Do you know your geofilters from your Snapcodes? If the answer’s no – you’re not alone. A recent survey found a third of women aged 34-54 (who had returned from a career break) felt anxious that their digital skills weren’t up to scratch, when compared to their colleagues. Many believed this was holding their careers back.
Fifty-two-year-old Michele Cheaney knows the feeling. She ran her own PR agency, before giving up to care for her autistic son and dealing with some health problems.
‘While I’ve never been a “techie”, I managed ok,’ Cheaney says. ‘Facebook has been my friend for a long time but Twitter and Insta scare me as I just don’t feel I know what I’m doing. I was still communicating mostly by phone and email but then everything became just young and whizzy and beyond me. The digital stuff is a real barrier.’
For Cheaney, the barrier is strengthened by a generation gap: ‘It doesn’t help when your teenage sons mock you constantly about your lack of knowledge…’
Jennifer (50)* works as an administrator, a job she's been doing for the last ten years. She says, ‘Just when I think I have mastered something like Twitter or the latest communication tool, it feels like something new comes along. Everything happens really fast in the digital world and often I find myself just smiling and pretending I know what's happening when I don't.’
One of the most important things to remember is that tech changes all the time – for everyone.
‘Technology in the workplace should make our lives easier but sometimes it can be daunting trying to keep up with the pace of innovation and new platforms, apps and processes,’ says Lauren Allison, CEO of #techmums, established by Dr Sue Black in 2012 to provide free IT training to mothers with no prior experience.
‘Remember, it's rare for someone to just “get” a new system without any training or support,’ says Allison, and advises being proactive and asking an employer for training or seeking out online tutorials from the companies who have developed the software.
She adds, ‘We all need to be taught and employers love seeing a desire for learning and growth in their employees. The better you become at using a system, the more efficient you and the work will become, which is something all business owners want.’
Don't be afraid to make mistakes
Making mistakes is a natural part of learning, says Allison. ‘Sometimes we hold ourselves back because we are afraid of looking stupid but chances are, your colleagues didn't get it right on the first try (although they might not admit that...). Give yourself grace and congratulate yourself on being brave enough to give it a go.’
You might know more than you think
Victoria Tomlinson is chief executive of Next-Up, which helps people use their skills and make a success of ‘unretirement’ (that is, working past traditional retirement age). She agrees it’s all about mindset.
‘Because the millennial generation grew up with Facebook and Instagram, there’s a real misconception that they know how to use these tools for marketing’, says Tomlinson. But using social media to chat isn’t the same as using it strategically.
‘Ask a millennial how they would go about targeting an employer they want to work for and many won’t know where to start.’ Someone older, says Tomlinson, could have far more understanding about using social media and their contacts for research, introductions or understanding a company. And this is a real opportunity for older women – if only they would recognise the skills they bring to tech and be interested in learning about ‘the techy side’ of things.
Get a tech mentor
We tend to think of a mentor as someone older, but they can be anyone with the knowledge you need. ‘Always reach out for support from those in the career space you want to be in,’ says Professor Sally Eaves, CEO and founder, Aspirational Futures. ‘Seek to build a broad range of skills that are STEM/STEAM orientated to give you the interdisciplinary, agile and holistic skill sets that are critical to an increasingly dynamic future of work. This will help you be equipped to continually adapt and be proactive rather than reactive to change – reducing stress and enabling you to plan your future with renewed confidence.’
There’s a wealth of resources and training online, many of which are free, so do your research and see if any are of use to you.
For starters, check out these everywoman webinars:
Plus our podcast:
- Rapport reboot: the new rules of communicating in a digital world
- Five ways to boost your personal digital brand
For additional digital training and networking opportunities, try:
Aspirational Futures - online resources plus in-person opportunities for digital skill development, including developing knowledge in blockchain and AI
Digital literacy – succeeding in a digital world – a free 8-week course from The Open University
#techmums trains women in key areas including: tech skills, the cloud, digital safety and coding
*Name has been changed