As the IoT industry continues to flourish, it is time now more than ever to counteract the gender imbalance and encourage women into the fields of STEM. Jeremy Coward looks to some women pioneers for inspiration.
As with most technology-based industries, the internet of things (IoT) suffers from a severe gender imbalance. It’s an issue that is frequently played down right across the world of work, and the more it is overlooked, the more likely it is that the problem will be perpetuated.
Acknowledging that the issue exists is easy enough, but what can be done about it?
According to Ann O’Dea, CEO of Silicon Republic, finding a sufficient solution requires more than “one-off initiatives” and “lip service”. And IoT’s exponential growth means what is already a significant problem is on the verge of getting much further out of hand.
“Yes, the traditional focus on the hardware element of IoT probably makes it particularly problematic, as this is an area where the gender gap is particularly marked,” O’Dea says. “However, as the IoT industry grows and now encompasses the whole gamut of technologies, sciences and digital services, the challenge will become more or less equivalent to the challenge in the whole tech sector.”
‘There is no point trying to fix the pipeline if we do not ensure we are retaining our brightest minds’
– ANN O’DEA
And while it’s clearly necessary to up the quota of women working in IoT, in O’Dea’s eyes, it’s even more essential to ensure that those new recruits remain.
“Where do I start? This is a complex challenge that cannot be resolved through one-off initiatives and certainly not lip service. It will take a concerted effort by all in the industry to make the changes that ensure women enter the workforce, and above all stay.
“Research in the US shows that highly skilled and qualified women are, on average, leaving the tech sector after seven years. There is no point trying to fix the pipeline if we do not ensure we are retaining our brightest minds. And it does appear to confirm that we are just not building an industry that is welcoming and nurturing of our female colleagues.
“If we do not change this, we are at risk of losing out on up to 50pc of our brilliant, highly educated skill base. At a time when the skills gap is well documented, everybody loses here. It all starts with ensuring women’s voices are heard – in the meeting room, in the boardroom, on stage and in the tech media.”
As company CEO, O’Dea recognises the need to promote existing women in this cause.
“We have been working hard for many years to ensure that remarkable female role models in our sector are more visible, and are championed.
“In 2013, we launched a campaign called Women Invent that sees us publish a weekly interview with women leaders and innovators in STEM, and has included two lists of 100 Top Women in STEM. The latter has become one of the most read features of all time on Siliconrepublic.com. In 2014, we ran the Female Founders Forum and 100 Top Women in STEM events, and 2015 saw the [launch of the] inaugural Inspirefest in Dublin – now Europe’s leading annual sci-tech and arts festival, with inclusion and diversity at its core.
“In 2017, in its third year, we will again welcome women and men from over 20 countries to Dublin to hear from international sci-tech leaders. Inspirefest boasts a ratio of 70:30 women to men on stage, and among its 2,000-plus delegates. There are no token women on stage – rather they are some of the brightest and best in the industry. The message that this sends out is powerful indeed.”
So, who are some of the remarkable female role models operating in IoT currently?
Liat Ben-Zur, senior vice president and digital technology leader, Philips
As SVP and digital tech leader, Ben-Zur drives the uptake of connected technology across many of Philips’ business offerings, from consumer goods to healthcare services and medical devices. This comes in the form of stand-alone projects – such as connected lights at home and air purification abroad – as well as business partnerships with the likes of Vodafone and Cisco.
While an increasing number of experts are playing down the importance of the consumer in IoT as industrial IoT grows in prevalence, Ben-Zur remains adamant that the future success of the IoT revolves around the consumer being the hero, as opposed to the technology.
In 2014, Fierce Wireless named her as one of their seven Rising Stars of Wireless in 2014 – an exclusive list of executives chosen for their diligence and resourcefulness, and for leading on projects expected to have large-scale impacts on their industries in the years ahead.
Ben-Zur took part in the inaugural IoT World in the United States the same year, and she remains an important asset to the speaker line-up in 2016.
Caroline Gorski, head of IoT, Digital Catapult
Digital Catapult is on a mission to grow the UK’s digital economy – and they’ve done a great job so far, securing £3.8m in research and development funding from the EU, working with 2,000-plus SMEs and delivering on over 40 projects, contributing £5m to the UK economy.
The organisation is making great waves in IoT specifically. Take the Digital Catapult Things Connected programme, a free-to-use LPWAN network introduced two months ago to help UK businesses experiment with and adopt IoT capability. This was one of the first IoT initiatives launched by Digital Catapult during Caroline Gorski’s time as head of IoT. Unify-IoT, a European project to align the many IoT platform ecosystems emerging across the continent, is another initiative championed by Digital Catapult.
Since joining in April, Gorski’s strong background in data analytics, network intelligence and machine learning has the potential to lead Digital Catapult in new and exciting directions. Forward-thinking SMEs and businesses in the UK in particular will be interested in where she’ll be taking the IoT side of the organisation.
Beverley Bryant, director of Digital Transformation, NHS England
The NHS’s funding shortfall has been well documented and widely publicised of late, with a funding gap that could be as large £30bn by 2020 if significant savings aren’t achieved. More and more, people are looking for new digital means to massively cut costs, while still somehow improving services across the board.
As the person responsible for overseeing the internal transformation of NHS England to better support NHS departments, local authorities and patients, Beverley Bryant has a better understanding than most of how vital the IoT’s development could be to the future of the health service. So many case studies have already demonstrated how IoT can provide greater insights and ease-of-access to healthcare, and Bryant has taken up the mantle for facilitating the roll-out of these new systems.
Beyond this, Bryant wants to make the NHS more than just an attentive student when it comes to the use of data and technology in healthcare – she’s got ambitions to make the health service a “thought leader” in this area. Her extensive public sector (CIO of the Department of Health) and private sector (managing director, Capita Health) experience leaves her extremely well placed to do this.
Ilona Simpson, CIO in residence and senior adviser at Ariadne Capital
Ilona Simpson is an undeniable paragon for female success in the business world, leading by example in both the tech and automotive industries throughout the past decade; during which she’s been CIO at Aston Martin, VP of IT at DHL and CIO, UK at Porsche.
Previously she’s stated that “large organisations that aren’t developing or delivering on a solid digital strategy will ultimately fail” – her keen interest in the IoT strongly suggests that it should be an integral part of strategy for any business.
Professionally, Simpson has plenty of experience working with start-ups as well as large corporates, having overseen successful first-stage fundraising initiatives for up-and-coming companies. As an angel investor and a venture partner at Ariadne Capital, she’s more than qualified to advise fledgling IoT organisations on how to grow their businesses and attract the right investors.
A few years from now, expect to see a number of new companies making waves in IoT under her watchful eye.
All of these inspiring women will take the stage at IoT World in Dublin next week. According to O’Dea, there’s no better place in Europe to host an IoT conference.
“Dublin – and Ireland in general – has really etched out a place for itself in the revolution that is IoT. National Geographic recently named Dublin as the ‘capital of the internet of things’. Intel’s Galileo board and Quark chip were designed in Leixlip, just outside Dublin. A chip designed by Dublin firm Movidius is at the heart of Google’s billion-dollar bet on IoT, and Croke Park is the test bed for major IoT developments though a co-operation between Intel, Dublin City University and other players. And that’s just to mention a handful of many, many exciting IoT developments here.
“I am particularly interested in the potential for transformation of health and health services through technology and IoT, so I am intrigued to hear the thoughts of Beverley Bryant, who I understand is working hard to transform the NHS in the UK – it is a sector that is ripe for enhancement through IoT technologies.”
IoT World will take place on 21-22 November in The Convention Centre, Dublin. More than 2,500 IoT professionals are expected to attend the event, for which you can register online, and free expo passes can be claimed here.