We often hear the barriers which deter women and girls from engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths are unconscious bias and a lack of diversity at board level. To celebrate the imminent launch of Women Tech Founders, we are interviewing female leaders involved with SETSquared Bristol to explore their career paths and views on issues faced by women in technology. Each of their stories is individual, some have a technical background, others are using technology to enable their business idea.
SETSquared has a great opportunity to provide more balance for their member companies and are encouraging women that are experts and leaders from other industries, or those with specialist skills, to lend their experience and knowledge to Business Review Panels. The panellists, typically from finance, law, marketing, growth and tech backgrounds, provide feedback to the founders of SETSquared companies in a boardroom environment, creating more diverse input in these tech start-ups early years.
To set the scene, Monika Radclyffe, Director of SETSquared Bristol, shares her story:
What were your earliest interests?
My mum ran a flower shop and my dad ran an electronics repair service, then my parents formed a larger business together. I grew up in a business environment, so I was fascinated with finding different ways to make some pocket money! One of my earliest memories was setting up my toys on a stall outside our house to sell them to passers-by. At school I created raffles, selling tickets to the other kids for them to win small prizes.
Which study route did you take?
I loved maths and learning about other countries and cultures in geography; I also studied languages – English and German. For my degree, it was no surprise, I took Business Management at the University of Westminster in London. However, I was a restless student, and was feeling somewhat bored after six months. I re-arranged my lecture schedule to get a job, working nearly full time on research projects and helping with the administration of student accommodation at the university.
Which steps led to the career you have today?
In my final year, I got a job as Enterprise Co-ordinator. This involved setting up the student enterprise society which was an incubator helping students to start their own business. This was the beginning of my career path, as I was hooked on the entrepreneurial environment, and it turned into a full-time job for a year after graduating. After that I was torn between staying in a full-time job or starting my own business. I felt the traditional pressure for getting a proper job, so I decided to study as a management accountant as a way of getting to work with businesses. I signed up for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and found a work experience placement as a junior accountant. I absolutely hated it, so only stayed for 6 weeks! However, the organisation where I worked was a start-up, and by then, it confirmed for me that I loved working in that fast-paced environment. In 2009 I partnered with a friend to build and scale an online networking group, called Dreamstake to 5,000 members. We launched two co-working spaces and a digital accelerator, and were running lots of events to support entrepreneurs in the London start-up scene.
In what way did technology influence your career?
Technology has always been very important for me, working with digital businesses in the start-up world. After helping to build Dreamstake, I went on to start my own venture. To launch the concept, I teamed up with a chief technology officer to help me get the social e-commerce platform idea as far as the first round of funding.
After that failed, I needed a salary and was curious to extend my skill set by working for a larger organisation, so I joined Cognizant, an IT outsourcing firm with over 160,000 staff in 2012. Initially, I joined their mobile technologies team, working as Business Development Manager for UK and Europe with a boss who I knew was an entrepreneur at heart. I was comfortable it wouldn’t be too corporate as we were focusing on expanding social, mobile, analytics and cloud technology capability. Soon after starting, I met a colleague, who was also an angel investor from Silicon Valley, who shared my frustration that the organisation invested millions in R&D when those technologies already were underway in the start-up world.
We persuaded the business to let us create a new team to encourage open innovation – co-developing with start-ups. I remained responsible for Europe, but travelled to US, Brazil and Israel to learn about emerging technologies. Our clients were much more interested in the work we were doing and we were making massive R&D savings because the innovations were coming through much faster. I’m fascinated by what is emerging from the technology world, so technology has remained an important thread throughout my career. After leaving that role, I went to work for organisations who took a similar approach, working with start-ups to innovate and solve challenges for other companies and governments.
After spending a decade in London, I was ready to move out of the city and wanted to explore what was going on outside the London tech bubble. I knew Bristol was already the second biggest tech cluster in the UK and was inspired by what was happening here. We relocated to the Forest of Dean, spending every week commuting back and forth to London, until the right role came up in Bristol. Working for SETSquared was a great opportunity to get involved and support the entrepreneurial tech scene – after all, it’s the global number one university-led incubator. My philosophy has always been to do what I enjoy doing, even if it doesn’t have a defined job title – I can create new roles, having had the mix of working in academia, in start-ups and in a large technology organisation. This was a perfect role to combine my experience.
How would you encourage other women to consider innovation or technical roles?
The issues are intangible and hard to describe. I often see confidence issues with women in tech and would say don’t be afraid; we must do what Sheryl Sandberg says in her book, get our front seat at the table and generally put ourselves forward, because everyone has something to contribute.
I would encourage women not to be afraid of learning and to make yourself open to opportunities. I went to very basic coding courses, even though I’m not especially technical, so I could work with developers by understanding their language.
What changes would you suggest businesses could make to encourage diversity?
It’s great that women are working to inspire each other. However, the changes must also come from men because, statistically, most tech businesses are run by men. That means any actions to tackle diversity issues will have to be led by men. We have 11 member businesses here led by women, but 65 are led by men. Research proves that diversity breeds innovation. Women have a huge impact on business success when they are involved at management and board level – not only is it the fairest way forward, it will positively affect the bottom line.
Bias is often unconscious. To help our members at SETSquared, we will review the job specs which male founders write, to ensure they are gender neutral and flexible to attract a more diverse workforce. We can help change the balance by working with them on their mindset.
What would make a difference to get more female investors to step forwards?
One of the challenges is helping people to learn how to invest, it’s an education gap, where women need to know what support there is. Many male investors use capital which belongs to their family – so actually their wives could take the role of angel investor with that money. You can start with small steps – like investing £100 in a crowdfunding campaign or £500 in a venture – to gain confidence. You don’t need to invest thousands but you need to understand the terms of investment. Courses are available to learn more or in Bristol, there is a Bristol Private Equity Club for angels, with over 50 members and a few women already there.
A research study by Allbright, a venture capital collective and fund launched by women for women, has shown only 2% of venture capital currently goes to female founded businesses. The evidence points towards an unconscious bias for investors to place more with male led businesses. More work needs to be done to help change this for the future. Here at SETSquared we will support our members to be more aware of unconscious bias – hence our goal to encourage females as potential investors or those from other industries with specialist skills (commercial law, personnel management, accounting, marketing) to join our business review panels.
Written by Debra Penrice. See more of her work at 27 Marketing