Ada Lovelace Day: ‘2020 has been a hard slog’

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By Zoe Kleinman
Technology reporter

Clare Muscutt, Jess and Lily Ratty, Varsa Amin

From caravans to kitchen tables, and podcast production to pregnancy, I’ve been speaking to many women in and around the technology sector about how they have adapted to the challenges of working during the coronavirus pandemic.

Research suggests women across the world have shouldered more family and household responsibilities than men as the coronavirus pandemic continues, alongside their working lives.

And they share their inspirations, frustrations but also their optimism.

“I have a new business and a new life,” says Clare Muscutt, who lost work, her relationship and her flatmate as lockdown hit.

Wednesday is Ada Lovelace Day – an annual celebration of women working in the male-dominated science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) sectors.

And, this year, it has a very different vibe.

Varsha Amin, technology and digital skills coach, Hampshire

image copyright@Shadz_ig

Initially it felt like business was paused. Confidence went.

I’ve now gone fully online. The tech is there to support it. And weirdly, I think I’ve benefited from it. I’m booking up months ahead.

The digital skills gap is costing the economy billions. People, and even entire corporations, are so far behind.

Then, you add in the complication of Covid. And you think everything is going to go backwards. But actually, digital is growing exponentially.

I’m dyslexic, so I have relied on tech to help get me where I am today.

I’m a firm believer that tech can really enable anyone from anywhere to start their own business and make it fly.

My husband is a neuroscientist. When Covid first hit, he was redeployed to the front line. And we had no childcare.

There were days when I sat in front of my laptop and cried. Getting the right balance is difficult.

In September, my daughter started school. In the future, when she becomes more independent, I will go all out on my business.

Jess Ratty – entrepreneur, technology public-relations company founder, Cornwall

image copyrightJess Ratty

There is absolutely no doubt that this has been the hardest year of my life.

I lost 40% of my business in two days, at the start of lockdown.

I had worked so hard to get to where I had got to. And I was filled with fury that a pandemic had taken it away.

Every pitch we get, I throw as much energy at the screen as possible.

I find myself working longer hours to be more visible to my clients.

I am driven by this fear that next week I could lose another couple. But I have now got 60% more business back in.

I’m used to working from home. But the biggest problem was having my eight-year-old daughter suddenly with me 24/7, when the schools closed.

We all knew it might come. But when it did, it happened so fast.

It was really difficult having to work and do childcare at the same time.

Before lockdown, I would have said it was impossible.

I’m embarrassed to say that she spent a lot of time watching Netflix and Disney+.

But I am the breadwinner. And my partner was working full time on our house renovation because, until it was finished, we were living in a static caravan.

I’m now launching a new business, this time in edtech [education technology].

I’m looking to do as many things as possible to protect those closest to me and prepare for the next “impossible thing” to happen.

Clare Muscutt, digital customer experience entrepreneur, Essex


What I used to do doesn’t exist anymore.

I had the life and career of my dreams. And I had left the corporate world to do it.

As soon as the pandemic hit, my diary just emptied.

The clients I had work booked with shut down any unnecessary spend.

Then, my relationship ended. My best friend moved out of our flat. And suddenly, the only contact I had with others was through Zoom.

I started having conversations with women in a similar field to me. And we started sharing how we were feeling.

It made me think: “How can I bring this style of conversation to the world, to help inspire others?”

And that led me into podcasting.

After a bad experience, I taught myself how to do the production. And it has led to me being paid to interview tech leaders elsewhere.

My bills are now getting paid. And the podcast is helping me to form an online community.

Before the pandemic, I was living for the future – always looking forward to the next big event or trip away.

Now, I don’t know what the future holds or whether things will ever go back to the way they were. But if they don’t, it’s OK – I have a new business and a new life.

Rebecca, cyber-security specialist, Ireland

I have worked from home before. And at the start of lockdown, I didn’t think it would be that much of a big deal. But it turned out that working from the kitchen table was very uncomfortable.

Eventually, I finally got an old desk from a friend. And I was so happy.

Since lockdown began, I’ve seen quite a few cyber-security issues with phishing and invoice re-direction – when a malicious actor gets hold of a legitimate invoice and resends it but changes the bank details.

Sometimes, it’s small amounts here and there, sometimes large amounts.

It’s often difficult to recover the money.

I’m also four months pregnant with our first child.

I need new clothes. But if you go to the shop you can’t try anything on. And I have no idea what size I am.

Plus, I am limited in the times I can go out. I don’t drive. It has to fit around work. And we can’t go at busy times, because standing in long queues is so exhausting.

I feel like I’ve lost my independence.

In addition, they haven’t yet figured out how they are going to hold antenatal classes.

I feel like I won’t meet any other parents until my kid starts school.

Claire Broadley, technical writer, Leeds

image copyrightMathew Dixon

Before lockdown, my husband and I ran our own company, producing user guides and written content for websites.

Business income dropped by about two-thirds during lockdown.

We weren’t eligible for any government grants. And because we still had a small amount of work, we couldn’t furlough ourselves.

It felt like we were slowly marching our family towards a cliff edge.

In May, to my astonishment and relief, I was offered my dream job, remote writing about the internet and technology.

Working from home with the children has been the most difficult thing we’ve ever done.

My son is seven. He is very scared.

Sometimes, we can’t spend the time with him that we would like to. And most screen-time rules have gone completely out of the window.

The real issue for us now is testing.

My young daughter caught Covid in July. And she recently had a temperature again. But it took six days to get a test result, so my son was off school again. And my husband was working until midnight to fit everything in.

Suw Charman-Anderson, founder, Ada Lovelace Day, US

image copyrightPaul Clarke

For Ada Lovelace Day, we usually hold a cabaret-style event in central London.

Instead, we are holding five free webinars and have organised a 50-hour online extravaganza, with blog and social media posts and a YouTube playlist.

In November, we’re running our first online conference, which will span 29 time zones.

I’ve had to find and evaluate livestreaming services and conference platforms, something that I’ve never had to consider before.

It’s been quite stressful working out how to run our online events affordably and dealing with the additional work involved.

Our income has been badly affected by the pandemic as companies have less money to spend on event sponsorship, so we’re also having to think about how we’re going to make up that shortfall.

Despite that, I’m really excited by what we’re doing.

Covid forced us to rethink everything. And some of the changes we’ve made may become permanent.

2020 has been a hard slog. And we’re not out of the woods yet. But I hope we’ll emerge stronger and able to reach and support more women in Stem.

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