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Insights from the women leading the way in academia and innovation

As a female who has worked in the worlds of industry and academia, there is much to be celebrated, alongside much to ponder when I consider the world of work today. My passion is that education, skills development and career paths are open and accessible to all.

Supporting gender balance is embedded in all of Interface’s activities, strengthening knowledge sharing between businesses and expertise from universities, research institutes and colleges. Our focus mirrors that of the Scottish Government’s themes of equality, social inclusion and environmental sustainability and the Scottish Funding Council Gender Action Plan, which helps to remove gender stereotyping of roles through education.

We support businesses every day, taking the time to understand the challenges they are facing and wish to overcome. We help match them with the right academic expertise in Scotland's universities, research institutes and colleges and by forging these partnerships, we help their businesses to grow and develop.

We are proud at Interface of the number of innovative businesswomen that we support, and by the fact that this is growing steadily through our activities reaching out to female entrepreneurs throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.

Over the last three years, we have certainly seen a growth in female entrepreneurs and innovators within the organisations we support in Scotland. In 2016-17, less than one third of the project leads in the businesses we supported were female. This figure jumped to 35% in 2017-18 and, so far, this year (2018-19) 40% of the projects we have introduced to universities, research institutes and colleges are being led by women.

Our regional-based team (who work with businesses throughout Scotland, no matter how remote they are) engage with networks designed to engage and inspire female entrepreneurs – and I think these statistics demonstrate that we are heading in the right direction. Of course, this statistic may fluctuate over time, however the upward trajectory is a good indication of what we are achieving and an encouraging sign that female-led innovation is thriving.

Yekemi Otaru, founder and Managing Director of Aberdeen-based YO! Marketing Ltd, (now Doqaru Ltd) had an innovative idea to identify the marketing activities that generate the greatest impact on business growth using a machine learning algorithm.

After issuing an industry-led challenge to relevant research teams within partner universities, Interface matched Yekemi with Dr Xavier Bellekens, Assistant Professor and Lecturer at Abertay University within the Division of Cyber-Security, where he is leading the Machine Learning Research Group.

Yekemi said: “As a business owner it’s very difficult to be good at everything, so by collaborating with Abertay University, it allowed me to focus on my business and what I am good at and I could trust Xavier and his team to develop the idea further.”

The project provided YO! Marketing Ltd with a world's first machine learning marketing algorithm and sets it apart from other marketing companies, enabling business owners with limited marketing experience to make more informed decisions about return on investment from their marketing budgets.

Yekemi is one of a growing number of real role models running many different types and size of business that are forging ahead in the thirst for new knowledge.

Another important aspect of Interface’s role is supporting female academics, from early-stage researchers to professors, who can further their research through tackling real-world challenges. This engagement with industry feeds into the wider issue of tackling gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The recent report Tapping all our Talents 2018 by The Royal Society of Edinburgh, shows a mixed picture of progress in STEM in recent years, however one thing is clear – every institute, business and individual has a role to play.

So, whilst there are many green shoots to be celebrated, we must continue to encourage and work in partnership to make inclusive economic growth a reality for all parts of our society. Women can lead the way in making a major contribution to our economy and we will continue to promote equality in all that we do.

*A major international conference on gender studies and the status of women will be held at Queen Margaret University, one of Interface’s academic partners, in 2020. International researchers (including Women's Enterprise Scotland) and scientists from academia, industry and government will present their studies, exchange experiences, discuss proposals, and disseminate results on women’s and gender studies.

Dr. Siobhán Jordan is the Director at Interface. Established in 2005, Interface is a central hub connecting organisations from a wide variety of national and international industries to all of Scotland's universities, research institutes and colleges.




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