DEN Annual Meeting

Just over a week ago, we received an e-mail that we are to attend the annual meeting of the Digital Economy Network (DEN) in London. So, on Wednesday a group of roughly 15 people groggily got on a train at 6:30am in Newcastle, heading South. There was talk of last years annual meeting that only a few of us attended, and previous DEN conferences and events that took part in London.

After an hour long delay, we finally arrive at Kings Cross Station, head out and walk towards the Digital Catapult, and try to find the building on Euston Road. Once finally there, we quietly walked into the room where a presentation was going on. Throughout the day, we listened to presentations and joined ‘workshops’ that were more like half-hour long discussions around a certain topic on issues related to the student experiences across the 11 CDTs the DEN supports.

It was a weird day. I was engaged with the group that was discussing potential events, barriers, and opportunities for diversity and equality within DEN and its CDTs. In the end what I had learnt was that the DEN really wants to find out our experiences of equality and diversity, but also that they think we are doing a ‘pretty good job’ in relation to gender diversity.

Looking at the room we were in, I’d have to agree on the basis that it’s rare to find a CDT or a DEN event where the audience doesn’t have a relatively large number of women, but on the grand scale of things, I’m not sure how ‘well’ we really are doing. Just because you have an audience that is 1/4 to 1/2 women, does not mean you’re doing a great job. How do those women feel? Are there any policies in place to support them? Most importantly however, diversity goes beyond this. Where are all the people of colour? Those from working class backgrounds? …

As a network, what are we doing to engage rather than alienate those that think differently, those with different backgrounds, and those who look differently?

Something I quite liked about the last discussion group we had, was that after it finished, a woman came up to my friend (not the one that proposed the topic, but the one I run fempower.tech with…) and me and started a conversation about the futility of Athena Swan, and how women are always the ones who end up having to do the work in it. About how it’s almost impossible to even start conversations about diversity, because of the lack of understanding of what diversity is – the idea that it goes beyond quotas and having a woman CEO!

So, DEN, just to let you know: while you have a (much) better gender balance than traditional engineering and computer science spaces, we need to engage in some work to encourage diversity. I’m glad that this is what came out of our discussion at the event, and that DEN seems to support this idea.

My two friends and I are now working on putting a proposal together to develop a cross-CDT working group to tackle this issue. It’s going to encourage exchange between all the CDTs and encourage each participant at the quarterly meetings to go back to their CDT and to be a champion for diversity, enacting at least one ‘thing’ after the meeting. It was encouraged by DEN at their annual meeting that we do something on this issue.

Thank you for that, and thank you for listening to the importance of this topic. At the same time though, let’s take some time to reflect, and see what we can do. While I was starting to put together the proposal for this network yesterday, I went looking for a diversity policy on the DEN website. I couldn’t find one. So, maybe that’s a starting point. Or an end point?

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