As part of Ernst & Young’s ongoing activities to support the economic prosperity and wellbeing of businesses and citizens across the Thames Valley, they held an event on 20 March to enhance connectivity and collaboration between the corporate and start-up communities. The speakers discussed key issues and sharing real world stories before the participants breaking in to teams to work on solutions for real business challenges. With the attendees including start-ups, scale-ups and corporates it was a great way to gain new perspective and hear how other companies are tackling issues.

The event was facilitated by Louize Clark, the HubMum of GROW@GreenPark, Director of ConnectTVT, and co-creator of the Festival of Digital Disruption. She explained the reason for the event was to broaden the range of people with digital skills – a very pressing problem in the Reading area being skills shortages.

The first session was framed by a talk by Sarah Atkinson, Chair of the Diversity & Skills Council at techUK, an experienced leader and former news journalist with over 20 years of experience in multinational organizations including Cisco, 3Com and most recently as Vice President, Communications & Social Responsibility, EMEA at CA Technologies. Sarah is also a trustee at Berkshire Youth, supporting, empowering & inspiring vulnerable or disadvantaged young people.
She addressed the topic of role models and influencing the career decisions of young girls, showing a brilliant film of young children aged about 5 drawing pictures of fire fighters, surgeons, fighter pilots. Most drew pictures of men. Then bringing in to meet the children – in full kit – a real live fighter pilot, surgeon and fire fighter. They were all women. The eyes of the children were out on stalks.

The discussion was about the hurdles in corporates to diversity and inclusion – both explicit and more subtly in the culture of presenteeism rather than added value.

I wondered whether there is an organisation mobilising women with careers to go to schools and speak to young girls? Research suggests that by age 7, gender stereotypes affecting career decisions have already been made.

Another session was led by James SImpson, Ambassador of the Big Youth Group. He talked about the difficulty in organisations in taking time to listen to people – we did some group exercises on this at a previous Ethical Reading meetup. Most people are too busy thinking about what they are going to say next to hear what other people are saying.

A thought-provoking event all round.