Toni Scullion stands smiling at the camera. She has long blond hair and is wearing a royal blue top.

Toni Scullion: Founder of dressCode, Computing Science teacher

The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Toni Scullion to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.  

#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?

Toni Scullion: Figures from the insight education benchmarking tool for the academic year 2017 show that:

  • 20% of pupils who picked National 5 Computing Science in Scottish secondary schools were girls.

  • 3% of pupils who picked Higher Computing Science in Scottish secondary schools were girls.

  • 13% of pupils who picked Advanced Higher Computing Science in Scottish secondary schools were girls.

Recent figures from the 2017 CS Diversity Report has revealed that only 17% of women in the UK make up the IT industry’s workforce. These figures from last year illustrate the stark reality that Scotland is facing. We are not only facing difficulties in getting girls to pick Computing Science but also to continue to study the subject and, ultimately, to consider it for study at a university level, or as a career option.

I aspire to make a dent in the Computing Science gender gap in Scotland, and aim to inspire, support and engage pupils. As a result, I have founded my own charity to address this issue.

#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?

TS: Each year I run a programming club in my school for the new S1 pupils. I found it interesting that a significant number of the attendees in S1 have continued to study Computing Science at senior level. One of my main passions is recruiting more girls into Computing Science. As school data taken from insight shows, we put forward a significant number of girls compared to other local and national secondary schools. From the success within our school, I took it upon myself to create my own charity, with the aim of encouraging girls to continue to study Computing Science in secondary schools, improve our talent pipeline in the industry and ultimately make inroads in the gender gap in Computing Science. The charity is called dressCode. It is a lunchtime experience offered to girls only. I still offer another programming club, on a different day, that is open to both boys and girls. This allows me to expand the net, getting more girls in. Some girls prefer to attend the programming club open to all, but we’ve had great success this year alone, with 28 girls frequently attending dressCode only.

Throughout the year, girls are challenged with making their own games, making an app/game for a client, making their own websites, and cybersecurity. Senior Computing Science pupils have had a major role to play in mentoring and supporting dressCode girls. This has provided them with the opportunity to pass on their knowledge and experience, and hopefully inspire other pupils. It has been great not only to see the senior girls’ interest and skills grow from S1, but also to watch them come full circle and become the role models and mentors for our younger girls.

dressCode will officially launch later this year. I hope more schools across Scotland will sign up, and that it will help support teachers and inspire girls to see the excitement of Computing Science, and ultimately, over time, see the gender gap in Computing Science close.

#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?

TS: The main obstacle I have overcome is having the confidence, and gaining the financial support to take dressCode from idea to implementation. Originally, I envisaged dressCode to be a local initiative aimed at West Lothian schools. However, I have been extremely fortunate to have met some exceptional individuals who feel as passionately about the area as I do. They have provided financial support which has allowed me to turn my vision of dressCode into a reality, make it accessible to more than one local authority, and make it an officially registered charity. They have given me exceptional support and guidance throughout this amazing journey.

My hope for dressCode is that it will reach the majority of, if not all, Scottish secondary schools. I thought I’d simply reach out to all secondary Computing Science teachers and hopefully they would be interested. However, while looking into the gender gap in Scotland further, I was shocked to find that there are a large number of secondary schools that do not have a specialist teaching Computing Science, or only have one Computing Science teacher, or do not teach the subject at all. These figures from a recent study by Computing at School Scotland the only word for which I have is shocking, found that:

  • Nationally, we have 17% of schools with no computing specialist. That is 62 secondary schools without a subject specialist to deliver the experiences and outcomes of the subject or to deliver certificate-level courses.

  • There are now 17 local authorities with secondary schools without CS teachers. This represents over half of all local authorities.

  • A quarter of secondary schools have only one CS teacher.

This will be an obstacle I will have to overcome when dressCode is launched. I believe every girl should, at least, have the choice to explore Computing Science. It is clear from the figures above that there will be some girls in Scotland who won’t even have the option. In this day and age, with the booming tech industry we have in Scotland, this is completely unacceptable.

#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?

TS: I still remember getting my first computer, going on a website that taught me basic HTML, and changing the background of the page to red. I still remember the feeling of immense wonder and excitement. Computing was my favourite subject at school, after which I continued to study my HNC, HND, and then went on to [earn] my degree at university. Throughout each stage of my education I have always had a strong role model; someone who always looked out for me, inspired me and pushed me to do more. Since graduating as a teacher I have always believed I could help young people achieve their potential and help guide, support and inspire them in some way; as so many people did throughout my education. Computing Science was the obvious choice as it has always been my passion and a subject that I love.

I feel immense moments of pride when I watch my pupils grow, achieve great things, and go on to the next stages of their journeys. That is the true reward of teaching. I was not a very academic pupil at school, but throughout my life I have been so fortunate to have met some very special people along the way who have helped inspire, guide and support me. Without them, I would not have ended up where I am today. I want to be that person for someone else.

dressCode is not my main job, but it is something that I feel immensely passionate about. Being able to provide opportunities and raise awareness for more girls, as well as letting them know about the amazing tech industry we have on our doorstep in Scotland. I do everything I do to help young people become the best they can be and to let them know that they have someone looking out for them, supporting them, cheering them on, and believing in them even when they do not believe in themselves. Someone who will listen and help them achieve what they want to do, and maybe inspire the odd one along the way.

#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?

TS: I hope that young women coming behind me know that they can achieve anything they want, and realize that Computing Science is accessible to all. I hope they go on to make their own “dent on the universe,” and that they feel empowered and confident enough to challenge the status quo and lead the way for the generations behind them. I hope that the work that I am currently doing plays a very small part in shaping the digital world into a more equitable arena for all young people.

#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?

TS: It is essential to have diversity in innovation. With this, I do not just mean women; I mean a mix of race, religion, gender, age, etc. This creates a wide-ranging and diverse pool of people working towards a variety of interconnected goals. As a result, more innovation will happen, instead the staleness of a homogeneous group. Innovation relies on the diversity of the people involved and this means that women must be involved at all stages and levels.

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Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.