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Jeni T:"Being the change: how supporting other women in STEM has supercharged my career (and theirs)

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

I was recently invited by the everywoman Tech Forum to give a keynote speech during their Early Careers Day event. I'm pleased to share this with you here.


Jeni Trice, CEO and Founder of Get with the Program with Al the Robot
Jeni Trice, CEO and Founder of Get with the Program with Al the Robot

TRANSCRIPT START:

Hi, my name’s Jeni Trice – I’m the CEO and Founder of Get with the Program, and our mission is to inclusively inspire the creative tech innovators of the future!


Today I’m here today to talk to you about “Being the change: how supporting other women in STEM has supercharged my career”, but I’d like to restate that title slightly and change it up to “how supporting other women in STEM has supercharged my career AND theirs!”


Now I know that’s probably pretty obvious, but I’d really like to emphasise how collaborating, networking and highlighting the work of the women around you really is a win-win-win.

In fact, my career development, both in my 25 years in the IT industry as a consultant, trainer and ultimately at management level, and more recently as an entrepreneur and founder, has always been about collaboration.

So what has my career been like, and how has it been “supercharged”?

I’ve actually spent most of my career working in the computing industry having joined PwC Consulting out of university. I’ve had variety of tech roles - I’ve worked on, and taught about - Programming, Object Orientation, Integration, Business Process Management, Service Oriented Architecture and Enterprise Architecture (to name a few) and used this knowledge to get where I am now, and I’d like say I had a fairly straight forward career path … I’d like to say it, but it wouldn’t be true!


I guess it should have been clear to me that I’d end up in a tech career, given my favourite subjects at school were Biology and Maths – a combined love of ‘understanding how systems work’ (which is basically what Biology A level is all about), and logical thinking (found in Mathematics). It SHOULD have been clear to me that computing was where my heart would be, but in fact the first step in my STEM career was 2 years of medical school at Manchester University.


Medicine wasn’t for me, however, so my next step was completing a Philosophy Degree at Bristol University, after which I was lucky enough to be offered a role as part of a training scheme at PwC called MITIS – where they selected graduates with a proven capacity for computing (using aptitude tests) but they selected them from a wide variety of backgrounds, including degrees in French, Russian, History and fortunately for me, Philosophy. It actually made for a very diverse group, and although we were still outnumbered, there were a higher proportion of women than you’d typically find in IT roles at the time.


So for me, the point at which I suddenly felt my gender became an issue was not when I started my career, but actually when I started my family – and I wish someone had warned me in advance this this might be the sticking point. I was delivering technical training for SAP at the time, and more than anything, childcare became the issue. At that point I promised myself, during this period of struggling, based around nursery & school day limitations and unexpected child sickness, that if I ever set up a business, I would make sure it catered for people who wanted to be there for their children, and I would specifically create the option of school hours and term-time only jobs. I also recognised that the working world needs to fit around our own life plans, and not the other way around.


So, now I’d like to jump forward 18 years - yes, I still can’t believe a have a 6’4” 18 year-old - and as the founder of Get with the Program, I’ve created an organisation which does indeed offer the option of school hours and term-time only jobs.

Now, Get with the Program is an education focused organisation which is funded through corporate sponsorship, so although we have plenty to keep us busy throughout the year, we can allow some of our work to ebb and flow around school terms and holidays. Although to be honest, with a bit of planning, I think any organisation could do this. Our content is based around teaching children about technology & coding concepts through interactive theatre and cross-curriculum themes – basically I dress as a ‘Professor’ and pretend I’ve got a robot – her name’s Al, short for Algorithm. Yes, I’m a walking stereotype – very few scientists actually wear white coats, let alone computer scientists – but it does help me stand out, and also it gives me an opportunity to talk about stereotyping and bias. Oh, and yes, the irony that the person speaking before me today is an actual a professor hasn’t been wasted on me either!


Our shows are currently pitched at 5-9 year-olds, but we are developing content for the older age ranges – particularly those students aged 11-13, who are thinking about GCSE options in the near future. It’s often girls who are the ones who are less likely to select STEM subjects at this stage.


Our shows were originally in-person, but more frequently these days they are remotely delivered films, which allow us to have national and international coverage - we have a learning platform that is available 24/7, and accessible around the world. In fact, our ‘Al the Robot and the Three Bears Coding Pantomime’ in 2020 became a global sensation when it went viral to nearly quarter of a million children around the world with the support of Roopa Master-Coles, the Winchester Science Centre and STEM Learning! It was so exciting!



Now, a part of our appeal to corporate funders is how we can involve volunteers in our live and remotely delivered shows – so to give you an understand of the community support that this includes, here’s a quick video of how Schroders sponsored and supported our Moon Landing Coding adventure when we ran an in-person event at a school in Tower Hamlets, in the East of London.


The part I like most about running an in-person Moon Landing Coding Adventure is how, usually at the at the end, I ask all the children about their favourite thing from it – they often love the robot coming out of the box, or how it all goes a bit wrong - or “we don’t get what we were hoping for” as we prefer to call debugging! I then always tell them MY favourite bit is when we talk about Kathrine Johnson and Margaret Hamilton, the Mathematician and Software Engineer involved in NASA's work during the period when the first person landed on the moon. We have had some wonderful responses to this simple conversation starter around these role models, and fabulous moments of recognition and aspiration when children see someone involved ‘who looks like them’!


So, in our shows, we’re talking about technology, it’s presented by a female technologist and her female robot, and each show always highlights examples of women and other less represented groups in STEM careers. We are using technology to deliver these shows, and creating jobs to give those who want to be available to support their children, the chance to find meaningful (often technology-based) work. From a supporting STEM point of view, it’s a win-win-win!


In fact, I’ve found that by supporting other women in STEM, from childhood to adulthood, HAS supercharged my career, by allowing me to create this amazing business, Get with the Program, and our success is going from strength to strength.

This success had also been built on collaboration, more often with other women, and can best be demonstrated by the calibre of companies keen to get involved with our initiative.


We’ve already mentioned Schroders, and on Thursday this week, the day after International Women’s Day, and as part of the build-up to British Science week, we are running our second free Bupa Coding Day, when any school in the UK can be nominated to join in our Bupa-funded Healthy Lunch-Bot Coding Adventure. I’m going to let our short video do the talking, but suffice to say, it’s a win-win-win!


If you’re interested, please do collaborate and support us by nominating, volunteering or signing up any UK school for one of our free virtual events, and help with our mission to inclusively inspire the tech innovators of the future! 9thMarch is the next Bupa Coding Day, but there’s also one running on 16th June too – please do got to www.getwiththeprogram.org.uk/bupa where you can find out all about it!


So, back to how supporting other women in STEM has supercharged my, and their, careers.

This idea of supporting each other, and highlighting other’s successes, is really a cultural dynamic that I not only like to ensure is ‘part of Get with the Program’s DNA’, but I believe is also part of the way all of us should do business.

In fact, this strong use of collaboration aligns to this year’s International Women’s Day message of allyship.


One of my favourite quotes was actually from one of my fellow speakers who presenting at the everywomen in Tech Forum on Thursday, Kate Bohn, who said this: “Allyship means never believing that turning someone else’s light up is ever going to diminish your own”


(You can find a video in LinkedIn including this quote, made by the Nadia Edwards-Dashti’s team at Fintech recruiters, Harrington Starr, for International Women’s Day 2023: https://lnkd.in/eckJaVMS)


In fact, I find it does quite the opposite, working together & collaborating can create such a powerful positive force, you can quite unexpectedly be elevated by it yourself, without that even being the intention.


So, in the spirit of the theme, I’ve a few people who I’d like to spotlight today, and actively support them, as women in STEM, here and now.


Firstly, the Get with the Program Team past and present, who are currently all female, and are an amazing group of women. They may not ALL think of themselves as ‘women in STEM’, but as women who work for a STEM organisation, they truly are, and I’d like to thank them for their hard work, dedication and loyalty, and celebrating the joy of the ups and downs together.


I’d like to thank Bupa’s TechX Team (Bupa’s network for women in technology and allies). I’d like to thank the one and only Diana Kennedy, Bupa’s Group Chief Technology & Architecture Officer who has championed our Healthy Lunch-Bot Coding Adventure initiative from the start. Diana understands the power of encouragement and collaboration, and champions women in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics whenever possible.


I’d also like to mention Paula Oyella, a Clinical Evidence Specialist at Bupa with a background in nutritional science, who not only advised us when writing the scripts for our Coding Adventure film, but was also happy to be featured in our main film as a role model herself!


Quite recently I’ve spent some time reaching out to my network, including connecting with new people through LinkedIn particularly women with interests in Equity, Inclusivity, Diversity and Belonging that align with mine, and I’ve met some amazing collaborators, many of whom are are quickly becoming friends.


In fact, I had a great chat a month or so ago with Akua Opong who works for the London Stock Exchange Group, and who is moderating the panel that follows this Keynote! Akua gave me some fantastic suggestions and connections, and I hope that we find an opportunity to work together in the future!

For me, fostering and supporting some parts of your network sometimes has no clear objective, but it does bring me energy and enthusiasm – and usually something unexpected appears and a result.


I’ve recently been introduced to the wonderful Wendy Shand, a Strategy and Leadership Consultant, Wendy’s resilience training and her support for us has been astounding, and one of the consequences is that she’s introduced me to Heledd Kendrick, who has built the amazing Recruit for Spouses organisation. RFS provides a ‘liquid workforce’ based around people whose partners work in the armed forces, and which includes many technically trained professionals who I’m hoping to get involved in our mission very soon!


Because …. Get with the Program is expanding!


So far, we’ve brought our unique Coding Adventures for 5-9 year-olds to over a quarter of a million children worldwide and our aim is to reach 5 million children at least in the next 5 years.


Whether it’s sending a robot to the moon, helping reduce waste in a weekly supermarket shop, planning a healthy lunch, or getting Baby Bear’s porridge ‘just right’, our Coding Adventures explain computing curriculum key terms in a way that everyone can recognise - and that can include the teachers and volunteers too!


And this crazy adventure I’ve embarked upon has ONLY been possible by the support of my own network, and by turning up other people’s lights, knowing it has not diminished my own, but by supporting women in STEM I’ve supercharged my career and my business, and more importantly it’s supercharged my enthusiasm for what I do and for supporting the people around me!


And so I urge you, perhaps at the start of your careers, highlight other fabulous women around you, turn up their light, be the change yourselves, and support other women in STEM – it’s a win-win-win, and you might be surprised on the effect it has on you!

TRANSCRIPT END

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