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Raising ambition — five lessons from our leaders

What makes a leader? How do you get people to recognise their own talent? How does making things equitable benefit businesses? To mark International Women's Day, we spoke to some of our leaders as they pass on the memories, advice, and inspiration that keep our teams on course for continued growth.

Elaine Morrison, Director Business Partnerships at Scottish Enterprise.

8 Mar 2022 | 10 minute read

At Scottish Enterprise, our goal is to help Scottish businesses adapt to economic opportunities and challenges in a way that’s more diverse, inclusive and purpose driven. That means getting to know the people behind the ventures we champion – those who are either starting out or looking to scale the career ladder.

It’s part of our job to raise ambition. Often, our colleagues act as an extension to the in-house teams of businesses we’re trying to help and while funding, R&D support, and internationalisation advice are critical to success, sometimes the most valuable support is imposter syndrome-beating, confidence-boosting, lived experience. Person to person.

So, who better to discuss what it’s like to build a career or business than a handful of our own people at the top. Here's five lessons on attracting diverse talent, adapting to the new world of work, learning to trust yourself, and remaining authentic at every turn.

1. Focus on finding your voice

Elaine Morrison, Director of Business Partnerships at Scottish Enterprise, speaks about the importance of challenging perceptions:

“I’ve been with Scottish Enterprise and its predecessor since I left school, joining on an apprenticeship scheme in a general administrative role (mainly because that’s what my teacher told me to do).

"Back then, most of the leaders in the organisation were male and I would never have imagined I could undertake a similar role. I simply couldn’t perceive a pathway that would make that possible. Fortunately for me, ours is a progressive organisation which can see the benefits of diversity in all its forms.

"During my career I became involved in a cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament focused on women in business. That reinforced the importance of ensuring that people can see a pathway to their end goal – whether that’s as a user or provider of a service.

"As an example, with the support of Women’s Enterprise Scotland, we looked at Scottish Enterprise’s online content and noticed that the imagery was predominantly of men and people in white coats. That made it difficult for others to see that our service was for them and was potentially off-putting to many. Changing something as simple as images can open up a new customer base and make us feel more accessible to a wider range of customers.

"The need to see a pathway was again reinforced when I engaged with young people through EY’s Youth Foundation. Many of the youngsters simply felt that professional roles were out of their reach. Like me many years before, they couldn’t see how that gap could be closed. By sharing experiences, we can help others find a route that works for them.

"If something’s being promoted, and people feel excluded, you’re shutting off access to a multitude of ideas and experience. Diversity of opinion and views is so important – it’s how we grow and learn. Any time you bring together people with different perspectives and backgrounds, whether gender, race, sexuality, religion, or age, you invite challenge and change and often find a better way forward.

"All that energy can create something quite powerful. Give it a try.”

Elaine Morrison, Director Business Partnerships at Scottish Enterprise sitting at a desk.

2. Nurture innovative ideas and potential 

Michelle Kinnaird, Head of Investment Management at Scottish Enterprise, speaks about mentorship as a valuable support tool:

"When I started here, we were a small team of around 12 people, and we’ve grown into something with immense impact. We’ve been patient but also forward thinking, so much so that to date we’ve helped secure over £2 billion through our deals and portfolio, which currently sits at £400 million and around 350 companies, all at different stages.

"One of the very few advantages of the pandemic was that it brought about more equity for those with children at home. We saw a lot of secondary care givers play a more active role which allows there to be more balance in areas of historic gender discrepancy.

"This equilibrium has allowed us to build an ecosystem that supports all entrepreneurs, from many different backgrounds. For example, we’re seeing more women leading tech companies. Take Appointedd — an online booking software company was started by its CEO Leah Hutcheson in 2011 and now operates in 23 companies. Another is MIME Technologies Ltd, led by Anne Roberts, which is ranked 9th in the Scotland Tech 50.

"Having these innovators as examples, as educators, will hopefully inspire more women – and people in general – to disregard gender stereotypes in their field of choice. And that’s what I look on as our biggest achievement – we'll be able to say we’ve worked on some exciting deals and helped a huge variety of people to reach their potential.

"I like to think of it as recycling – we boost entrepreneurs and companies, who give back once they’ve achieved success. It doesn’t need to be money — it can be time and mentorship which then inspires the next wave of change."

Michelle Kinnaird, Head of Investment at Scottish Enterprise.

3. Find your own leadership style 

Ana Gallardo, Team Leader, Entrepreneurial Development, describes her thoughts on authenticity and leadership:

"I lead the Entrepreneurial Development team. We’re a relatively small group of people focused on building entrepreneurial capability and capacity in the Scottish ecosystem.

"I used to have a huge inner battle, because I’d see leaders I admire – of all genders – and I’d find them so assertive, so decisive. I feel like that’s not my personality, but in the early days, I’d try to imitate them. I felt I talked too much, I probably smiled too much, and I have a high-pitched voice. But then a friendly CEO gave me the best advice. She simply said, ‘be you.’

"She told me that she had also struggled with having a sunny personality in the serious world of business. She learned to tone it down in certain situations but ultimately made it work to her advantage. I urge people to think that way – it's all about being yourself.

"Authenticity inspires others to follow your example and drives effective teamwork which lends passion and urgency to projects you care deeply about.

"In terms of leadership, there’s no such a thing as a universal definition – just pre-conceived ideas of what it should look like.

"Increasingly, I feel that it comes down to capability and integrity above all else. You need to know what you’re doing and essentially respect the craft of the area you’re in. And you should never forget that an organisation is made of groups of human beings — respect, honesty, and trust are fundamental in building a culture that makes an impact and creates value.

"The expressions of that are endless. You can be an extrovert or introvert, you can learn by doing or by studying detailed data charts, you can be an experienced expert or an avid learner on the job. Ultimately, you need that balance of capability and people-focus to be an effective leader."

Ana Gallardo, Team Leader, Entrepreneurial Development, Scottish Enterprise

4. Prioritise flexibility to get results

Alyson Smith, Head of Marketing and Engagement at Scottish Enterprise, talks about creating space for everyone:

"Early in my working life, I juggled motherhood, an international career, and studying - it was important for me not to compromise, to prioritise all three. I've subsequently had many conversations with people about work/life balance since the pandemic, which I really feel shone a much needed spotlight on the importance of job flexibility.

"If you're in an organisation that truly puts people first, people will rise to any occasion whether they work flexitime or regular hours, or at home or wherever. From early in the pandemic, we prioritised staff safety and asked everyone to go home and be with their families because that's where they needed to be. If you have good processes and procedures for getting people in, and for encouraging growth within existing teams, there's every reason you'll end up with a fabulously fulfilled and varied team.

"We're working more online than ever before - colleagues, clients, and partners alike. Despite the challenges of recent years, we're performing more effectively, more openly and we've got to know people better because we all meet in this one online room - it made a huge difference. It's allowed people to be themselves more and has created a much more level playing field."

Alyson Smith, Head of Marketing and Engagement, Scottish Enterprise.

5. Think beyond material value

Linda Murray, Director of Strategy at Scottish Enterprise, encourages diversity in recruitment:

"In the last few years, long-held assumptions about work – where and when it happens – have been challenged. Many businesses completely re-imagined their working practices and saw real benefits in productivity and staff morale. In some cases, there was a much wider talent pool to draw on than they’d been tapping into previously.

"These days, the younger workforce is driven by a sense of the company’s value, not in financial terms, but much more widely thinking about the good a company is trying to achieve, who it works with and how it connects with communities.

"This is already the focus for many companies, because by attracting more diversity, especially in leadership roles, you get a broader range of lived experience and different voices and perspectives driving change."

Linda Murray,  Head of Strategy at Scottish Enterprise.

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