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DIGIT Q&A | Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab

Ross Kelly

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Gillian Docherty

DIGIT caught up with Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, to discuss her path into tech, International Women’s Day and Scotland’s female tech role models.

Scotland is home to a flourishing technology sector – with a bustling startup scene, life sciences sector and a hub for financial services, the country’s global reputation is growing rapidly.

With an ever-expanding tech sector, however, challenges arise – particularly with regard to talent.

Traditionally, talent development and retention has been an area which Scotland’s tech sector has struggled with. Running parallel to this have been concerning cultural issues surrounding the gender deficit in STEM subjects.

Simply put, it seems we aren’t doing enough to encourage more young women and girls to pursue careers in science and technology.

While initiatives the length and breadth of the country, many supported by the Scottish Government, seek to address the issue, the reality is that the road to progress will be a long and arduous one.

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, DIGIT caught up with some of Scotland’s trailblazing women in tech and business.

From software development to ethical AI and skills development, Scotland has an enormous wealth of exceptional female role models pioneering in a range of fields.

In the second of our Q&A series today, we speak with Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, Scotland’s innovation centre for data science and artificial intelligence.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Gillian

I am the CEO of The Data Lab and have worked in the technology sector since graduating from Glasgow University with a degree in Computing Science.

I grew up in North Lanarkshire and went to school in Bellshill before leaving the area to join IBM in Portsmouth, where I spent 22 years working in various roles across the UK before joining The Data Lab six years ago.

What inspired you to pursue a career in tech / business?

To be honest I fell into it. I went to university to do maths and economics and needed a third subject. We didn’t have computers when I went through my exams at school, so I think it was a surprise to find I enjoyed it and I ended up completing my degree in computing science and dropped the maths and economics.

At the time of graduating, I wasn’t sure what to do but there were so many jobs and companies recruiting into technology careers, that’s what I did and I never looked back.

Have you entered the digital technology sector via a ‘traditional’ route?

Definitely the traditional route, but I have had so many different roles over the years from technical programming roles, systems roles, architecture roles, and then most of my career has been client-facing, business and leadership.

Is there a particular person – or group of people – that inspired or supported the path you have taken?

I have been inspired all the way through my career by different people often encouraging me to make the next move or take the next step, whether that is into management roles or to take on more responsibilities. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with wonderful colleagues, working together to make a real difference.

My mum and dad always encouraged me, even if they didn’t understand what I did. My dad, who passed away recently, loved reading the news articles about what we were doing in The Data Lab and even listened to our podcasts. He was very proud of me and my brother and sister.

Are there any women currently in tech / business in Scotland who you admire?

There are so many, in the field of data and AI, I enjoy working with Tabitha Goldstaub and Sana Khareghani and looking forward to talking with them both in an upcoming podcast on the AI Strategy for Scotland.

I also enjoy hearing about all the wonderful female founders or co-founders of data businesses such as Jo Watts at Effini, Jo Halliday and Elizabeth Fairley at Talking Medicine, Chrissy Scott at Digiloop and Lynne Darcey Quigley at Know-it.

What is really exciting is that we are seeing more and more female founders or cofounders – it’s great!

The STEM gender deficit is a growing issue – what more can we do to inspire and support young women and girls to pursue careers in tech?

I think there are still some barriers that we should be aiming to overcome. I am not sure the tech sector has as good a reputation for welcoming women and other minority groups, but there are some great opportunities to work across a wide range of domains and industries no matter where your passions lie.

Technology underpins our business and society now and it is critically important we have diverse teams working in areas such as artificial intelligence.

We are also not keeping girls in school engaged with tech-based subjects, which unfortunately just leads to fewer and fewer girls taking those subjects later in their school years or into further/higher education or the workplace.

We are not exciting them enough and we need to think broadly about the attractiveness of the roles, providing great role models and the content in schools curriculums and higher education courses.

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Why is International Women’s Day important, and how does it help to address some of the issues affecting women in tech?

I think International Women’s Day gives us a chance and focus to discuss the issues together and by that I mean everyone, often we are busy with our own priorities and commitments but we do need to stick our heads up to highlight what changes we need and what support mechanisms we need to put in place.

What advice would you give to other women looking to enter tech?

Do it. The opportunities are diverse and the chance to work using tech for good or to make a difference to society and to the economy is significant.

I am excited to see the continued investment in the role of technology, data and AI in addresses the climate emergency and helping us on the path to net zero.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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