Interview: Nicole Ponsford, CEO and Co-Founder of The Gender Equality Collective
DESCRIBE YOUR JOB…..
You could say that my real job is being a parent to twin boy/girl preschoolers and an energetic primary school-aged son (!) however, my once-side-hustle ‘job’ – that has now become the main bread and butter – is leading our digital startup, The Gender Equality Collective (The GEC).
We are a social-impact business – a platform to provide action-based practical help for gender equality in schools and homes – with an ever growing, grass-roots community of over 5K since starting a year ago.
Currently we’re working on a zillion things; getting our digital platform up and running (New Year 2020 GEC: Work and Easter 2020 GEC: Ed), collaborating with our Collective to help get the word out there, inspiring debate with our GECTopics, getting practical when it comes to closing digital gender gaps with The GECFutures Project and getting Charter signups from UK homes, schools and businesses.
On the side of this, I am working on a doctorate in education. This is based on exploring the gender gap when it comes to digital careers in the UK. After working to provide research and evidence for schools for so long – I wanted to do some investigative work of my own. Being a ‘geek’ for learning has always been my thing, so this counts as my ‘me’ time.
HOW DID YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
After a brief spell in advertising and marketing, I became a secondary school English teacher. During my first interview, I asked if the school ‘did Media’. Two years later, I had set up an A Level course for 110 students, won a teaching award and was planning a school trip to Los Angeles! Teaching digital subjects did not feel like a job- it was more like sharing a passion. I spent a decade teaching students how to be digitally literate – using both Apple and PCs, eSafety and online safety, BTEC, GCSEs and A Level courses, outreach work with special schools and Primary. I started teaching students, then my peers, then at a local, regional and then national level as an Advanced Skills Teacher in New Technologies. I have always been keen to learning more so was also an examiner for OCR (and am now an External Subject Advisor for Media and Film) and enjoyed writing curriculums from scratch to suit my students. I also wrote for a series of organisations including the BBC and the GTC – before moving on to write as an agony aunt and for leadership materials.
However, after my first child, I was unable to return to full time work. It was then that I had no idea what to do – and so turned to technology to support me. And – wow – it really has. My main role (up until a few weeks ago) was with Achievement for All; initially I was a school Achievement Coach for Primary and Secondary schools in the south of England, before coming Digital Education Lead – where I researched and wrote content for the national, online CPD hub, and lead a national digital literacy research study for Microsoft.
Alongside this, I started freelance work. This included working with edtech clients like EduSites (where I eventually became the Editor of FilmEdu) and eCadets (peer-2-peer eSafety), writing for a number of news outlets, including The TES (where I now have a monthly column) and The Guardian – and being an agony aunt for TeachWire and InnovateMySchool.
I also really saw the power the internet had for good – as I did freelance work on social media strategy, I met Dr Julie M Wood online. An ex-Harvard Director, she was looking to discuss digital education outside of the USA. We emailed, we Skyped and we ended up co-authoring TechnoTeaching: Taking Practice to the Next Level in A Digital World. Harvard published it in 2014 – and we still have not met in real life. The power of collaboration, learning from others inspired me to then work on a series of MOOCs – and I now use this knowledge to help create them.
TALK US THROUGH A RECENT WORK DAY……
I am glad you did not say ‘typical’ as that doesn’t exist for me! My ‘party tricks’ are pretty geeky – writing and reading – so I am able to juggle most things most weeks without it all falling down around my ears. 99% of the work I do is online – and I was able to multitask like a mutha before I had kids, so this all helps. Also, when I am not working, I can be found on school runs, at mini-people groups or exploring the sunny south coast where I live. Then being able to read about education learning theory or the #FutureOfWork out how to support vulnerable children means that I can use my brain for really interesting activities. I try to balance things as much as I can to ensure that work is focused – and that leaves me time to enjoy my awesome family.
The unexpected change was the impact the GEC would have on my life. The support for the introduction of the GEC was incredible – but also overwhelming this time last year. Thankfully our team is very supportive and hands on. I have learnt that it is important to do one thing at a time, and that (despite my default setting of getting things done straight away) things can wait. It is important to focus on one thing at a time – although I do find this hard to do. We are now creating partnerships and starting to look for investment (pls get in touch if you are interested), so I am learning a new range of business and entrepreneurial skills.
I also have a lot of things that work in my favour – but ultimately it is the team around me (who I call the ‘Rebel Alliance’!). As my work is also my passion project it doesn’t feel like a job at all!
‘Me time’ is normally spent reading and writing. I used to write articles and blogs, but since starting the Doctorate the reading and writing that goes with it, is how I find time to be me. I have always been a ‘book’ geek so this is my happy place.
The unexpected change was the impact the GEC would have on my life. The support for the introduction of the GEC was incredible – but also overwhelming this time last year. Thankfully our team is very supportive and hands on. I have learnt that it is important to do one thing at a time, and that (despite my default setting of getting things done straight away) things can wait. It is important to focus on one thing at a time – although I do find this hard to do. We are now creating partnerships and working on funding so I am learning a new range of business skills.
WHAT DIGITAL SKILLS DO YOU USE ON A DAILY BASIS?
Good question. A real mixture of practical application and digital literacy based ones. This could be creating online resources (videos in Biteable or iSpring, documents in G-Suite or Office365, digital images in Apple Clips or Canva) or teaching others (accessible technology tools like Microsoft’s Immersive Reader or gamification theory). I am an Apple Teacher (just applied for Apple Distinguished Educator after nearly 20 years of using Apple products in education) and have just gained status as a MIEE Trainer. I also write an awful lot, but also do this across a range of platforms – Office365, Pages and Google Documents.
I think it is good to be able to use a wide range of apps and sites – I like being flexible and expect my tech to be too.
WHAT DIGITAL SKILLS OR ATTRIBUTES WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE EDUCATORS TO SUPPORT YOUNG PEOPLE TO DEVELOP?
I love this question!
The Tech Talent Charter (and friend of the GEC) report that 17% of Tech/ICT workers in the UK are female, with only 1 in 10 females are currently taking A-Level computer studies. They state that there is a looming UK digital skills gap as we need 1,000,000 digital employees by 2020.
In the UK currently the male figure for STEM graduates is more than double that of the females. We know that increasing opportunities for girls increases their engagement with the sector (Stoet and Geary, 2018).
If we take the TedEx talk by Reshma Suajani (2016), the Founder of ‘Girls Who Code’, the ‘disposition’ of women (through parenting, schooling and peer groups) is creating a barrier to their success in learning and educating themselves in digital futures, stopping them from acquiring both the ‘knowledge’ and the ‘skills’.
Therefore I think that flexibility – is an important disposition to have towards learning. This takes in problem-solving, risk-taking and being able to learn from mistakes. When using digital tech, you need to be able to ‘play’ – have a go, reflect and learn to improve. I think this is key before you check their attitudes to actual digital skills and knowledge – and I am not alone. 2019 will see Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) swop their renowned curriculum of competitive learning and testing to one focusing on how we motivate learners to learn, in order words understanding their disposition to learning. I want to ensure that we do this in the UK too.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG PERSON LOOKING TO ENTER THE DIGITAL SECTOR?
Consider your strengths and weaknesses – and go for it! You can consider what you are able to do in terms of your attitude and passions, then see what is out there. You do not need to go for a ‘career’ in your first job – it can be the stepping stone to something else. Be flexible – and give it a go. The digital world needs you!