In recognition that 2020 is a year of deep reflection on ourselves and society we are engaging in conversations with a range of women across STEM careers to find out about their lived experiences. We want to understand and recognise that whilst female inclusivity and success in STEM careers has advanced greatly since Ada Lovelace’s time, there are still multiple barriers and challenges that women encounter throughout their careers. We hope by engaging in these conversations we can promote positive change and make STEM careers accessible for more women.
In this blog, we sat down with Maggie Scullion, Chief Information Officer at VetPartners, for a candid snapshot of gender balance in the tech world. Maggie has a fascinating career path with key roles journeying through many traditionally male dominated industries. Still on an evolving journey, she can see that a rewarding career in STEM is frequently overlooked by many women as an obvious choice. She talks to us about the challenges around encouraging mindset change and how working in engineering and tech roles satisfied her innate curiosity about how businesses operate.
Q. Can you tell us a little about your background and career to date? What attracted you to the STEM sector and what do you think makes it a good place for women?
Despite having a place at Edinburgh university I decided not to take it and to go straight into work in the Civil Service within the submarine department of Rosyth Dockyard. It quickly became clear that this would not be the career for me. I often got “told off” for crossing demarcation lines as my nature lead me to try to get involved in areas which were not strictly part of my job.
I moved from there to work in Oil & Gas manufacturing, working in inventory and production control departments which gave me exposure to my first experience of engineering. I became involved in the implementation of a computer system with FMC and that was the start of my technology career.
My first “proper” career job was in project management within a manufacturing company supplying to the offshore industry, leading a team of engineers who used technology to solve complex engineering problems for clients. I moved from managing a team of engineers to being involved in the selection of a new ERP system for the group, which exposed me to all aspects of the business. I have always had a real curiosity about business and found that the ideal way to learn the end to end business is to work in tech.
My next role was IT Director for a large independent housebuilder and construction company. This was less engineering and much more pure technology focused and that led to a role as Chief Information Officer for a drilling company with an international team. I now work as Chief Information Officer for a large consolidator of veterinary practices with over 450 clinics across the UK from Inverness to Plymouth, and six clinics in Italy, with ambitions to move into France later this year.
What I love about working in tech is the ability to gain a real understanding of the organisation by being involved in all aspects, using my skills in organising, problem solving, and finding solutions - skills often inherent in females.
Q. Is there a clear difference in your experiences of being a female in the sector at the beginning of your career and now?
Absolutely, I have worked in mainly traditional male organisations i.e. Oil & Gas, Manufacturing and Construction, where I was often the only female in the whole department and almost always the only senior female in the company.
I have seen changes over the years where, as a female in engineering and tech, I would be left out of discussions and decisions, to now not only being included, but actively sought out for my input.
Thankfully gone are the days of being excluded for not going to the pub with the “boys” on Friday - having a young family at home made that impossible. My current role and the company I work in is incredibly inclusive, not only in terms of gender, but diversity in all areas. With a senior team which is 60% female this brings different perspectives to challenges. I feel organisations miss out, particularly at board level, by having a single gender bias. In my experience this often leads to more of the same rather than true innovation based on different points of view.
Q. If you were with a group of peers this evening and talking openly about this topic, what would be the key issues discussed?
How to encourage woman to take risks in the industry and raise awareness that roles in STEM are not related only to those who want to get involved in the technical aspects. STEM opportunities are vast. Logic, problem solving and a desire to understand are the key to success - many of the qualities which woman excel at.
It is disturbing to see that the gender balance is still heavily skewed, however I feel that positive discrimination towards women is the wrong way to address this. We need to sell STEM roles as the broad, exciting, diverse opportunities which they really are and appeal to a broader range of individuals. I think there is a general view that people working in STEM lack social and people skills and therefore these areas appeal to those who want to work in isolation. Nothing could be further from the truth but work needs to be done to raise awareness of the diversity of opportunities within STEM.
Q. What role do you think male colleagues have in helping organisations achieve greater gender balance? Can they be part of a solution to equality?
I have been lucky in my career to work with some male colleagues who were advocates of the skills and qualities females can bring to roles which were not considered traditional for women.
However, it is also female leaders who need to be actively involved in the solutions and work alongside male leaders to encourage and actively look for talent. Gender balance is important and that means we all need to collaborate to identify opportunities and remove blockers
Q. How do you think COVID-19 has impacted gender diversity in STEM and the capacity to fulfil potential?
I think ultimately the shift to increased home working and flexibility within the workplace will help gender diversity as mobility and the need to be a physical presence in the office must be a good thing. However, there are two things which need to be highlighted; not all jobs are possible to do from home and not all people want to work from home.
In the veterinary profession the business cannot survive without people being in the practice and having contact with clients and their animals.
Q. Who do you think are the most inspiring women in STEM today?
For me the woman who inspired me to achieve what I have today is Sally Waterston. Sally set up her tech business 26 years ago and her philosophy within the company she has built is to be supportive to all, based on her experience of having to juggle a young family and work. Today the company has no fixed rules about where or when you work and the focus is on delivery and results - as it should be.
Within Scotland I found Polly Purvis inspirational during her time at ScotlandIS and her involvement with CodeClan which changed the view of IS in Scotland for a lot of people.
The information contained in this article does not constitute business advice and should not be acted on as such. This content is based on our understanding in October 2020. Head Resourcing are not liable for the information contained on any third-party websites linked to this article.