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Taking the lead - celebrating women at the top

The female lead - celebrating women at the top

Breaking the bias is this year’s theme for International Women’s Day. With a 50:50 male-female split on our executive leadership team, and above-average female representation in leadership roles, we’re celebrating the powerful women who are setting the tone for our continued growth.

International Women's Day 2022 

International Women’s Day 2022 focuses on ‘breaking the bias’, a call to end discrimination and achieve a society that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive.  

There’s a lot to do. Even through rose-tinted glasses the UK is still 112 years off closing the gender pay gap, which sits at 7.9% for average earners and 16.1% for those in high paid positions. We’ll also be waiting 60 years for the share of women in full time employment to match the share of men. The UK economy would be tickled pink to the tune of £48 billion should we increase the number of women in work - the whole country would be healthier and happier, too.  

But change is in motion. Recent data has shown that almost 40% of UK FTSE 100 board positions are now held by women, putting the UK second in international rankings for board representation compared with 12.5% 10 years ago.  

We’re proud that behind the scenes, Scottish Enterprise has more women in leadership roles than average and a clean 50:50 split across our leadership team, along with flexible working and enhanced parental leave. Clearly, something’s going right, so who better to discuss what it’s like to be a woman in business than a handful of our own people.  

Discover their career ups and downs, their opinions on equality, and the advice they have for those in their wake.  

"There are lots of businesses out there, whether start-up social enterprises or companies making millions, that have different women from varied backgrounds at the helm but they all have a common thread – they want to make a positive difference. Call it leadership, call it tomato soup, whatever. But it’s the way of business in the future."

Ana Gallardo, Team Leader, Entrepreneurial Development

Ana's story

"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 started when I was nearly eight months pregnant and came back officially after parental leave which was an odd way to start. 

It was great, though, because it felt like a passion project rather than a job sometimes. The team I started in worked with universities on technology and commercialisation research, so it was very close to my heart - I’m a physicist by training, I love science. Having the opportunity to collaborate with diverse groups of people on projects that could make a difference was a complete joy. 

Breaking the bias

Things haven’t always been like that and unfortunately, I have plenty of examples of bias I’ve experienced due to my gender. For example, when I was at university in Spain a group of students held and published an annual ‘ugliest year of intake’ competition. The usual targets were the maths and physics departments, and it was always girls’ photos. That year, we won. Of the thirty people in my class that graduated, only one other was female.  

This is a huge example of bias I witnessed, but there’s also a whole minutia of things that are just as impactful. When I was doing my PhD in biosensors, there were never lab suits that fit me, they were all sized to fit the average man and therefore too big. For those experiments, you need to close everything off so that there are no hair or particles that can escape – I walked about with hundreds of hair ties to make my suit as secure and safe as possible, because it was not only about the integrity of the experiment but about personal safety. A lot of the chemicals were dangerous and carcinogenic if exposed to bare skin or inhaled. Inclusivity makes everything safer.  

As I progressed in my career, I remember being urged by a manager to address myself as Dr Gallardo, so that my position was instantly recognisable and I didn’t need to spend time correcting people that no, I wasn’t there to make the tea - I was there to lead the technical discussion.  

A spectrum of leadership

Yet I’m still not 100% sure what ‘leadership’ means. 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. You can see this in the emergence of many female-led businesses with an emphasis on strong underlying social purpose, such as Good Loop, headed-up by Amy Williams and Ufraction8, with Monika Tomecka as CEO - one to watch in the bioprocessing field. And Valla, cofounded by Danae Shell and Kate Ho, striving to make legal support affordable for everyone - the team is also part of this year’s Unlocking Ambition cohort. 

Unlocking Ambition for entrepreneurs 

Indeed, helping innovative new companies to grow inclusively and sustainably, with people and planet at the core, was my goal when I pitched our plan for Unlocking Ambition, our programme providing support and funding for entrepreneurship, to our Scottish Government colleagues in 2017. We started with £4 million in funding (shared with the Royal Society of Edinburgh in the first year) and have gone from strength to strength. The biggest satisfaction in securing the funding wasn’t so much about the money but the endorsement to put together support for purpose-driven companies with inclusion and diversity at their forefront.  

It put Scottish entrepreneurship at the heart of progressive business and is shifting the conversation away from the traditional view of business that centres around turnover and sales, to focus on quality jobs, sustainable practices and social consciousness. I’m very happy that my team and I are playing a part in putting that out there."    

Get to know our other inspiring female leaders

Linda Murray, Director of Strategy

Why breaking bias boosts greater innovation and ambition.

Alyson-Russell Stevenson, Head of Marketing and Engagement

How the pandemic has highlighted the need for flexible working.

Elaine Morrison, Interim Director of Place

Finding your voice and trusting your instincts.

Michelle Kinnaird, Head of Investment Management

How building ecosystems with entrepreneurial diversity boosts productivity.

Encourage diversity in your workplace

Be empowered to make your workplace more innovative, productive and profitable by reading our Team Optimisation and Workplace Innovation guidance. You can also use the Fair Work Employer Support Tool to assess your own company's practices. 

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