The future is digital so why wouldn’t you give it a go?
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