Three women who have risen to the top of Scotland’s digital connectivity sector
This year, International Women’s day theme is #choosetochallenge. To mark the date, FutureScot has spoken exclusively to three inspiring women whose career trajectories have intersected at the Scotland 5G Centre – and who have all risen to the challenge of forging successful careers.
1. What project/outcome are you most proud of – and why?
Julie Snell, Chair, The Scotland 5G Centre
“I have been lucky to be involved at the start of various mobile communication technologies. There are many examples that I could use from being a part of developing public Wi-Fi for BT and establishing a completely new way of connectivity in our homes and offices.
“5G for me is a continuation of that journey. Today the key is data transmission rather than voice. Building mobile networks is an expensive, long term investment which makes the business case return often challenging because it relies on density of people and usage to make the return. Rolling out ubiquitous 5G coverage is a significant investment and we are currently doing this at the early stages of understanding the 5G use cases that will enable the economic return on that investment. We’re still evolving.
“What we are doing at the Scotland 5G Centre shows the vision that the Scottish Government, Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow and Scottish Futures Trust have shown in understanding the importance of creating a level playing field of connectivity across the whole of Scotland, so that no one is left behind. We are now focusing on the more rural locations and gaining understanding of the difference 5G could make to those living in the outer isles as much as for those living in cities – and how we develop new business investment cases.”
Sarah Eynon, Associate Director, Scottish Futures Trust and Board member for the Scotland 5G Centre. The Infralink programme is one of the Centre’s founding projects.
“Projects that I enjoy the most and reflect on with pride are those that develop a simple idea to have a big impact. One that is close to my heart is the Infralink programme. I had just returned from maternity leave and asked my contacts about the biggest challenges in mobile connectivity. I found that a lack of engagement between potential public sector landlords and mobile industry tenants was stalling 4G roll out. With the Shared Rural Network and mass 5G roll out on the horizon, I could see that history was going to repeat itself.
“My aim when devising Infralink was to look at not just the practical process of lease negotiation but to also address the issues of trust and engagement that had eroded over the last few years. Some regional organisations had already recognised the impact this could have to improve efficiency and connectivity so there was best practice to build on.
“This idea of trust and engagement has resonated with parties on both sides of the fence and across the UK. There is a real sense of cooperation and teamwork that has resulted in us achieving our first goal of publishing nationally applicable standard leases and payment guidance this spring. I am genuinely excited about where this sense of partnership can take Infralink and mobile connectivity in Scotland.”
Claire Gillespie, chair of the Scotland 5G Centre Strategic Advisory Group and Digital Technologies Sector Skills Manager at Skills Development Scotland.
“At Skills Development Scotland we worked with industry to develop Digital World to promote technology as a career choice. It has evolved from a website into a full campaign which includes PR & comms, social media and an online Discover Cyber Careersevent where we ‘livestream’ tech experts into schools to run cyber lessons with pupils and teachers.
“For me, it’s all about inspiring people about the range and the quality of technology jobs in Scotland and the fact that tech jobs are for everyone. Often when people think about tech they think about someone who sits at a PC – coding – all day – so we show them how much more there is available to them. We explain that tech jobs can make a massive difference to our world by contributing to medical developments and climate change solutions. This message is really important when we are encouraging young girls to work in tech.
“Working with the Scotland 5G Centre will ensure we leverage all opportunities to promote telecoms-related careers too, and getting these messages into Digital World seems like a great place to start!”
2. Why do you think that telecoms/5G is an exciting career option? How would you pitch the sector to graduates?
Claire Gillespie: “Telecoms and communication technologies are such an integral part of our everyday life that by starting a career in this sector you are getting involved in something which is important to every person and business in Scotland. Just think about how different the pandemic would have been without the infrastructure we all take for granted?
“A career in this sector means getting to work with the latest technology and being part of new innovations as they are developed and rolled out in Scotland. Lots of telecoms jobs aren’t desk-bound either, so if someone prefers working outdoors or being in lots of different working environments then this can be a good choice for them.
“It’s also a great way to utilise a range of skills as employers look for people who are skilled at working with technology but who are also great team players, analytical and have good problem solving skills. There are different pathways to get into the sector from university and college, but also through the IT Telecoms Modern Apprenticeships.”
Julie Snell: “5G is part of the evolution of connectivity. We now live in a world where so much of what we do is accessed by the web – education, taxing a car, finding a job, paying our bills through to machine connectivity.
“As databases become more sophisticated and more inclusive, gaining access to them via the right connectivity medium, is going to be a constant and growing business. For me this has meant that no stage of my career in communications has it ever become dull or repetitive. Every day there are new things to learn and to achieve which, to this day, still excites me even though I am supposed to be semi-retired!
“If I were a graduate today, I would be relishing the opportunity of learning and understanding how connectivity can improve the lives of everyone and how important it is to ensure that your work doesn’t leave anyone behind and is fully inclusive in its design and delivery.”
Sarah Eynon: “Mobile connectivity is an enabler for so many different sectors. It can unlock potential in health, manufacturing, education and how we interact. This can only be achieved through collaboration – so you get to work with many different people and organisations with a variety of interests, not all techie. Some look at it from an inclusivity and climate change perspective, some in relation to commercialisation, others from a “what if” point of view.
“It is a melting pot of ideas and potential that can impact all sectors at home and abroad. I really enjoy helping to shape and deliver the future for Scotland and promoting the amazing advancements that we are making right here on our doorstep.”
3. What positive changes have you observed in recent years in terms of female representation at all levels in the sector? Do inequalities still exist?
Sarah Eynon: “While you see a lot fewer women, the ratio is improving thanks to women getting interested and active in the sector, together with colleagues truly valuing all contributions and employment backgrounds.
“There are a number of local and national forums that promote the sharing of ideas and development of projects. These are very inclusive and act as a great way to break down barriers – perceived and real. The people I see around me are very supportive of promoting and enabling women in this sector, but we – collectively – need to keep this at the front of our minds.”
Claire Gillespie: “We are beginning to see a change in what was traditionally considered a very male dominated sector. In 2016 we launched a programme of work – Tackling the Technology Gender Gap Together – and have seen the percentage of women employed in technology rise from 18% to 23.4% – so clearly there is much more to do. We also need to support more women into specialist and senior roles. What’s helping to change perceptions is that we already have great examples of senior female role models in industry – women currently hold top posts in ScotlandIS, The Data Lab and the Scottish Business Resilience Centre.
“In terms of solutions, we need to ensure that every young person in Scotland has the opportunity to develop skills for the digital economy, to be inspired about the range of careers and to be supported to see themselves in these high quality careers irrespective of their gender or background. A big challenge, but by being innovative in our approach and working together I think we can make things better.”
Julie Snell: “In earlier years, I was often the only woman attending meetings, but as the time has progressed this has – thankfully – changed and I am seeing more females more than holding their own in technology roles.
“There is still more to do and much of it does still fall to the early education and examples that our children are experiencing. For me I would like to see far more digital training at an earlier age in our schools because digital careers definitely have no restriction on gender or physical ability.”