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 Jane Morrison-Ross, CEO at ScotlandIS, to hear about her transformative experience on a trial post graduate course in multimedia technology in the mid-90s, taking her from her art school degree to advising global businesses on adopting new technologies. She talks about the diverse and supportive environments in many of the larger organisations she worked in, but admits overall participation of women across the STEM sectors, and particularly technology, is lower than ideal.
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?
I originally went to Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art. I graduated with an arts degree in the middle of a recession and decided I needed to do something to broaden my prospects. I did a business and IT postgrad at Napier University and loved the new world it opened up. So much so, I went straight back onto their trial Multimedia Technology post grad course and that changed everything for me. Within a year of graduating from it I was in a specialist ecommerce role, advising global businesses on how to use this new technology. From there I joined Capgemini and focused on transformation and strategy consulting, with a digital specialism. I loved it. It was a competitive environment and I worked with some incredible people. There was so much to learn and so many opportunities to really push your development. It also felt like a level playing field. There was a correct assumption that you had made it there on merit, so everyone was treated equally. I worked with a lot of talented women throughout my years there, and it was generally a great environment because of the equality and equity of approach. Capgemini is regularly in the Times Top 50 employers for women and they put a lot of effort into encouraging, supporting and developing all of their people.
Q. Is there a clear difference in your experiences of being a female in the sector at the beginning of your career and now?
I think I was very fortunate in my early career. I was in a niche area with few experts and that helped enormously – nobody cared what gender I was, as long as I knew my stuff. It wasn’t plain sailing. I did face some challenging situations, but I had a good support network which helped a lot. I also took up my first Board role with the Internet Society Scotland when I was 27 and that was a huge confidence boost. It gave me access to working with much more senior and experienced colleagues of both genders.
Because I worked in a global organisation, it was much more diverse and inclusive than many smaller companies, and that definitely changed my experiences. We are in a better position now where women make up 27% of the tech workforce - not enough, but a lot better than it was.
There is also great, empirical research showing the tangible value, both culturally and in profitability, of having a diverse workforce and Board. There are more women in senior and Board level positions, and with the growth of social media, they are more visible and accessible than ever before. There are also aspiring young leaders, like Toni Scullion, working in schools to show girls they can do anything they chose to do.
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 do we put creativity back into technology? How do we develop real critical thinking skills in young people? How do we help young people understand the breadth of career opportunities available in the STEM world? Why don’t more girls and young women engage and how do we fix this?
I’d also be talking about the amazing work Margaret Kirkwood led 20 years ago in 40 schools to address some of these questions, with great success and the potential to lift and use this model right now.
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?
They can, should, and must be. Male colleagues can be real advocates and supporters of change. It can be as simple as mentoring, giving opportunities based on merit and speaking up to support diversity and inclusion in all forms. It has to be part of the culture and this (still) often needs to come from men in senior positions. The research is there though, to support the value of promoting equality and diversity both financially and culturally. I worked for an amazing male leader who was a real advocate for gender equality, and I learned a lot from him. Thank you, John Duncanson!
Q. There seems to be a clear female-led entrepreneur presence in Scotland. Do you think voices are being heard and visibility increased?
Yes, but it’s incremental and not enough yet. We also need to investigate and challenge the difficulties faced in securing investment for women and people of colour. There are still barriers that we need to acknowledge and address.
Q. How do you think COVID-19 has impacted gender diversity in STEM and the capacity to fulfil potential?
That’s a difficult one to answer. General research has shown that women have born the brunt of a lot of the COVID-19 changes; childcare, home schooling, caring duties, but that isn’t industry specific. It’s too early to tell if it will change employment patterns in the long-term.
We have a workforce in the tech industry in Scotland with only 27% women. It is a massive improvement on 10 years ago, but there is still a way to go. It all goes back to schooling and getting girls interested and engaged and that goes back to getting creativity, critical thinking and problem solving firmly embedded in how we teach.
Q. Who do you think are the most inspiring women in STEM today?
There are quite a few!
I’d like to highlight Tynah Matembe, co-founder of MoneyMatix, a family finance management platform that aims to bring financial wellbeing to the workplace and provide financial capability tools for families. MoneyMatix works with immigrant communities to share financial management knowledge. Tynah is a chartered banker and a lawyer too.
I’m also really inspired by Janet Oniya – a real up and coming technology star in Accenture in Scotland. Janet is also a young entrepreneur and an advocate for diversity and inclusion. She is founder of TivityPod (pre-launch) - a metasearch platform for the listing and booking of children's activities and the creator of Fife Lockdown Economy (soon transitioning to Fife Local Economy).
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 November 2020. Head Resourcing are not liable for the information contained on any third-party websites linked to this article.