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DIGIT Q&A | Olivia Gambelin, Founder of Ethical Intelligence

Ross Kelly

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Olivia Gambelin

DIGIT caught up with Olivia Gambelin, CEO and Founder of Ethical Intelligence, 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 has 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.

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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 fourth instalment of our Q&A series today, we speak with Olivia Gambelin, Founder of Edinburgh-based startup, Ethical Intelligence.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Olivia

I’m the founder and CEO of Ethical Intelligence, an AI Ethics advisory firm that specializes in providing EaaS (Ethics as a Service) to AI startups and SMEs. I am also an AI Ethicist, which means my expertise is in understanding the ethical implications of AI on society and how to design technology for good. I started my career working in tech startups as a digital strategist in Silicon Valley.

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

I grew up in Silicon Valley, so there never really felt like another option besides tech. I did attempt to find a different route in my undergrad, as I like to say my bachelors in Philosophy was a small act of rebellion to my tech roots. But truly, I knew I was going into tech from the start.

Have you entered the digital technology sector via a ‘traditional’ route or transitioned over from another sector?

Very untraditional! I once began a talk for a computer science conference with “I am a philosopher by trade” and had someone in the room shouted back “well that’s bold to say to a room of programmers!”.

Needless to say, I came from an untraditional route and remain very untraditional even now with my role in the industry.

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

It’s hard to pinpoint just one when there have been so many that have inspired and supported me along the way. Really, any woman in tech I find inspiring in her own right.

I’m currently working on some research that deals with bravery in technology which has afforded me the opportunity to interview various movers and shakers about responsible tech. I end every interview by asking the individual if they consider themselves to be a brave person, and without skipping a beat every single woman immediately responds yes.

So, yeah, women in tech are inspiring because I know every day we have to be brave in the shoes we’ve picked to fill, and that’s something really amazing to see in action.

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 and science-based subjects?

Make emotional leadership mainstream. Women excel at tuning into the emotions of those around us, frankly, it’s how we survive, and in some cases even thrive, in the workplace.

Being in tune with our own and others emotions isn’t a setback, it’s a superpower. As emotional leadership becomes a more acceptable norm, we are effectively creating space for some really badass female leaders to take the main stage.

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

It can be effective in raising awareness, but I believe there is a danger. It creates a checkbox mentality in so much as a company can say “hey we celebrated International Women’s Day, we’ve checked that box, all good on recognizing women this month!” and think that’s it.

For example, when I talk about gender diversity, I’m often met with the statistic of “oh our team is 50% women, so we have that diversity thing covered” – to which I answer that it doesn’t matter how many women you have at the table if none of those women is given leadership and a voice.

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

Find a good solid support group of like-minded women in your field. You’re going to need it. I would not be where I am today without the women who opened doors for me along the way and continue to urge me through new ones. And when you make it in your career, turn around and do the same for the women that come behind you.

Have you faced any significant barriers or hindrances to progression during your career journey? If so, can you explain?

I remember first starting out in tech and listening to the women in my various workplaces talk about their struggles of being female in STEM. But back then I was an intern or low level, I honestly couldn’t identify with what they were saying. I had the naive belief that as long as I worked hard, I would move forward and achieve what I strived for. It wasn’t until I started stepping into leadership positions that I ran headfirst into what those women had been trying to tell me about. And it sucked, it really, really sucked to have that belief shattered. Because for a long time I just couldn’t get my mind around it, I was confused why my gender had any role in how serious I was taken. It just didn’t make sense. Heck, it still doesn’t make sense, but now I’ve come to accept it, which has made a big difference. And when I say accept it,  I don’t mean that I’m ok with it, I just recognize that it’s a barrier I have to face. So instead of giving up and complaining about it, I’ve become strategic and motivated to change the game from the inside out. As I continue to step into even bigger and more significant leadership roles, the push back, the barriers, the hindrances grow right alongside. But I no longer try to deny it, instead, I lean into it to learn how to work around the barriers and teach the women that are coming after me how to do the same. Besides, underdog stories are way more interesting in my opinion.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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