A digital age for all ages

Written by Holly Ellis, Director of Capability for the Digital, Data and Technology profession at Government Digital Service

This post was first published in 2016 when Holly Ellis was Deputy Director of Digital Delivery at the Home Office.

Digital Data and Technology (DDaT) Profession team have been announced as a finalist in the DL100 Digital Team of the Year category 2018. 

There’s been a lot of talk about gender diversity in digital over the last few weeks and rightly so, but it’s not just gender, or ethnicity that are the issues we should be thinking about.

We must also consider age.

Without mentioning names, I had an encounter with someone recently and it really affected me. In fact, the comments they made kept going round in my mind long into the early hours of the morning.

‘Digital teams are young, jeans-wearing and beardy’

The comments were about the typical digital team: young, jeans-wearing and beardy. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things (I love a good beard), but it emphasised a clear demarcation between that group of digital people, and those whose careers have developed with a less flexible way of working and a more formal dress code.

I read an article a while back from a top female CEO who said, ‘judge me on what I do, not what I wear’, which is so true. The person I spoke to recently not only commented on what we wear, but said there was also a sense of mystique about what we do, and described digital as being like a club that wasn’t accessible to everyone.

That really upset me.

Changing the way we recruit

We talk about bringing in graduates and interns. We work with universities and schools to find fresh new talent to bring to our workforce. But what about the people already in our workforce?

I never set out to work in digital, it just happened. And I think this is true of many people’s career choices. The thing is, once you’re on a particular career path it’s very hard to change, especially when the necessary skill-set feels out of reach and only suited to young people who know a lot about tech.

But that’s just not true. There are many skills and professions within digital that are well within the reach of many professionals, and I want to breakdown this perceived barrier.

My Mum is in her 60s and still says she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. She uses the latest technology all the time, and is arguably more digital than me. But would she feel able to embark on a digital career? Probably not.

Addressing diversity in the digital workforce

So, in the same way others are making commitments to address diversity in a digital workforce, I want to commit that we will

• offer opportunities to anyone in the Home Office to shadow different digital professions
• offer secondments to the digital team and provide training
• share a glossary of digital terms to help everyone understand what we’re talking about
• stop using acronyms and buzzwords that nobody else understands

Of course there are some practicalities which I haven’t quite got as far as working out, but I’d like to say that for every graduate, intern, fast streamer that joins us we will have an equal number of people from within the Civil Service that want to explore a new career path.

And even if people decide they don’t want a career in digital after all, I hope we will have at least broken down barriers, raised awareness and given people confidence to embrace new ways of working.

This isn’t a special club. I want everyone to be part of it.

This article was originally published here.


Digital Teams 2018

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