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Investment and strategy expert shares her vision for an equitable digital future in the UK

Posted 6 Mar 2023

This International Women’s Day Digital Catapult’s trailblazing Board share their insights…

A key part of Digital Catapult’s mission to accelerate digital adoption is working with some of the UK’s trailblazing founders, technology experts, and business leaders. To celebrate International Women’s Day and the crucial role women have played in accelerating the digital future, we sat down with some of our Board to hear more about their vision for an equitable digital future and how we can get there. In this interview we caught up with investment and strategy expert Jill-Ridley Smith 

Jill’s business experience is as a strategy consultant at L.E.K. Consulting, private equity investor at HgCapital and in consumer marketing at GlaxoSmithKline. She currently works as a sustainability strategy consultant and has a portfolio of Non-Executive Directorships.  Additionally, she is a business mentor to entrepreneurs. Jill’s skill-set is in sustainability, strategy, finance and investment. Her qualifications include the FSA Credential from the Value Reporting Foundation; Sustainability Leadership from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford; MBA from Kellogg, Northwestern University; and BSc Economics from Bristol University. She enjoys working with management teams who use their vision, courage and execution skills to drive innovation combined with responsible business practices to deliver for both people and the planet.

What do you feel are the strengths of the UK technology ecosystem? How is it creating a more conducive environment for women to succeed than other ecosystems like Silicon Valley? 

The UK technology ecosystem strongly encourages innovation, supported by vibrant early-stage finance and venture capital, with government financing, policy and support programmes. We have to do more to do to get equality in funding for women-led business and I think we are doing better than Silicon Valley in acknowledging the problem, but the relative percentage of female founders in tech in Britain remains woeful, so no applause until we see genuine progress.

In which area would you like to see more progress? Where do we need to direct our efforts to ensure that women have the support they need to have a successful career in technology? 

Progress is required to encourage women into the sector at all levels, from entry-level jobs to the C-suite, we need to support women at all stages of their careers from students to returners. We should be challenging the stereotype that computer science is for boys, girls in school should want to pursue the subject. Likewise, women in later life should be encouraged to bring their unique perspectives and experience to the sector; we should recognise and appreciate transferrable skills and be willing to invest in supporting returners in open-minded, creative and innovative ways.   

The theme of IWD this year is ‘embrace equity’. At Digital Catapult we’ve been thinking a lot about how the metaverse can be an environment where stakeholders of all sizes feel empowered. Could you tell us what an equitable digital future looks like to you? 

The digital future has a wonderful role to play in overcoming intentional and unintentional barriers arising from bias. In the metaverse our digital selves will not face the same judgements we experience in the real world. Furthermore, the metaverse will hopefully facilitate seeing the world from new perspectives and through other eyes, furthering understanding and empathy.  Many years ago, I was advised to ‘make myself appear larger’ in meetings because I was smaller than my male counterparts and that this would make me more impactful. Removing judgement based on what we look like is empowering.  

How can our male allies support us in building an equitable digital future? 

Personally, I feel the only way we will achieve more progress for women in business is by having more men take on parental responsibilities. When we normalise the juggling that is required to raise a family and have a career – like taking a break to pick up your child from school – the less this will be seen as a women’s issue. It is well known that one way to better understand discrimination is by walking in another’s shoes and if we proactively try to do this more, I’m optimistic for the digital innovation that will result.  

What resources or advice has been helpful for you throughout your career that you would like to share with other women?

A very useful read for business, career and life is the book ‘Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In’ by Fisher, Ury and Patton.   

What one piece of advice would you give to someone interested in working in the technology industry? 

Enjoy it! The energy from the tech sector is fantastic. I’ve worked across many industries and found the tech sector unique in the speed of how it evolves and the pace of new achievements. There will be challenges, but the distance you will travel will astonish you, so every so often, look back and smile to see where you have come. Plus, bring others on the journey with you and directly try to help someone else’s career by creating opportunities.  

At Digital Catapult we are committed to building an organisation that is fully representative and reflective of UK society. You can find out more about our equality, diversity and inclusion charter here