Five minutes with Morna Simpson
Girl Geek Scotland is the skills network with a mission to rectify the gender disparity in the technology community. Programme Manager Morna Simpson describes it as a community that encourages contribution and participation in technology from all gender identities, physical abilities, neurotypical and atypical people. From career events to hackathons to a unique mentoring scheme, Girl Geek Scotland is turning the technology world into an industry where diversity definitely does compute. We caught up with Morna to talk about mentorship magic, hostility in technology and giving Scotland’s organisations a headstart on international competition.
- Describe your organisation’s purpose
To help women thrive with digital technology – whatever career stage they’re at. As technology has a reputation for being hostile women, we set up Girl Geek to overturn it and to offer ways to help people start new technology careers and progress in existing ones.
I know how hostile the technology industry can be. When I was learning how to use a computer on my further education course “there was a technician who would pull out the plug from the wall, on any computer being used by a female student. He thought it was funny.
- How would you describe the culture at your organisation and how do you maintain it?
It’s an extra-ordinary group of volunteers that keeps GGS going. They are all passionate, enthusiastic and have often come up against hostility themselves. Many of the volunteers run their own businesses so I’m amazed by the time they volunteer to help others learn and grow.
I think the culture is a product of the recruitment process. When I recruit volunteers, I ask three important questions: How do you do see your skills benefitting Girl Geek? What’s your ambition for Girl Geek? And, how do you see yourself adding to Girl Geek?
- How does your organisation prepare for the future world of work?
There are three particular areas we’re focusing on right now: data analysis; Blockchain and legal tech. The interest in Blockchain is because it’s such a powerful tool, yet it still hasn’t quite taken off and done all it can do. Data touches on everything we do so it’s immensely interesting and unavoidable. As for legal tech and smart contacts, it’s proof that technology continues to move into areas that have been traditionally resistant. We want to help Scotland and its entrepreneurs get more involved with all three areas. Otherwise, organisations from overseas will dominate the market before local businesses have the chance.
- Does your organisation do any work in your local community?
“Our organisation is all about the local community. This year we’ve placed sixty people with mentors” – we even had to close down our initial mentoring programme because it was so popular.
- What is the main thing that attracts talent and retains talent in your organisation?
A passion for the issues that Girl Geek is tackling. Everybody in my organisation has overcome obstacles to their professional development. They are passionate about future opportunities in the space and love that they are given all the autonomy they can handle.
- In your experience, what is the best way to build diverse teams?
There are issues around image that need to change. The role models that people see as superstars in technology need to be a more well-rounded, diverse bunch. That will raise awareness about how varied roles in the technology industry can be.
- What has been the biggest challenge to your growth and how have you tackled it?
There’s only so far we can go as a purely volunteer organisation. It’s time for us to make the leap and take on full-time, paid staff. To do this, we will start with government grants and continue to assess our progress.
- What has been the best decision your organisation has ever made?
Every time we recruit a new volunteer it’s fantastic to see the expertise and skills they bring. “Whatever happens with Girl Geek, I know that our volunteers have made a lasting difference” to the people they’ve worked with.
- What would you say represents the biggest opportunity for your organisation in the next five years?
If we can crack mentoring, we can crack a lot of issues affecting the technology scene, women in enterprise and so much more. Right now we’re looking at how to make the perfect match between mentor and mentee.
There are lots of organisations trying to do what we do, but we continue to set the precedent because we have superior commitment and knowledge. Take our events, for example, we continue to focus on quality over quantity. We know why we’re doing this: we won’t just promote any technology training scheme.
- What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Find the people who can fund you. Go to corporate businesses and high net worth people. Consider your business model and then go to the people who have the resources to realise your dreams. Importantly, show potential funders what they will get out of their involvement.
- What other organisation do you admire the most and why?
There are so many but three instantly jump to mind: Pippa Gardner at Urban Tide, Leah Hutcheon of Appointedd and Vicky Brock at Clear Returns. They all spotted trends and then were ambitious in their growth and reach.
- What does a Vibrant Economy mean to you?
It’s not about the short-term; it’s about anticipating the long-term. We need an economy that has more people, of all backgrounds with technology skills. You don’t have to be a developer – there are a whole load of other things you can do in the technology space. If we don’t diversify, we could see our economy really suffer in the next decade.
The Scottish government has invested in big data and women in tech and it’s doing lots of good things elsewhere. But the effects of Brexit remain to be felt. I’m still an optimist because I’ve seen a mindset change: a psyche shaped by big, recent political events. A change in mindset that I think will see Scotland and its entrepreneurs more ambitious, empowered and clued-up.