March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day of action for women anywhere to celebrate their achievements and sound the clarion call for gender equality. It unites governments, businesses, charities, and citizens around the world on particular a theme that is relevant to women’s lives. This year’s theme is ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.’
IWD originated in the early 1900s. I believe there are strong parallels between women’s situation then and now. The early 20th century was an age of rapid industrialisation, expanding markets, and radical ideologies. It was a period of turbulent change with significant implications for women. Today’s rapidly expanding digital sector accounts for £118bn (7.3%) of the UK economy (HMG 2016) and brings similar opportunities and flexibility. But the ‘gig economy’ has also made headlines for uncertainty, instability and poor employment practices.
In her sociological approach to digital, Catherine Howe (Public-i 2014) draws similar comparisons between the 19th century ‘captains of industry’ who built the civic architecture and infrastructure that defined our local democracy, and today’s e-entrepreneurs – women amongst them – who are creating a new virtual civic public realm, built from digital processes, data and technology.
As with any economy, she suggests digital is made up of specific elements and skills or ‘tribes’ that each contribute to a whole system approach that results in wider societal change rather than purely technological advances.
Our modern world of work has shown an over-reliance on Fordism, with rigid classifications of structure/job/task/skills driven by technology which can de-humanise our workplace. This seems at odds with the emerging knowledge economy of digitalisation.
So this blog is dedicated to unsung female “21st Century Public Servants” who champion digital as a means of delivering complex people-based outcomes for the most vulnerable people. In their commitment to business and social outcomes, these inspirational leaders in public sector digital ensure that women get access to, are up-skilled for, and empowered in, the digital workplace. And crucially, they are also role models and mentors, reminding female peers that being over-burdened, under-paid, or unrecognised for essential carer and domestic roles, is something that belongs firmly in the past.
Merran McRae, Calderdale Council
In a career covering a range of key public services, Merran is a well-respected leader in local government, digital evangelist and self-confessed member of Howe’s ‘digital cargo cult’ tribe. Through peer learning she shares tips on leadership in a digital world by promoting devolved leadership, data insights, and open collaboration on digitally driven innovations, to meet local needs, in particular women, children and families accessing care and support.
Nadira Hussein, Chair of Women in IT
The former President of the Society of Chief Information and IT Managers, set up Women in IT, a national group to improve the visibility of women in technology. Now in its second year, it provides supportive networks and pathways for women to progress in the digi-tec sector, through a dedicated programme including a Women in IT Symposium and a leadership course, Empowering Women in a Digital World.
Julie Hawker, CEO Cosmic
I got to know award winning ‘Cosmic Julie’ during my ADBL Executive Diploma in Digital Business Leadership last year. Aside from her energy, creativity and collaboration, Julie is a natural mentor and change agent, leveraging digital and social media for social value. Her professional and personal journey has proved inspirational, not just for me, but for women across the whole south west region.
This list is not exhaustive. Today – more than any other – we should acknowledge the army of women across our public, community and voluntary sectors, working tirelessly every day to facilitate women’s engagement in digital. Whether from long established global networks such as the Girl Guides movement; the perpetually pioneering Blackburn House (Liverpool) celebrating 30 years since the inception of its Women’s Technology and Education Centre; or the more recently created #techmums, supporting inner-city mums and families to become tech savvy, we need women like this. By helping girls and women to get in pace with the unstoppable march in our changing world of work, they take us a step closer to the vision of a 50:50 gender equality planet.
The novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand (born around the same time IWD was created) once said ‘The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me’. The everyday inspiration of these women shows how infinitely unstoppable we can be. Happy International Women’s Day.
Watch the latest video in our ‘women in digital’ series, to see what Ruby and other industry leaders have to say about the obstacles for women returning to tech’
Profile: Ruby Dixon is Head of Local Government at Alpine. She is a member of the Socitm national Women in IT steering group and is passionate about in gender diversity in IT and public services: ‘Reclaim the Byte’ and Tackling Ms Perceptions of Women in IT . As a strategic leader in the LG sector, she has over 25 years’ experience of transforming services and leading change in large, complex organisations and political environments, delivering front-line excellence with a relentless focus on sustainable outcomes. She holds a BA Hons (University of Liverpool); a Masters in Women’s Studies and Gender Inclusion (Liverpool); Director’s List MBA (Manchester Business School), is a graduate of the Advanced Executive Leadership Programme (Ashridge Business School), and the Executive Diploma (Distinction) in Digital Business Leadership.