A volunteers perspective on the GDST ‘Smart Cities’ Techathon, which set out to empower female students to contribute towards building a better environment

March may feel like a lifetime ago at the moment, but aside from the task of getting used to the new world at the moment, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you a truly inspirational and exciting event that I attended earlier this year, a Techathon.

TGB was asked to support the Tecathon event by the Automotive 30% Club by nominating four women to support the event as mentors. My self, Beth Gilbert, Sammie Ward and Jessica O’Hara were nominated and excited to see what was involved.

What is a Techathon?

You may have heard of a hackathon? Where IT enthusiasts compete to crack a code for a prize, the Techathon was about bringing together some bright young females to learn more about technology use in Smart Cities and crack what it could look like in the future. This was a naturally exciting prospect for TGB to get involved in, as similarly to the automotive sector, the technology sector is an under-represented field for women.

The ‘Techathon’ event which was run by the Girls Day School Trust. Girls Day School Trust (or the GDST) is the UK’s leading network of independent girls’ schools, with 23 schools and 2 academies throughout England and Wales. The GDST offer means-tested bursaries for gifted children, to give them the best possible education so that girls who are bright and keen get the opportunity to fulfil their potential regardless of financial circumstances. The GDST carries out research to understand what could support girls to thrive academically, and how that can connect to the trends of the working world. Whilst they are seeing STEM subject choices are well represented in their schools (more than 46% of GDST students taking at least one science and over 40% taking mathematics) they also found only 17% of digital jobs are filled by women. The GDST advocates for women working in underrepresented fields and provides a range of opportunities to support girls interested in entering the sector… enter Toyota GB!

How did the event work?

The Techathon brought together groups of girls from GDST schools with a theme of ‘Smart Cities’. The event included some inspirational speakers and an innovation challenge and workshop.

The Smart Cities theme started with the location (The Crystal in London Docklands), one of the world’s most sustainable buildings. We accessed the building by the Emirates Airline and the driverless DLR which really set the scene for city sustainability. The day started with a fantastic keynote speech from Julia Muir (Founder of the Automotive 30% Club, and GDST alumni). Julia spoke so candidly about her reflections and life lessons that brought her to this point in her career. It was an incredibly inspirational talk, which was relatable for all the women and girls sat in the room, Julia’s complete openness and authentic motivation kick-started the day brilliantly! We then heard from some industry experts working in the ‘Smart Cities’ sector, hearing from these women really gave the girls real life accounts of how passion and hard work can land your dream career, enabling them to be immensely creative and make a real difference to the lives of people all over the world.

What was our role as mentors?

We were assigned to a group of students to support their discussion throughout the innovation task. A first time for all of us supporting this kind of event and we weren’t really sure what our level of involvement would need to be. Lots of flashbacks to our 14-year-old selves and thinking about what we would have contributed to such a broad, innovative topic and some natural scepticism crept in. What we were all sure of, was that we could share our stories and explore the way the students may be thinking about a career in the automotive sector.

During the Innovation workshop, the girls were tasked with designing a product for their community. They were asked to think specifically about how technology could enhance your community in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way? How could this scale to your local community and to your school?

All the groups had two school groups brought together, so once introductions were over they were already launched into thinking of some ideas. I was so surprised by the preparation they had given to the event, and we had ideas sparking all over the table! To bring some Toyota values to the discussion, I encouraged them to think of the problems they face in the community/at school and then we shortlisted those to focus on their favourite ideas.

Some great ideas from the participants…..

An App called ‘Green finger’, a hub to promote all things sustainability at school such as pre-ordering their school lunch to limit waste and carpooling to reduce their carbon footprint. Whilst deciding on the features of the app and how it would help, they also thought about the commercial benefits to the school and the challenges the product could face.

What became clear to me at that moment was, this isn’t a ‘pie in the sky’ task for them, they genuinely wanted this to make a difference and to drive forward their idea. They designed a logo and created a pitch ready to present to the board of judges. They unanimously wanted to me to watch, they present weekly at school and would appreciate any feedback at the end. Wow! What insight from these girls, using feedback to adapt their approach in the future.

The girls were then encouraged to share their ideas with the other groups and vote on their favourite which highlighted the importance of supporting other women, even when the environment may feel competitive.

The results?

After judging, the Toyota Team were thrilled that 3 of our groups had special mentions and placed in the top 3 ideas! Whilst this was a credit to the efforts of the teams, the highlight of the event for me
was when the girls asked me if I liked cars, and is this why I worked for Toyota?

My answer was one that I didn’t need to think too carefully about, and that was that I love the innovation that the automotive industry can bring, and more than that how Toyota is focussing on improving peoples lives through mobility. I talked to them about Start Your Impossible campaigns and the values that make Toyota such a brilliant company to work for. I encouraged them to think about what an employer stands for, rather than the likability of the product it sells. Passion about the product can be important, and it’s safe to say there are a lot of women that love cars too, but they don’t have to love cars to be successful in automotive. The skills that they are growing at school, and through events like Tecathon will mean that any industry and company would be extremely lucky to have them in the future.

What did the event achieve?

Overall the message the girls took away from the Tecathon was around being ‘limitless’. The difference that can be made to the world through brilliant and different thinking is limitless, and their opportunities for the future are limitless. The message about females in underrepresented spaces was present, but in an encouraging way that meant they could connect with the women in the room that were actively doing something about it.


Article written by Jessica Portman, HR Business Partner at Toyota GB Plc



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