Elaine Burgess was once called ‘mum’ by members of a male-led team. Now she blazes the trail for diversity in the tech sector
I took the scenic route into a career in digital. At the ripe old age of 21, I moved from Dublin to Edinburgh to do a one-year master’s degree in politics and law at Edinburgh University. Fourteen years, a wife, a mortgage, and a baby later…Edinburgh has become home.
During that period, I lived in London working for one of the ‘Big Four’ as a management consultant. It was fabulous. I travelled the world, working with great clients on a range of purpose-led transformation projects. My role was to help organisations get ready for change.
This involved making sure that changes were designed in collaboration with the right people to improve the likeliness of success. It was sometimes a difficult job mediating between, on the one hand, project teams excited to deliver and organisations not always quite ready to change. In essence, I had to make sure that everyone knew what was coming, when and what the impact would be.
A career in the big four equipped me with invaluable skills and experiences within a compressed timeframe. It also showed me the power that individuals and teams have to address some of society’s most pressing issues, from climate change to health and social care to safer transport. I also made fantastic friends; in fact, one of my former colleagues went on to become a Humanist celebrant in her spare time and married my wife and I on a beautiful August day in 2017.
After nearly seven years in London, Edinburgh was calling me back and I joined the Scottish Government to lead the Digital Transformation Service. This experience has been one of my career highlights. I was introduced to the Scottish Approach to Service Design which aims to put citizens at the heart of public service transformation in Scotland. This approach aligns with my personal values, and I feel a sense of doing purposeful work daily.
I continue to be impressed by the variety of digital roles available, all working together to improve citizen’s experience of Government; product managers, user researchers, content designers, graphic designers, cyber security architects, business analysts. The list goes on. The thing that has most surprised me is that many of the talented individuals filling these in-demand roles are women. Not just that but there are lots of women in leadership positions too. For example, the head of the Digital Transformation Division is a woman and the service owners for most of the flagship corporate programmes are women too.
This hadn’t always been my experience in previous organisations. On more than one occasion, I have been the only woman in the room – a lonely experience. During one engagement, I was performing a project management role and was regularly called ‘Mum’ by the male-led team when I would ask for updates. There is no question that diverse teams make for better outcomes. I am encouraged to see more women represented in the digital sector and I am inspired by ongoing efforts to grow the female pipeline of talent.
The Digital Transformation Service itself continues to mature and I am so proud of the team. Any public sector organisation in Scotland looking to transform can contact the service for best practice advice, guidance, and resources. Citizens are rightly expecting more and more from their public services, and I believe the Digital Transformation Service is now well placed to enable positive experiences.
As for me? I have recently returned to work from maternity leave following the birth of my son, Jasper. I am excited to be starting a new role, back in the private sector. I will be joining the Amiqus team as director of commercial operations, focusing on sustainable growth. Amiqus is one of Scotland’s most successful tech for good start ups and their purpose-led approach to helping people access regulated services attracted me. I am so pleased to be continuing to build my experience at the cutting edge of the Scottish tech eco-system. I believe that Scotland has one of the most exciting and fast-growing tech eco-systems in Europe and I can’t wait to learn from my new team when the time comes.
Despite being a woman and growing up in a traditionally disadvantaged area in Dublin, I have been hugely privileged to enjoy the career I have had to date. Sadly, social mobility in more recent years appears to be on a backward trajectory. With a former colleague, I have been exploring opportunities to work with traditionally untapped talent to build digital and entrepreneurial skills as a way to inspire and enable people to start and scale their own purposeful businesses. The mission is to create more working-class, female, Black and Asian founders. We believe that those demographics are most impacted by the challenges faced by society today and should therefore be leading the charge in developing creative solutions.
This is aligned to Scotland’s ambitious economic strategy which aims to make Scotland the best place to grow or start a business or social enterprise. The strategy recognises that Scotland also needs to be a country where economic power and opportunity are distributed equally.
When working towards a common purpose, we are all on the same team regardless of organisation or profession. I have found the Scottish tech sector to be an inspiring, collaborative community where great things happen. I am looking forward to taking on the challenges the future holds together.