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DIGIT Leaders: Diversity In Scotland’s Tech Sector

Brian Baglow

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Digital Transformation. Diversity in Scotland's Tech Sector

Is Scotland lagging behind London when it comes to encouraging more women to join, or reach the upper echelons of the digital technology sector? DIGIT asked some of the country’s female leaders and role models for their opinion…

In a recent interview, Jessica Butcher, the co-founder of Blippar suggested that Scotland is lagging behind London when it comes to encouraging more women to aim for leading roles in the rapidly evolving digital technology scene.

The Herald reports that Butcher: “says the feedback she receives from influential businesswomen in Scotland points to the country lagging the UK capital in these key areas.”

The article goes on to report that Butcher “would like to see the ‘community spirit’ that has emerged in London make its way to Scotland.”

The DIGIT team goes to a LOT of events. We even organise a number of our own. We know there are a lot of capable, confident, high profile and very successful women in Scotland’s tech sector.

We also hear a lot about the incredible community and collaborative aspects of the technology industry in Scotland, from a lot of different people in many organisations and companies.

Is Scotland doing enough to address this issue? Is the country indeed lagging behind the capital? We reached out to some of the leaders and role models across the country, to ask for their opinion on diversity in Scotland’s tech sector.

Polly Purvis OBE, the chief executive of ScotlandIS

“Scotland is starting to put some very solid foundations in place. We’re not there yet, but there’s a lot of work going on in the background to address the issue of diversity, starting at schools and working across the whole industry.

“There are an increasing number of women setting up and running their own digital companies and more companies are working on improving diversity on an ongoing basis. In addition we have trail-blazing organisations such as Equate Scotland and Girl Geek Scotland providing examples of best practice and working on projects which focus on inclusion and creating more role models.”

“Inclusion and diversity are at the top of everyone’s agenda. The Skills Investment Plan includes a great deal about inclusion. Scotland benefits from being very well networked. It’s easy to get people together. There are a lot of groups out there providing exactly the kind of support we need and addressing the issue on an ongoing basis.

“What we need to do better, is tell everybody. We need to shout it from the rooftops, feed it back to schools. If we spread the word about what’s already happening here and the work going on behind the scenes, more people would realise that Scotland is in a strong position – and improving fast.”

Morna Simpson, founder of Girl Geek Scotland & CEO of Enterprise Porridge

I can’t really speak for female role models in London – but I think Ms Butcher has made an incorrect assumption about the size of the digital sector here in Scotland.

“Scottish Enterprise hits very high targets. We have more funding for startups than pretty much anywhere else in the UK. In our own admittedly smaller tech community we already boast three billion dollar unicorns.

“The result of all of this is a larger tech community per head of population (and GDP) and a larger entrepreneurial community per head of population than many parts of the UK. We have a smaller community and that raises the bar because it promotes communication across barriers, specialisms and roles.

I don’t believe that we are behind. Girl Geek Scotland has been going since 2008 and has attracted major stars from Silicon Valley such as Heidi Roizen, Karen White, Wendy Lea and Ann Winblad.

Our events at Girl Geek Scotland are world class. The latest workshops around mentoring are both context sensitive and draw on the latest international research. Our panel events are carefully structured to draw out the more pertinent information for our audiences. I’ve been to numerous events in London and I know we do better.

I do agree that networking online is invaluable. The world is at your fingerstips. Edinburgh boasts some of the UK’s best broadband connections. Use it. Reach out and find the people who can help you.”

Vicky Brock, Entrepreneur

“Scotland is a smaller market, which is both to the advantage of women in tech, in terms of accessibility to their peers and mentors, but also a disadvantage in terms of our visibility on the wider stage. Jess is a terrific inspiration to me and a friend, who I met when a group of 15 female CEOs went to Silicon Valley to meet companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Eventbrite.

“I was the only CEO from Scotland – not because we don’t exist, or because we weren’t welcome, but simply because we have less visibility within the London network.The importance of that trip was that we met women who had built huge world class tech companies and that inspired us to not only believe it was possible but to see how it can be done. Examples are everything.

“I actually think we do have an excellently open and supportive network here – I must meet with 3 or 4 entrepreneurs week in week out and mentor as many as I can, just as I too have been mentored – but we can’t look only inwards for inspiration.

“We are a small community and greater participation in and access to networks in London, Silicon Valley and beyond has certainly benefited me. Because it is about seeing, finding and getting access to people who have walked a path very similar to yours but who are a few steps ahead. They are few and far between everywhere!”

Sarah Lee, MD of Hot Tin Roof and founder & CEO of PingGo

“Lagging behind London?…  This article really riled me, perhaps because it came out on the day that #metoo started trending.  Of course we need more women in tech, but Scotland already has a dynamic community of women going to work in tech every single day.

“I’ve worked in Scotland’s digital tech sector for close to two decades and throughout that time I have worked with some extraordinary and talented women role models.

“I’m talking about Claire Gillespie, Mandy Haeburn-Little, Kate Ho, Emma Kirk, Polly Purvis, Rachel Jones, Lesley Eccles, Pamela Brankin, Nazish Aslam, Jude Cook, Francis Sneddon, Wendy Mcdougall and the late Susan Chadwick, the list is endless.

“We are out there in the workplace doing our job day in day out, inspiring the men and women around us.

“More needs to be done, but let’s not beat ourselves up over it.  Let’s celebrate the positive and showcase the practical steps our community is taking today to close that gender gap and get our mothers, daughters and sisters into tech.”

Loral Quinn, CEO and Co-Founder of Sustainably

“I can still be the only female tech company founder at discussion groups and panels sometimes, and I think most people recognise there is still a lot to do in terms of getting more women into senior tech roles, not just in Scotland but all over the world.

“However, the eco-system and support network in Scotland is amazing. I have a really strong advisory group of male and female tech company co-founders and CEOs that are an inspiration and source of knowledge to me every day, so there is no shortage of support and advice for those who seek it.

“My close network includes a number of Scottish female tech company founders and we try to help each other out as much as we can.”

Movers and shakers

Brian Baglow

Editor

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