How to challenge stereotypes: getting out and talking to kids

August 06, 2020

Talking to young people is important to challenge the social norms and the stories they hear. I’m not saying it’s the solution, but a small stepping stone in the right direction, that is actually pretty simple to do.

Talking to young people is important to challenge the social norms and the stories they hear. I’m not saying it’s the solution, but a small stepping stone in the right direction, that is actually pretty simple to do.

(All events mentioned in this post were before the coronavirus pandemic)

At one of our Company Days, I did a talk about inclusivity off the back of our gender equality initiative, 50+50. I talked about inclusivity, because as much as there is obviously a gender disparity in the tech industry, I believe this shouldn’t be the sole focus.

The main takeaways from my inclusivity presentation, were:

  1. This is everyone’s problem to solve: let’s include everyone in the conversation. If we don’t include those who are in the leadership/board-level roles, who are making decisions, we’ll find it harder to make any cultural changes. These need to be addressed from the top down as well as the bottom up.
  2. Think about your language: I’m sure we’ve all experienced some form of toxic behaviour in the workplace, it’s inevitable. A few months ago a senior member of my team made a sexist remark towards me while I was presenting. Due to the zero tolerance Valtech has on this behaviour, this person was given notice and I was given huge support from my team members and HR. It was really encouraging to see how quickly this was dealt with and how sensitive my peers were around this. By reacting to these situations in the right way, we can set an example of what is acceptable language.
  3. Internships and work experience: these are a great way to promote opportunities for people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds or in different stages of life, e.g. women who have had children and are looking for a new career opportunity. Keep in mind that not all internships are accessible to everyone, and there is inequality here too. For example, I remember doing an internship at GQ magazine and being in a monetary deficit as the pay did not cover my travel from outside of London! 

My action from the back of this talk and the 50+50 group activities was to start speaking to schools. 

Why inclusion is important:

Inclusion has many forms, but I want to try my best at ensuring that we are doing all that we can, to inspire and inform youth from all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. Particularly talking about experiences studying STEM subjects and working in the tech industry – in the hope that this may inspire some to pursue it in education and as a career. 

A study of the 500 largest tech companies in the United Kingdom found that women hold less than 15% of the senior executive and board-level roles in the industry. Almost three quarters of the boards of these firms, whose revenues are worth £184bn a year to the economy, also have no-one from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background. Cahal Milmo

As this quote demonstrates, we are getting a small amount of traction in the way of representation of women in leadership/board-level roles, but shockingly no one from a BAME background is represented at board level in the 500 largest tech companies in the UK. 

We have to pick our subjects at school from a young age, which in most cases has a huge effect in determining our career paths. The access children have to role models, or what/who they are exposed to in their close circles also plays a huge part. That’s why I felt it was massively important to focus my efforts on speaking to kids at school, with an aim to have a ripple effect in their perceptions and ways of thinking about studying STEM and working in tech.

The talk

I did my talk in a primary school in Hackney where the poverty and child poverty rate are proportionally some of the highest in London. It’s also a very ethnically diverse school, with a high rate of BAME students. Most of the teachers, if not all, were women, which in itself has another nationwide gender disparity.

My talk was structured in the following way:

  1. A bit about me: where I’m from (mixed Brazilian and British/Irish background), what I studied at school and University (Science)
  2. Valtech Sizzle reel video: upbeat music, diverse workforce represented - got a few kids dancing at their desk!
  3. How websites/online services are built: using the analogy of a house that needs building materials, architects, builders, and designers
  4. What is a ‘User Researcher’?: What I do, why it’s important and why I like my job
  5. Accessibility testing: A video of users with visual impairments using the ‘Apply for a Blue Badge’ prototype
  6. Group problem solving task: (which we didn’t have time for as there were so many questions about the video)

Example task:

The idea was to ask the students a few questions to get them talking and get them into the frame of mind when it comes to online user experiences.

  1. What websites do you like using, why do you like them?
  2. What websites do you find hard to use, why?

(If they can’t think of anything, take them through some prepared examples of websites with poor user interfaces)

In groups ask them to problem solve:

  1. Choose a webpage you find hard to use, or you think has problems
  2. Think about how you would change it to make it easier to use
  3. Draw a new design using the stencil (sheets of paper with wireframes were handed out to each table)


Why it’s a win win for everyone

  • For a child to see a woman talk about her job in the technology industry is as important for boys to see as well as girls to work towards eradicating unconscious bias and future interactions with women in the workplace
  • We all come from different backgrounds. If you are able to share your story and how you got to where you are today, it makes it more of a reality and you are forming the basis of a role model. Coming from a mixed Brazilian background, I was able to make a connection with some of the children that had lusophone heritage, and it was great to see their reactions when I spoke in Portuguese with them
  • To give back to the community and teach children about the world of STEM is a worthy cause and is also super helpful to the school staff who are always trying to think of new ways to inspire the children

Why it’s a win win for you

  • Talking to children can sound easy, but it’s not your usual office environment so there is an element of getting out of your comfort zone!
  • If you don’t do much presenting it’s a good way to practice about a topic you are familiar with and passionate about, so it should be easy to talk about
  • It’s a good way to practice describing your role in a simplified way. This is a good skill to have when some stakeholders on projects may not fully understand what you do.It’s also helpful to practice when it comes to networking events and you don’t want to bore the person with a load of jargon about what you do!
  • Volunteering or mentoring in any shape or form is a good learning experience for you, and life-changing for those you are trying to help
  • It feels good to give back!


Surprising beneficial outcomes

  • This is more specific to my role, but I showed the children a video of accessibility testing with visually impaired users. I’m always intrigued by users with accessibility needs, and during playbacks I get really positive reactions from colleagues too. Watching these users interact with technology, and hearing their screen readers in action is impressive. It teaches you they are just as able as anyone else to do things online independently, as long as their accessibility needs are considered first.
  • The children were completely engaged and fascinated with the video. I received the most questions about this, and it was clear that they hadn’t had the opportunity to learn about this before, or had the opportunity to think about how it would be possible for a blind person to interact with technology. Just like myself before I entered this role.
  • I was able to highlight why it’s important to make technological experiences inclusive for everyone, including those with disabilities. Shifting another assumption that people with disabilities don’t need to be involved.
  • This video got everyone talking, and gave them more awareness into a world which is normally not visible to them, in turn, teaching them a few moral lessons.

To finish

It shouldn’t matter what your background is or what gender you are, but the more we can do to teach and inspire young children from diverse backgrounds, the more we can hopefully shift the stereotypes about race, socio-ecomonic status and gender they learn from a young age. 

At the end of my talk, I was approached by a child who was serious about wanting to work in the technology industry. It felt good to give them advice around the future steps they could take, and give them the confidence to move forward in that dream. Small actions like these can help to change perceptions in societal roles and hopefully have a ripple effect over time. 

This post was written before the coronavirus pandemic, which obviously impacts a lot of what we can do to help going forwards. During the crisis, we’ve seen the black lives matter movement get to the forefront of the nation’s minds. It’s been refreshing to see people wanting to educate themselves, becoming anti-racist and question their unconscious biases. It’s a step in the right direction but there’s still a way to go to eradicate the inequalities that people face from ethnic minority backgrounds.   

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