#TechMums: Empowering Mums through Tech
A Leeds Libraries Case Study
Leeds Inclusive Growth Strategy 2018 – 2023 sets out 12 Big Ideas that will create the underlying conditions for inclusive growth. One of these big ideas is Leeds as a Digital City, and fundamental to this is increasing digital inclusion so that all people can access services, education and training. Women in tech is specifically highlighted in the Strategy.
100% Digital Leeds is a campaign that seeks to pull together disparate events, activities, partnerships and initiatives with an aim of addressing the number of people in the city who don’t have the skills to engage with the online world.
Leeds Libraries, with a proven track record of delivering on digital inclusion through its 34 libraries, 500 public access PCs, free Wi-Fi, and a staff team trained to deliver digital skills sessions, were recognised as having the infrastructure, community links and reputation to lead on this campaign to manage and coordinate programmes of activity to accelerate and maximise digital inclusion across the city.
Funding was made available to not only appoint staff but also to provide resources and programmes of activity. One of the programmes of activity delivered has been the innovative #techmums.
#techmums was founded by Tech Evangelist Dr Sue Black OBE, whose story illustrates the transformative impact that education in tech can have in helping women back into the workplace. #techmums is aimed at mothers who, due to family commitments, have taken time out of the workforce or education, and consequently may be lacking in skills and confidence. The ten-week course covering key areas of tech, such as digital safety, coding, and cloud computing, allows women to gain the skills and confidence needed to return to employment, enter a new career path, or set up their own business.
Leeds Libraries partnered with Leeds Adult Learning who provided the funding to bring the ten week #techmums course to Leeds in early 2019, the first city outside of London to deliver the programme.
Staff in Leeds received training from #techmums and clubs were then co-delivered by library staff and staff from both Adult Learning and Employment and Skills. Learners were provided with a course booklet and access to the #techmums online learning portal.
“The ladies who led our course were always so cheerful & helpful & supportive. If it hadn’t been for them, I don’t think I would have made it through the whole 10 weeks. They never made me feel daft for not knowing how to do something and they were unfailingly patient with my lack of tech knowledge. I honestly can’t praise them highly enough – they were awesome.” (Leeds Tech Mum)
Feedback from tutors about the training and resources was good; tutors found the course booklet a useful guide to the course and used this as a basis to create their own session plans and add learner-specific content. Tutors also found the language used in the supporting materials to be clear, accessible and not too ‘techy’.
#techmums Clubs were delivered at Strawberry Lane Community Centre in Armley, Seacroft Library, and Dewsbury Road Library. These locations were chosen as they are either in, or in close proximity to, Priority Neighbourhoods, i.e. those in the 1% most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the country. Targeted activity in these areas ensured that the course was accessible to those women most in need of support.
The courses were promoted through the Leeds Libraries Creative Digital brochures, leafleting, social media, and via the Adult Learning portal as well as via staff and partner networks to encourage signposting and referral. 38% of attendees found out about the clubs through a location-targeted social media campaign.
To keep the course as accessible as possible spaces were offered free of charge, and through the Leeds Libraries Tablet Lending Scheme, we were able to lend iPads to all learners for the duration of the course. This was a key feature of the programme – the participants really appreciated having access to the iPads as it provided the opportunity to continue their learning in their own time, at home and with their families.
The make-up of the different cohorts was very much indicative of the communities we were targeting. Armley #techmums saw attendance from a large percentage of mums either on career breaks or in employment, whereas at Dewsbury Road more of the attendees were not in employment or education and, for many of these, English was not their first language.
The course culminated with a graduation celebration event at Leeds Central Library. Professor Sue Black, Sky Head of Tech Natasha Sayce-Zelem, and Google ‘I Am Remarkable’ were all in attendance. With their new-found confidence the mums shared their personal stories and the positive experiences of the #techmums Clubs through a number of presentations.
“It’s so easy to take for granted (as a digital native) the importance of digital literacy skills. Humbled to hear how liberated a group of women felt after learning IT skills for the first time.”
Natasha Sayce-Zelem (Head of Tech Sky Leeds and Founder Empowering Women with Tech)
100% of the learners said they were interested in the course to gain new skills and knowledge, with high scores in wanting to gain employment and increase social activity alongside this.
Course signup and retention rates were excellent: 60 places were offered up in the first instance and these places were filled at the initial interest stage. After English Language skills assessment screenings 47 learners were enrolled and 41 learners graduated #techmums after 10 weeks.
“It’s incredible to hear how much #techmums has changed these women’s lives.”
Penny Hindle (CodeFirstGirls)
77% of mums said the topics met their expectations. Learners found the topics on blogging, web design, and coding to be the most useful and interesting. They were also very keen to explore online safety, as this was a huge concern for them and their families. Mums wanted to spend more time on these topics, with more practical learning included.
All learners surveyed reported an increase in confidence and 92% of mums surveyed would recommend the #techmums Club to others. 12 mums have progressed onto at least one other Adult Learning course – six learners have attended a course with Northern College (Create your own marketing campaign), one has enrolled for a further 3 courses and another for 5!. Three learners have also successfully secured a place on the prestigious TechUP programme, a programme developed by partner Universities in conjunction with tech industry partners aimed at supporting people from underrepresented communities to retrain and build a new career in tech.
“I wasn’t expecting all the careers advice and assistance with moving on to other courses. I thought the celebratory event was a fantastic addition to ensure that people knew where to go next, and increase confidence and aspirations of participants. I also enjoyed the coding in the last lesson.”
(Leeds Tech Mum)
“The #techmums experience was fantastic. The course topics covered an introduction to coding, app design, online safety and budgeting online. Last but not least, it created an atmosphere to form lovely relationships with other women. Following the #techmums course, our course facilitator Claire informed us about the techUp course for underrepresented women and provided any help we required. I managed to get on the course and am currently learning things I didn’t imagine myself doing before #techmums, I firmly believe that #techmums was highly instrumental in this journey and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I do hope many more mothers will get the same.”
(Gifty, Leeds Tech Mum)
There has been considerable interest in this first #techmums course outside of the capital, bringing with it recognition for the role of libraries in supporting the development of digital skills.
#techmums Leeds has been nominated for Women in IT Excellence Awards 2019 ‘Diversity Inclusion Initiative of the Year’ and Claire Duffield, Digital Engagement Librarian and the driving force behind bringing #techmums to Leeds, has been nominated for the Tech 100 Women Awards.