Increasing female participation in computer science and technology

Professor Ella Pereira

Our Department of Computer Science is built up of staff from a diverse range of backgrounds, and we are passionate about encouraging diversity within our student body too. Our commitment to increasing female participation in computer science can be seen in many of the extra-curricular and community activities we organise – and one of the key staff members involved in this important work is Professor Ella Pereira. 

Professor Ella Pereira
Professor Ella Pereira

Ella is Director of Research within the department and has been at Edge Hill since 2005. We chatted with her to find out about some of the projects she has worked on to encourage more women into careers in technology, and how the department is continually working to foster a welcoming and diverse environment for students of all genders.

“As a female academic in the Computer Science sector, I’m lucky to work in an environment where there is a diversity amongst my colleagues. The commitment that the Department has shown to increasing diversity and encouraging more female participation in the field has most definitely made me feel comfortable, welcome and valued during my 16 years at the University. With this in mind, I was very keen to extend this feeling to our students and anybody considering studying with us, by building a culture that encourages women into technology degrees and careers.

At present, women represent between 14-16% of all undergraduate Computer Science students at UK Universities. One of the reasons that women are less likely to engage in a Computer Science degree is that there is a lack of female representation or ‘role models’ in the field for them to look up to. It’s important to be able to visualise yourself in a place – particularly somewhere you plan to spend three years or more, studying for your undergraduate degree – so I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how we can help more women feel welcomed to our department.

When inviting guest speakers into the department, I always seek out women who excel in their field. I think giving a platform to female role models is a great way to inspire our female students. As well as this, when assigning personal tutors to our students, our female personal tutors are matched with female students – which is another way for women in the department to form bonds and gain inspiration from one another. If you are a female student on one of our programmes, you can rest assured that you will never be the only one in your class. As a department, we work together to ensure our class groupings are as diverse as possible to foster a sense of belonging and so that students can learn from peers who share similarities as well as differences to them. Small considerations like this can make a world of difference to a woman beginning her journey in the Computer Science sector, and ensuring that our female students can see themselves being represented across the department and the industry more widely is incredibly important.”

Professor Ella at TechUpWomen event

Now more than ever, women are recognising the wealth of opportunities available to them within the technology sector. It can offer rewarding, challenging, high salary roles with international opportunities – and more and more women want to get into careers in tech. In 2019, Edge Hill took part in a UK-wide project called ‘TechUpWomen’. The project was funded by the Institute of Coding (IoC), and overseen by colleagues at Durham University. The University of Nottingham and University of York joined Durham and Edge Hill in delivering this project collaboratively – and Ella led the way for Edge Hill.

“This project was designed in collaboration with industry professionals to inspire female graduates from all subject areas to consider a career in technology. Whether they’d studied English, Business, Art or any other subject area – this was an opportunity for them to take their career in a new direction, by re-training and developing new skills. Almost 100 women from under-represented groups took part in the programme, and each University hosted them on campus for a residential visit. Myself and colleagues in the Department contributed to developing and delivering the programme, focusing on the essential knowledge and skills needed to succeed in roles like Data Scientist, Developer/Tester, Business Analyst and IT Management. As well as classroom and online learning, every single participant was paired with an academic or industry mentor, who they keep in touch with after the programme. The project was a huge success and is something I’m very proud of, as the uptake from women across the community was fantastic, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Getting involved in projects like this is one of the reasons I love my role at Edge Hill – being in a position to inspire and encourage women from diverse backgrounds into a career that they will love.”

“TechUpWomen have modelled how to do inclusion, diversity and empowerment. Helping mums, people with career breaks, no tech experience, people from diverse backgrounds, and people who have been at a disadvantage. Now we have experience, confidence, and are part of an amazing network”

Anne-Marie, TechUpWomen participant

“What an incredible, life-changing honour it has been to graduate with 99 other incredible TechUpWomen this weekend! It’s been brilliant to celebrate our hard work alongside the IoC, our amazing mentors, supporters and cheerleaders!”

Inshirah, TechUpWomen participant

“If you’re looking for a diverse, welcoming and inspiring environment in which to study, I am confident that our Department is the right place for you. Regardless of your background or gender, we are ready to welcome you at one of our open days or when you join us at enrolment, and I’m so excited to meet all of you.”