Across core policy areas such as diversity, education, AI and climate change, the BCS' focus on influencing IT's defining debates continues to grow. Claire Penketh, Senior Press Officer, reports.

During the last quarter of 2022, BCS continued its mission to make a career in tech relevant and accessible to all by launching its annual Diversity Report in late October 2022.

According to an analysis by BCS and Coding Black Females, black women remain under-represented in the sector and face barriers to progression, such as a lack of flexible working, career development support and a strong 'tech bro' culture in some organisations.

Whilst black women make up 1.8% of the UK workforce, they only account for 0.7% of IT professionals. For black women to be truly represented in IT, there needs to be 20,000 more within the sector.

The three-part study analysed Labour Force Survey data from the ONS, sought views from over 350 black women working in tech and conducted in-depth interviews to create a picture of the prevailing inclusivity challenges. The findings were widely covered in the national media, from the BBC to the Daily Mail and The Register.

Various stakeholders, including the Office for AI, also published and celebrated the data. There was also a strong attendance at the report's official launch at our London office, which was also live-streamed.

Also in October, the BCS President and CEO set out our key tech policy priorities for consideration by the new PM, Rishi Sunak. These were published in an open letter and also sent to individual ministers.
The list included prioritising:

  • Closing the digital skills gap.
  • Digital transformation.
  • Growth of cyber security.
  • Recognising data science and digital health as emerging professions.
  • Online safety.

The Policy team was present at all the major party conferences to raise our awareness of our key themes with policymakers in an apolitical way. We also supported and planned engagement with Scottish members for the ScotSoft conference.

As COP27 began in November, Rashik Parmar MBE, BCS Chief Executive, was quoted in the tech press calling for global leaders to put data scientists and broader digital skills at the centre of their climate change ambitions. Rashik said: 'World leaders must understand we can only achieve Net-Zero with the help of digital technologies and – crucially – scientists, engineers, and managers with the right skills.

'We need a global talent pool of data science professionals to help us understand what the data is saying, supported by universal data standards that build trust and confidence.

'In addition to these specialists, all organisations need people with the digital skills to commission, build and manage carbon accounting and carbon removal systems and embed them into everyday business practice.'

CCR Magazine, Logistics business, and the Engineering Council picked up his comments.

In mid-November, the government's pledge to make the UK the next Silicon Valley was given a cautious welcome by BCS and reported in the tech press. The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said he wanted to 'combine our technology and science brilliance with our formidable financial services'.

Rashik said: 'We welcome the government's ambition to build on our global strengths in science, technology and innovation, transforming the UK into the next Silicon Valley.

'In delivering on this, we can embed ethics, professionalism, and standards to move fast and make things, not move fast and break things.'

The Chancellor's Silicon Valley ambitions were also the theme of the monthly Policy Jam in December, where members and non-members contribute to a topical issue. Around ninety people watched the latest webinar live, with many asking pertinent questions.

Rashik was on the panel, as was Gillian Arnold, the BCS Deputy President, who will shortly become the new BCS President. They were joined by Professor Victoria Baines, a BCS Fellow and former Trust and Safety Manager for Facebook EMEA, and Roman Borisovich, Executive Director at Sardina Systems and an investment banker.

Both Ms Arnold and Professor Baines expressed scepticism that turning the UK into the next Silicon Valley was a good idea. That was due to issues with the US tech hub regarding ethics, diversity and the concentration of wealth and power amongst an elite few.

Mr Borisovich said Britain could, he believed, become a leader in technology and innovation with our close European neighbours, but he described Brexit as a 'huge impediment' to that approach

Innovation by healthcare tech experts was recognised at the BCS Primary Health Care Specialist Group conference. The John Perry Prize for Innovation was presented to the Data Care Solutions (DCS) team led by Dr Jay Verma for their work applying machine learning to identify patients with asthma. The PHCSG Early Career Award was presented to Divyesh Vala for his work on GP Automate, which uses Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate routine practice administrative tasks.

BCS also announced a new scheme to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The My Digital Future programme aims to tackle digital inequality by providing one-to-one support, resources and bursary-funded training to young people aged 16 to 24 who wish to pursue a career in technology.

The IT Ukraine Association's Executive Director was awarded a Fellowship of BCS, presented at the prestigious IT Awards ceremony, in recognition of his promotion of the country's tech industry. Konstantin Vasyuk has produced research and created relationships worldwide - helping the country's IT industry thrive, support the war effort, and expand into international markets.

As the year ended, new figures showed that the number of young women taking computer science degrees is growing faster than any other UK university subject. Computing degrees saw a 23% growth in accepted applications from women since 2019 - a higher percentage rise than any other UCAS subject group. The increase of 18-year-old women taking up computing at university was particularly marked, up by 47% between 2019 and 2022.

The growth rate for 18-year-old men over the same period was far lower, at 29%. BCS cautioned that male students still outnumber female students in computer science by 4.3:1 this year. Still, the gap has closed slightly from 2021, at 4.7:1.

On the policy front, BCS responded to a call for evidence from the Parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee on the governance of Artificial Intelligence. The government's regulatory regime 'Establishing a pro-innovation approach to regulating AI' has outlined how it intends to keep pace with and respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by AI.

BCS broadly agreed with the government's idea of extending the remit of several existing regulators to monitor the use of AI.

However, it warned there are also risks to that approach. The BCS Director of Policy, Dr Bill Mitchell OBE, said: 'While the light touch approach is positive in that it enables innovation, some areas need more consideration to ensure the proposals maximise the public benefit of AI.

'The proposed cross-sectorial principles are appropriate and valuable but should be extended further. For example, AI systems must have proper safeguards to ensure they remain technically sound and are used ethically,' he added.

BCS tries to reach audiences far and wide, and we received a request in January for comment from a women's magazine, Glamour, on social media safety.

Dan Card, a BCS member and cybersecurity expert, advised the magazine's readers to be careful about what they share.

He said: 'Most people aren't aware of how many ways they can be tracked purely from the data they've provided online. This includes geographical locations such as links to Companies House data if you are a director of a business.

'Also, using or finding your location using meta-tags on photos, news articles or posts that feature your name. There's the electoral role too and, sinisterly, reverse image search which takes pictures you have been featured in and identifies the location.'

The press and policy team continue to reflect the breadth of our members' insights, and these examples demonstrate how valued that expertise is.

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