In the first instalment of our Inspiring Women series, we caught up with Elaine Scott — Centre Manager for the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence. Her role is a fascinating one and focuses on supporting the space sector in the North East of England.
Elaine is a facilitator of bleeding-edge tech projects and companies, and so is perfectly placed to give insight into the world of women in STEM. That she did, in abundance, alongside humorous anecdotes and candid takes on the barriers to inclusion. An abridged version of our conversation can be found below.
Can you tell me a little about your current role?
I work with a lot of space businesses and those that use space applications — data-oriented companies, and so on. We also have a close affiliation with the five regional universities.
The Centre is funded by the UK Space Agency and the Satellite Applications Catapult and I am employed by Business Durham, the economic development organisation for Durham County Council. I’ve been managing the Centre for a year and a bit. We took on the contract for this about six years ago because it complemented the work at our science park here in Durham. In my original Business Durham role I was the innovation lead, working with science and technology companies.
I’ve been on the periphery, involved in the satellite and space activities, partly because of my tech role, but also because I was managing a European space project, and because we had some personnel changes in the centre, I got roped in. So I ended up juggling two roles for quite a while! Now because of COVID and recruitment challenges I’ve recently moved over to the Centre Manager role full time.
Were there benefits from that juggling? Or none?
Yes! But there were also challenges. Space is one of those highly multidisciplinary sectors, and because I’d be working with science and tech companies anyway, it wasn’t a major transition. Personally, I enjoyed the challenge of having two roles, but because the centre is growing it’s become more difficult to do. But it was useful in a lot of areas, there was a cross-pollination of ideas that made things easier.
What are the barriers for women in your industry?
That’s an interesting question. I’m not from a technical or science background, but in my experience, I haven’t experienced many barriers. I work mostly with directors and CEOs of companies, most of whom are men. But they’ve all been very supportive of how we work together, but yes it would be lovely to see more women in these companies.
However, I don’t think that’s a case of them not wanting to employ women. I think that perhaps there aren’t enough women in science and engineering yet — yet. Thankfully, there are lots of programs going on at the moment in terms of STEM engagement to get more women and girls into these kinds of industries. So things are starting to change, but in terms of my role, I thankfully haven’t found it a challenge.
What more can be done for women and girls? Education? Inclusive recruitment?
Yes, I think education is key, but so are culture and role models. Back in 2016, I started a coding club for kids, which has now been going on for about 5 years. It wasn’t just focussed on girls, but also on economic inclusion.
The future is in coding and schools are not always best equipped and skilled to teach it at the level industry needs, so we wanted to help in that area. CoderDojo is a global network and is free to every child, and the idea was to bring coding mentors into contact with kids in a fun and relaxed setting. In Durham, it was really interesting — it started to attract more girls, and the mentor team was a good gender split too.
I always recall this occasion when this little seven-year-old girl came up to me at the very end of the session and said she wanted to be like me when she grows up. Little does she know, I know nothing about coding! But it just shows — perception can play a big part, can’t it?
What do you think is missing at the moment from the Diversity and Inclusion narrative?
I think we could with more men and women, particularly those in leadership positions, talking and demonstrating how they support diversity and women would be helpful.
Also — diversity can be a major benefit for the business’ bottom line. It can help them look at things from a different perspective and spot blind spots. I can’t remember the details, but I know that organisations that are more diverse hit their KPIs more often and better performing. That deserves more airtime.
For more in this series, take a look at our piece featuring Lenneke Keehan, Global Head of Talent at Ogury, an international adtech firm.