Tech nothing for granted – How a new kind of scholarship creates an opportunity for industries to deliver on diversity
by Kathryn Pierce - Founder, Somewhere EDI CIC
Within the UK, Scotland is uniquely placed in terms of diversity, as it is a world leader in LGBT+ rights. It is the only country in the world to have LGBTI-inclusive education embedded in the curriculum, and second only to Malta in terms of the legal rights and freedoms afforded to its LGBT+ communities. As a relative newcomer to Scotland - moving from England in 2017 - I believe this celebration of difference is something that Scotland should be very proud of, and while there is still plenty of work to be done for specific marginalised communities such as my own, the momentum of Scotland's progressive reputation stands it is good stead for future investment and growth.
However, reading about the top 23 LGBTQ+ people in tech last month, and feeling even more inspired by the work of these US LGBT tech groups, I wondered how long it would be until LGBT+ tech becomes more visible in Scotland. Creating LGBT+ visibility in such industries, who struggle with poor gender balance, can be a real uphill battle, and we know that active diversity initiatives are vital for disrupting established norms which either discourage more diverse communities from entering the industry, and/or influence unconscious biases which also serve to keep true diversity out.
So if existing organisations are struggling to deliver on diversity, what does that mean for the minority entrepreneurs? The thinkers, the innovators, the LGBT+ tech and fintech people who want to set up on their own, or who have an idea that needs supporting through partnership, sponsorship or collaboration, through connective organisations like Fintech Scotland? It's known that only 1% of all enterprise investment goes to women-led enterprises, so how do LGBT+ people fare? And what about intersectional communities, such as lesbian, trans and/or bisexual women in fintech? The continuing global success of Lesbians Who Tech shows there is indeed an overlooked community.
Given how little academic research has been carried out in the UK into LGBT+ entrepreneurship, as part of my recent Master of Enterprise (MEnt) postgraduate degree, I decided to focus on the experiences ofa diverse group of LGBT+ entrepreneurs to understand their challenges and motivations.My research study (which forms the basis for a new book to be published by Emerald), revealed first-hand the tensions and difficulties in reconciling a mainstream business world with an authentic LGBT+ identity. It also revealed a lack of LGBT+ entrepreneurial role models, a lack of community-specific enterprise support for LGBT+ people wanting to start their own businesses, and a stark difference in the career-based experiences for entrepreneurs with career histories in the public sector (positive) versus the private sector (negative).
My findings, while small-scale, were enough to create a case for approaching a project partner to design and deliver a new way of disrupting the inherent homophobia in business and enterprise.Through Louise Arnold at Interface, through my social enterprise, Somewhere EDI Community Interest Company, was introduced to the University of Edinburgh Business School MBA team, and together we devised a way to both support minority entrepreneurship as a viable career choice, but also, and crucially, to acknowledge the barriers LGBT+ business people face every day and to actively disrupt those, especially given 62% of graduates go back into the closet when they leave university and start work.
The result is a first for Scotland, the new 'Somewhere EDI' MBA LGBT+ Scholarship, launched by The Princess Royal in February, as part of the University of Edinburgh Business School centenary celebrations and to mark 50 years since the founding of the global LGBT+ rights movement. This flagship programme is a game changer, given that a fifth of all MBA students choose to embark on venture creation. The scholarship is named after my social enterprise in recognition of my research, but also because we are working in partnership with the University, providing recruitment and promotion assistance, and most importantly, mentorship of the chosen candidate. This type of project is the first home-grown initiative of its kind, supporting all UK, EU and international students identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBT+) or as LGBT+ community allies.
The Somewhere EDI MBA LGBT+ Scholarshippublicly acknowledges the value of collaborating with authentic community organisations, and in facing the reality of ongoing discrimination against LGBT+ people, bold and innovative projects like this mean that little by little, LGBT+ people can begin to bring their whole selves to work, living and working authentically, enjoying the freedom to be themselves and, especially in the case of entrepreneurs, to be the agents of their own destiny.
I sincerely hope that by stepping into a new collaborative space between university, community organisation, business and entrepreneur, that we can open up many new industries to visible inclusion of minority people, who value their difference and understand it as an opportunity, rather than an add-on.
Applications for the scholarships are now open, and candidates have until 10th May to apply.For the Somewhere EDI MBA LGBT+ Scholarship application details, visit the University of Edinburgh Business School.
Kathryn Pierce is Founder of Somewhere EDI,a new LGBT+ culture and enterprise hub created in Scotland in 2018, after a successful "Somewhere MCR" Manchester prototype as part of her MEnt degree.
Kathryn also works in higher education in Learning Support, and over seven years has supported nearly 100 students one-to-one across a wide range of academic disciplines, in seven different UK universities, including the Open University. She also volunteers as an Enterprise E-Mentor for The Prince's Trust.
Social media: @SomewhereEDI, #SomewhereMBA